The U.S. has always been a place of open vistas, space in which to spread out. We are one vast stretch of continental nation from ocean to ocean. A European may need to adjust to the geographic expanse. Just to know, for example, that Germany is about the size of the three adjacent states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois can give a sense for our differences. The Great Lakes, which wash the shores of all three of these states, have a surface area equal to the entire United Kingdom.
Europeans coming to live in the U.S. should orient themselves to the length and breadth of the country. Our continental reach affects us in many interesting aspects. For example, our lack of an excellent national passenger rail system is in part due to vast distances that provide logistical and cost challenges. Thus, we are more a nation of roads and drivers.
Oh it’s not as though we have vast stretches of plains (we do) with no cities of consequence. New York and Los Angeles are mega-cities by world standards. Chicago embraces a long stretch of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Houston continues to expand in Texas (bigger than France by nearly 20%).
For most of U.S. history, space has been a defining fact of life. Space allowed for an easy spread out from the city center that sometimes led to urban decline, then renewal. But this is nothing new to Europeans. Rome had nearly 1 million people in 100 AD, only 50,000 during the Middle Ages, and now is a great capital of roughly 3 million. Space also made possible the Old West, the Oregon Trail, and the great saga of our proud Native American people. Vestiges of that time are everywhere to be seen around our national parks, bequeathed to us by visionary leaders in early 20th century America.
Our founders relied on space and wilderness to dissipate conflict, a safety valve as people from many places began to jostle one another, crowded together. Of course, America filled up with immigrants who settled the whole land. Their genius and industry energized the expansion of a nation that grew from 30 million in 1860 to 300 million in 2000.
Clusters of Germans, Poles, Irish, Scandinavians and many others are still to be found as America is, in a sense, every nation. They developed the broad prairies and bustling commerce in a new country while retaining the essential, collective memory of their homelands.
So, for those who come for a stay: get out and visit the nation that Margaret Thatcher said “was created by philosophy.” For those who come for good, welcome.