Confessions of an American stereotype.

When my husband and I went to Texas to visit his family last month, I teased him constantly about the stereotype of Texans liking everything – from their breakfasts to their vehicles – big. What I ignored at the time is that the rest of the world thinks this about all Americans, and there might be something to it.  At least, the stereotype might apply to me.

The smaller tent, just before a tropical storm with a name hit the national park we were sleeping in.

Let me give you some background.

We like to go camping. But the last time we camped, our trusty 6-person tent ended up in a campside dumpster in Shenandoah National Park before we were even able to sleep in it. So although we purchased an emergency replacement that evening, it was very small and my husband argued that we needed a bigger one before we could camp again. And although I at first thought we should stick to the smaller tent, I reluctantly admitted that I’d like a bigger tent.

This tent:

Please note: Those outdoorsy, capable-looking people are not us. I don’t even know if they really know how to assemble the tent. Likely, they are just there for scale.

It’s the Coleman 9-person instant tent. The photo above doesn’t really do it justice.  It is about the size and shape of one of the shuttlecraft on Star Trek: Next Generation. When it’s set up, I keep expecting  Riker, Data and an away team to disembark from it, waving tricorders.

I only realized how huge it is when we set it up in the yard last night and its footprint swallowed half of our lawn. That’s when I began to feel extremely American in that way I’d been joking about in Texas. This feeling was quintupled when a neighbor came outside.

I should mention that the appearance of any of the neighbors would have embarrassed me at that point. We live in a very international neighborhood. The tenants who live next door are Chinese. The landlord across the street is German. The family next to him is from Vietnam. The families behind us are from Latin American countries. This neighbor, who is also a good friend, is Russian.

When our neighbor emerged from her house to feed her cats and caught sight of what appeared to be a VW bus parked in our backyard, she came over to investigate.

I went over to say hi and was suddenly aware of myself: my big, tall sunburned American self, with my big, yellow American dog, barking big, loud, greetings, while behind me towered a tent which would shame the permanent residences in some second world countries. I would love to know what  went through her head in Russian, but the first word that escaped her lips in English was “wow.”

My thoughts exactly.

Some folks will wonder why I’m writing something that seems so down on Americans, especially today, on the eve of the Fourth of July, that celebration of all that is American.

I’m writing for a couple of reasons.

The first is personal – We all have conceits, and one of mine is that I like to think of myself of being above stereotypically American things: I don’t eat fast food. We don’t watch TV. I hate baseball. I try to buy used, not new.

But  that’s silly, because I am American, and I do American things. I eat more than I should. I drive everywhere. I buy new things despite my best efforts.  I like big tents.*

The second reason I’m writing is, believe it or not, patriotic  –  I love my country, and I believe that we should be able to love our country like we love our families: warts and all. If we can’t look in the mirror and laugh at our big, American flaws, that would be pretty durn sad, y’all.


*And I cannot lie.