Here’s the challenge: if someone has never been to America and doesn’t have the time to see every corner of our vast country, which one state would you recommend they visit to get the most rounded appreciation of what America is all about?
Which single US state offers a sincere glimpse into the American way of life with lots of cool, interesting things to see and do?
Difficulty: California is too big too see in less than two weeks.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and the answer is Virginia.
Right now, most of my American readers are screaming. They have another state in mind. Probably California. But they are wrong. If you have never been to America and you want to know what “average” America is like while still enjoying some recreational fun, Virginia is the best choice.
Here comes the Case for Virginia!
(note: I’ve only been there twice and I am not employed by the Virginia Tourism Board)
European skeptics like to sniff at America because we are ‘inauthentic’ and have no history worth mentioning. These snobs have never been to Virginia!
Virginia was founded 400 years ago. It isn’t as storied as Rome, but Virginia is no Silicon Valley, either. It’s old. From Pocohontas and Capt. John Smith to Washington and Jefferson, Virginia is a microcosm of early American history.
In fact, Virginia is so fucking historical that there’s too much of it to outline here. Tourists will be tripping over colonial mansions and Civil War battlefields until they finally land in Colonial Williamsburg.
Williamsburg may be a tad schmaltzy, but it’s far less offensive than those bell-ringing turds in livery who stand outside European museums. Take THAT, you snooty French academics!
If you have any interest at all in American history, Virginia is practically the goddamn epicenter of it all. You just can’t miss.
Millions of Brits flock to Florida every year to escape the grey and loll in the sun. Once their discount airfare gets them there, the poor saps pay a premium for the privilege.
Not so in Virginia. Virginia Beach is reasonably priced and offers a less crushing experience. You’ll see plenty of hot bikini chicks as well as plenty of scary fat people, which is why you came to America in the first place.
Most importantly, Virginia Beach attracts middle-of-the-road American visitors. You won’t meet too many snotty rich people; nor will you have to abide a bunch of ghetto trash. Instead, you will come belly-to-belly with middle class America.
If you have kids with you, Busch Gardens and King’s Dominion should replace your Disney desires without robbing you blind. There’s a couple of big zoos and enough water parks to float your trunks for weeks.
For adult fun, Virginia is for Lovers. It’s true. I know because I once banged a chick from Virginia. And man, she was HOT. If you visit Virginia from overseas, use your sultry accent to score a Virginian. You wont regret it.
No. Virginia is not renown for the arts. But it is the home of GWAR, so that’s gotta count for something.
Yet Virginia is a diverse place. Despite its slave-holding past, about 20% of the population is black, 10% is Latino and the rest are white or various shades of world workers in the industrial northern part of the state. What this means is the outsider will meet a wide array of people.
You won’t like them all. Some of them are jerks. But most of them are nice and actually do believe in exuding some form of southern hospitality. This is where the visitor will really learn something about America. That’s what defines us: ethnicities all jammed together and trying their hardest to get along despite the evolutionary call of the tribe.
We have no Tito or Stalin to force us to live together. Instead, America (and Virginia) tends to unify under Christianity. You’d be a fool to visit Virginia and not check out some churches and even some public church events.
They will likely freak you out. Some churches are…charismatic. But even an old atheist like me knows that life in the South (and most of America) is defined by its churches. In Virginia, it is the neighborly call of Christ that binds them. It shapes the one cultural aspect they all share. Sniff all you like, but if you want to understand America you better learn to understand her strange affinity for this wacky religion.
What Virginia lacks in high culture it makes up for in varied, beautiful landscapes. Bring your camera because in this one state you will be framing misty mountains covered in greens and yellows, lonely roads winding through ancient farms, mighty estuaries racing into the Atlantic, waves crashing on sandy shores and Neoclassical buildings rising up against the azure sky.
Yes, Arizona has deserts and Maine has craggy shores and Texas has endless brush and Colorado has majestic peaks and California has big trees. But Virginia has almost all of that stuff and it’s all within a few hours’ drive. Virginia wins again!
And then there’s DC…
As you head north, you leave behind the mountains and farms and enter something truly American: enormous suburban developments, godawful strip-malls and gigantic glass-and-steel office towers. This is the epicenter of the might that is the government of the United States. Defense contractors, lobbying organizations and massive federal agencies ingest and disgorge hundreds of thousands of busy bees every day. It’s a madhouse. Drive carefully.
Just beyond is the nation’s capital. Enjoy the irony of the grinding poverty in her ghettos. Shake your head at the ostentatious displays in our inauthentic public spaces. Marvel at the galaxy of junk in the Smithsonian and gawp in disbelief at the massive jets suspended inside the aerospace museum.
You want world-class museums? Yeah. We got that shit.
DC is worth a visit, but it’s not more American than Virginia. Seriously.
It’s the People, Stupid
I’ve been lucky to meet average folks in Europe and Japan. I’m an average guy, too. Weird, but average. And meeting my fellow average people gives me a much greater sense of a nation’s culture than meeting its service workers or representatives or immigrants.
When foreigners visit America, I’d like them to see cool stuff and have a good time and meet average Americans. They’re not the salt of the Earth. They’re not particularly noble or bright. They aren’t even very pretty. But they are the genuine article. They are the are the distilled remains of our history and they are the real faces and real voices that betray all that Hollywood crap you watch on your satellite dish.
These people are hard to find in New York, Florida and LA. There’s plenty of them in the Midwest, but Virginia has more to offer than Iowa does. Sorry, Iowa.
Truth be told, I don’t personally give a rip about Virginia. But if some accountant from Ghana told me he wanted to see America but only had two weeks and no desire for long journeys, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Virginia, man. It’s America in a bottle.
You Virginians can now tell me how right I am; the rest of you can tell me how wrong I am.