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American regionalism

Throwing a person’s words back at them takes on new meaning online. I was about to watch a presentation about some online community building software yesterday and suddenly realized that the screen was showing a collection of comments I had made on Berkshire’s community /UGC (User Generated Content) site, LoveUSHateUS. There they were, all the comments by “KarenCh. Driving, bathtubs. “I have a big bathtub,” said one of my hosts. “My big mouth,” I thought. There I was, trying to show my thoughtful visionary side while on the screen in big letters were my vehement comments about American driving.Flying home this morning, however, gave me fodder for another post, about the startlingly poor customer service of U.S. “service” companies, and, as ever, about the terrible signposting in America. I had to return a rental car at an off-site lot and it turned out that there were no signs whatsoever to get to it, and they don’t routinely give people a map. The man at the office couldn’t have been nicer–and himself shuttled me to the airport–but if the company doesn’t care to make sure systems are streamlined and clear, even the most pleasant poorly paid local person won’t bring me back. (This fellow told me, “Most people remember where they came from, but lots of people complain ’cause they can’t find us.”) A few hours later, arriving in Hartford, I had to get back to the lot where I’d left my car. It turned out that one company owned three lots, with different names as well as the company name, but they don’t code the tickets or the vans to correspond to the lots. So people get on the wrong van, or end up in the wrong place. The driver, like the rental car man, couldn’t have been nicer: he simply drove me to the correct lot and told me I was right, that lots of other people end up on the wrong van, too.

And another thought about the United States. I’ve had European friends comment on how odd it is to hear, upon asking someone from the United States what nationality they are, that the person is “Italian” or “Irish.” Meaning, naturally, Italian-American or Irish-American. Why are we so ready to identify with our ethnic heritage but not with our regional heritage? Why don’t we talk more about where we come from, in the U.S.? Surely that is more relevant to how to operate and interact. For example, I was at dinner last night with a group of new friends and colleagues and happened to say something about growing up in Minnesota. I knew my host came from Michigan and asked where everyone else was from. It was fascinating to find that five of the six of us, eating at a restaurant on the beach in South Florida, were from the Midwest, with broad representation: Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana.

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