We've always thought the real test comes when Americans travel overseas and are asked where they're from.
The Pennsylvanian in Paris and the Georgian in London alike will say, "The U.S.," or, less precisely, "We're Americans!" (The latter cohort is the one that gets robbed most often.)
There are exceptions. A Texan will often say "Texas," although he probably shouldn't. New Yorkers believe themselves citizens of their metropolis first and last, much as Romans did. And almost anyone from Hawaii or Alaska will only identify themselves with another country under duress. Montanans follow right behind them.
This is a wonderful thing. We ought to relish our differences when they're based on land, not race or class or faith; it's a pride so far beyond team loyalty as to seem nearly selfless, which is as good as people get.
It came to our minds this week when we heard that the population of Montana had just passed 1 million people.
One of us moved here from Alaska last year. He was in Wells Fargo the other day, at about the time of the one-million-plus-people announcement, when he had to produce ID in order to deposit money in an account, which just goes to show you how procedure can outrun common sense, even when there are too few people to really be worth herding.
The Wells Fargo teller looked at his driver's license. "Alaska," she said. "I hear that's beautiful."
"It is," he said.
"Montana is beautiful, too," she said. She did not sound defensive.
"It certainly is," he said.
"Don't tell anybody," she said.
We're pretty sure this sort of thing almost never happens in Pennsylvania or Connecticut or Delaware, for these are places that long ago surrendered their secrets and, in a way, their identities. In fact, our co-worker from Alaska was driving through Indiana near the Illinois line a few years ago when he stopped for gas.
He knew he was in either Indiana or Illinois. As he was paying for more 5 Hour Energy in the station's minimart, he asked the woman behind the counter what state he was in.
He wished she'd said "Sleeplessness," but in fact she said, "Indiana—but don't worry, you're almost across the state line."
He still winces thinking about that.