Bill Bryson establishes his identity as a Midwesterner and his ironic distance as a narrator with the opening lines of The Lost Continent:
I came from Des Moines. Somebody had to.
Bryson then explores his own background. Des Moines is represented as a fairly unsophisticated place, but still a buzzing metropolis compared with anywhere else in Iowa. Furthermore, Bryson starts his journey after he has lived in Britain for over a decade and traveled extensively in Europe. He therefore has a dual perspective—insider and outsider—when exploring the small towns of the United States. His identity as an outsider is all too obvious, for instance, when he objects to the pronunciation of the names of small towns in America which are derived from well-known places in the old world:
I was headed for Cairo, which is pronounced "Kay-ro." I don't know why. They do this a lot in the South and Midwest. In Kentucky, Athens is pronounced "AY-thens" and Versailles is pronounced "Vur-SAYLES."
This certainly sounds like the observation of an outsider who has lost his Midwestern identity. Note that he says "they," not "we," do this in the Midwest. In parts of America that seem even more unfamiliar, however, Bryson reverts to his Midwestern roots. In Sundance, Wyoming, he complains that the locals are inhospitable in a way that Midwesterners would never be and explains how Iowans would have acted in the same situations. These multiple perspectives on small-town America are only made possible by the narrator's own identity as a small-town American who escaped and returned.