There’s an obvious thing I want to restate for those who think they know it already, but haven’t actually made it to Texas, or the US: These places are big. Not just “kind-of” big. They’re enormous. Even having lived many years in Texas, and far more time in the other states, I still forget. Take last week for example.

The plan was to go to Galveston, on the Texas coast, for a few days’ vacation. What that meant was 671 miles (1080 kilometers), driving time around 14 hours. Here’s what it looks like on the Texas map:

Now, that’s a long drive, particularly when you’ve decided to do it in one shot, as we did. During that journey, with lots of time on my hands, I started wondering where the same distance would take me were I to drive from my home in Budapest. Follow the jump to find a map of part of Europe, and some answers…

From Budapest to Berlin is a mere 545 miles (878 km), and that includes crossing three national borders.

To get to Florence, Italy, and cross only two national borders, takes 608 miles (980km).

With a few more miles added on to the Galveston trip, I could drive to Minsk, Belarus (743 miles/1196 km), sleep, and reach Moscow by the end of the next day.

Maybe these numbers don’t sound too exciting, but the fact is that this distance is just covering a single state, and just a portion of the US as a whole.

See what I mean?

And what’s even more amazing to me is that, during that long drive to Galveston, the landscape really only changed a little. Texans will point to each errant hill and claim that the whole ecosystem is drastically different, but to outsiders it all looks about the same—more hilly, or more flat, it’s all the same to us. There seem to be the same cowboys and faux-cowboys, the same Walmarts, the same Tex-Mex joints, even though in Europe you would’ve gone through three languages to get to the same place.

There’s more to this than physical mass, which is why I bring it up. To outsiders, Texas is a land of cowboys and Bush-lovers, fundamentalist Christians and country music. That’s all here, yes, but in a space this big no culture can maintain real homogeny. So within this state you’ve got Austin-hip music culture (which is as hip as anything Seattle could pump out), oil money, Baptists, and in the little (and I mean little) town my family lives in is a lesbian-run burger joint with Janis Joplin and Hendrix posters everywhere, along with the best beef you can find between two buns.

Take this idea of size and expand it to include the entirety of the United States, Alaska and Hawaii too. Variety is America’s saving grace. It’s the one thing that I carry with me when I travel, the one thing that keeps me from ever pretending I’m Canadian.

Yes, America’s full of problems, and it dumps its problems on other countries. I hear this from all corners when I’m out of the US. (Truthfully, I hear it just as much within the US.) But the fact is that America can’t be summed up in an argument the way, say, Hungarian culture can be summed up. It’s simply impossible to generalize completely (though a certain amount of generalization can be done) when you’re dealing with this kind of scale.

I’ve been in arguments where I’ve tried to make this clear to people who I think don’t quite understand, but I never have numbers on hand. Now I do, and perhaps it’ll help a little.

Perhaps it won’t.