Well if my title isn't chutzpah, I don't know what is. If someone asks me, what are Americans (meaning people of the south of Canada, north of Mexico plus Puerto Rico, Florida, part of Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, etc, variety) I have to say there are too many kinds of Americans to generalize. It's true of any group of people. But still, I tend to recognize when people are Americans, though some are as different from each other as individuals and members of groups as any American and any, say, Chinese person in China is. Americans speak American English, but often with foreign accents as well as a hundred different southern accents, a large variety of New York accents, a variety of New England accents, New Orleans accents that kind of sound like Brooklyn accents, flat central midwestern accents, twangy Missouri accents, youbetcha upper midwestern accents etc. etc. etc.
For all the homogenization of television, fast food, box stores, freeways,strip malls, McMansions and cookie cutter subdivisions, the landscape in which Americans live is also endlessly varied. The prairies of Nebraska do NOT look like the Gret Smoky Mountains. New Jersey suburbs don't look like those in San Antonio.
And how people make their livings and how they get allong with their families is,different, too. There are extended families and super-individualists. There are authoritarian dads and absent dads. There are arty types and people who think art is for the birds.
There are certain overarching themes. If Americans don't buy into them, then they argue about them.Though it's changing (not by choice), an important American commandment is Thou Shalt Own Thine Own House. This is also an important American myth as many Americans are finding out. In the US, Americans grew accustomed to borrowing large wads of money from banks to buy large houses. "Own" in this case is a euphemism, because as soon as an "owner" can't pay the mortgage, he loses his house to the bank.
Another the current thread running through American identity is the notion of individualism. A lot of Americans think that the right to be left alone is paramount. Some of them and others think that no one can tell anyone what to do, that each person is responsible for himself, that the poor are poor because they are lazy and it's their own fault. Not everyone thinks this way, but it tends to be emphasized in the media.
You can see that this might lead to a criticism in the US that Americans are isolated from each other. In some places, this is true. If you live an hour from your job and commute by yourself from your house on its tidy lot to a large workplace divided into thousands of cubbies where company policy prohibits socializing with the opposite sex and it's difficult to find time to socialize with the same sex (I mean in a friendly way) you tend to become isolated, kind of locked into job and family. Your kids may go to a large central school by bus and then come home and spend the rest of the day in their house or yard without seeing anyone else. A lot of people try to overcome this isolation by going to church. And of course Facebook has changed this for lots of especially young people, and that's probably a good thing. But relationships created via machines don't seem as vibrant to me as ones where you actually hang out with each other in person.
I do have my own strong opinion that American society as it is currently constructed is better at separating people than bringing them together and that people join the Tea Party because it gives them common cause. Demagogues do tend to like alienated folks who want to belong.
So basically, I know Americans kind of by radar (gaydar, Jewdar, Ameridar). Even Americans who wear different clothes. When Americans of Indian descent wearing saaris open their mouths, I know. In foreign settings, Americans catch each other's eye, just for a second, in recognition, though they don't necessarily want to have anything to do with each other. Is it a kind of walk? Haircut? Way of holding one's head? Who knows. I suspect Americans in foreign settings are rarely wrong in identifying each other, though at this point there is kind of an international group of educated people that move among nationalities with ease who probably would be hard to identify as being from one country or another.
I confess right here that I don't have Mexidar. But in my next post I will have the chutzpah to offer some observations of Mexicans in our neck of the woods as seen through this foreigner's eyes.