Discover more from Obvious Bicycle
Perceptions of Every US State
An outsider's view.
A few months before I came to the US in 2021, I made a note of what little I knew of each of the fifty states here, and the general impression I had of them from conversations, news, movies, and TV.
Below is my (then) knowledge and perception of every state jotted down only from memory and without Googling anything, which I feel to some extent reflects how they’re each viewed outside the US.
A "0" under a particular state name implies that I knew literally nothing about it.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Sweet Home Alabama, civil war, slavery, plantations, incest jokes.
- Messes up the US map because it’s so far away from the mainland. Purchased from Russia, Sarah Palin (“I can see Russia from my house”), huge in area, incredibly beautiful from videos, very cold.
- ASU, Phoenix, lots of desert and cacti, very hot and dry. Grand Canyon.
- Bill Clinton.
- The most “important” state in the US, it seems? Sunny, beaches, natural beauty, good weather. Tech and computer science - Stanford, Berkeley, silicon valley, San Francisco. West coast rap - Tupac, NWA, Kendrick Lamar. Entertainment - Los Angeles, Hollywood. Lots of songs and TV shows about it. Wildfires.
- Mountains and hiking, good weather. Community (TV series) takes place here.
- Some rich people thing - skiing or lake houses or something. People vacation here a lot?
- Many companies established here because of low corporate tax. Joe Biden.
- Most mocked state in pop culture after Alabama, often by Americans themselves. Miami and beaches and partying and spring break. Lots of old people, apparently? Bush v. Gore. “Florida man”. Too many wild animals. Hurricanes. Disney World. I also watched The Florida Project a few years back.
- Atlanta and Atlanta (TV series). Georgia Tech University. Large black population. Southern rap music, OutKast.
- Islands, beaches, partying, vacations. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Honolulu. Lost was filmed here.
- Chicago carries this state, really: one of the more recognizable city names from the US, always mentioned everywhere. Barack Obama, Kanye West, deep dish pizza, bean.
- Parks and Recreation is set here. Name seems like a ripoff of India.
- Important state in election primaries. Bill Bryson, one of my favourite writers, opens his first book with a quote for the ages: “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
- “We’re not in Kansas anymore” from The Wizard of Oz - haven’t seen the movie though. Lots of farms. Feels like it’s in the exact centre of US.
- Kentucky Fried Chicken. Kentucky bluegrass. Good food?
- New Orleans, jazz music, slavery.
- The setting of every Stephen King novel, ever.
- Horrendous shape, really. UMD. Baltimore and The Wire. (I’ll watch it soon, I promise!)
- Literally impossible to spell without autocorrect. MIT, Harvard, Boston. The Departed, Good Will Hunting, The Social Network all set in that city. Super cold. Mitt Romney.
- Freezing cold. Name comes up often enough in pop culture. Lakes. Ice skating, ice hockey too? Ice everything. Detroit and the auto industry. Eminem.
- Cold. Marshall from How I Met Your Mother is from here and they make fun of the state a lot.
- Famous river of the same name. Great Chris Rock joke about how Christians claim that god doesn’t make any mistakes. “No mistakes? Have you ever been to Mississippi? Mistake! M-i-s-s-t-a-k-e.”
- Farming. Nick from Gone Girl comes here with crazy wife.
- Farming and big.
- Las Vegas and everything that’s famous about it. Desert. There was a race in Road Rash (the PC game) set in Sierra Nevada that I really liked, so the name kinda stuck with me.
- Walter White goes here in the “Granite State” episode of Breaking Bad.
- Small but the most densely populated state in the US, I think. Huge Indian population. Cold. The Sopranos takes place here.
- I feel like I’ve seen so much of Albuquerque - again, impossible to spell without autocorrect - and New Mexico simply through Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Huge Hispanic population. Very space-y and desert-y. Flat, wide, spread out architecture. Abundance of blue meth (kidding).
- For a long time I didn’t know New York was a state too. Like Illinois, it’s carried by one city, though I have heard about Rochester and Buffalo also. But otherwise it’s NYC all the way down: center of finance (Wall St.), theatre (Broadway), art, media, comedy, music - literally all of culture, it seems. New York City is by far the most mentioned city name in pop culture, probably the most famous city in the world. East coast hip hop - Jay Z, Nas. Setting of every other TV show. Huge population, lots of diversity. 9/11. Terrible subways (I later used them and yes, they were not good). Random NYC names that have always been in my lexicon without me necessarily knowing what they are: Yankees, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Empire State, Manhattan, Queens, Coney Island, Bronx, Brooklyn. Of course it gets the longest paragraph here too.
- Home of NCSU which has a huge Indian student body.
- Hilarious tweet I once read: “south dakota implies the existence of north dakota”.
- Main character in Zombieland is Columbus, Ohio. This state name has always been familiar to me but for no discernable reason.
- Oklahoma City. Is baseball big here?
- Portland. Protests. Natural beauty.
- Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are popular cities I know of. Philly popular for Rocky. The Office takes place in Scranton.
- Either this state or North Dakota has Mount Rushmore.
- I’ve heard about Nashville and Memphis. I think they’re famous for food and music and art and stuff.
- Probably the second or third most significant US state after California and New York? I know it was part of Mexico. Austin, Houston, Dallas all popular city names. Cowboys, rodeos, guns, southern accents, barbeque, all those country music stereotypes. Oil, tech industries. Houston has Johnson Space Center.
- Salt Lake City. Mormons.
- Bernie Sanders.
- Virginia (like Columbia) is a popular and often-repeated word in pop culture, but I don’t know anything specific about the state itself.
- I learned way too late in life that Washington was a different state from Washington DC, and that too on the opposite end of the country. Seattle is the only thing I know about it because of its huge Indian population - every friend of mine has at least two other friends, three cousins and seven aunts living there. Also famous for Bill Gates, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Space Needle, Grey’s Anatomy, and depressing weather. Lots of natural beauty.
- Country Roads was one of the first English songs I ever heard, and I always think I’m utterly sick of it till my friends and I start screaming it out loud on road trips. (Apparently the song is about western Virginia and not the state of West Virginia, but let’s ignore that so my life isn’t a lie.) I also read somewhere that a lot of people think that it’s the US’ national anthem, which I think it should be.
- I know Milwaukee because Bon Iver’s Holocene is one of my favourite songs ever: “Someway, baby, it's part of me, apart from me / You're laying waste to Halloween / You fucked it, friend, it's on its head, it struck the street / You're in Milwaukee, off your feet”.
- Kanye had his Ye album listening party here. Mountains.
And that’s it! Now that I’ve been in the US for more than a year I know a bit more, especially that Mount Rushmore is, in fact, in South Dakota and not North. (No I totally did not Google this just now.)