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Should've played more Risk on the Subway.
April 8, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene Mark Twain once said that "God created war so that Americans would learn geography." "On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force."

Related:

How Many Americans have a Passport? "The quick answer is that yes, the majority of Americans do not have a passport. The percentage of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics issued by the State Department in January of 2014, is about 46% (this number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world.)"

Young Americans Geographically Illiterate, Survey Suggests: "Young adults in the United States fail to understand the world and their place in it, according to a survey-based report on geographic literacy released today.

Take Iraq, for example. Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel. Nine in ten couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

And 54 percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa."

Gallup poll: "More than two-thirds of Americans, 68%, say they are paying "very" or "somewhat" close attention to Russia's involvement in the situation in Ukraine. This is somewhat higher than the 61% of Americans who have paid close attention to key news events Gallup has asked about over the past two decades, but about in line with the level of attention paid to other recent international events, such as the political crisis in Egypt in 2011."

Geographical confusion about Chechnya following the Boston bombings demonstrated the sad state of global educational affairs: "in the wake of the Chechnya connection, Twitter feeds and other social media outlets exploded with anger at ... the Czech Republic. Yes, that's right. The Czech Republic - a U.S. ally whose own revolution played a key role in the demise of the Soviet empire. Here are a few examples posted by the "tweeps" in question, courtesy of the website Public Shaming (note that many contain profanities aimed at Czechs and even Czechoslovakians, citizens, apparently, of a country that broke apart in 1993). Reading through some of the comments, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (189 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, so Russia's right there? Well, in that case...
posted by leotrotsky at 8:17 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I'm still waiting for the US to intervene in Yakutsk.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:17 AM on April 8 [13 favorites]


Why is it so hard to look at a map?
posted by Rash at 8:19 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


This is a problem that can only be resolved through animated television:

"United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru;
Republic Dominican; Cuba, Caribbean; Greenland; El Salvador too!"
posted by leotrotsky at 8:19 AM on April 8 [32 favorites]


Why is it so hard to look at a map?

The map isn't labelled; they weren't failing at finding the word "Ukraine."
posted by griphus at 8:21 AM on April 8 [13 favorites]


I thought everybody knew Ukraine was the drunk fighty guy who is key to holding Europe. Five points!
posted by jbickers at 8:23 AM on April 8


Why is it so hard to look at a map?

U.S. Americans are unable to do so because many people out there in our nation don't have maps.
posted by mubba at 8:24 AM on April 8 [17 favorites]


Senior year of high school, in my (honors) US history class, the teacher gave us a pop quiz one day - a blank map of the United States, just fill in the state names. There were kids in the class that couldn't find our own state on the map.

The findings of this study do not surprise me.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:26 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


Like there's an actual country named iRaq. Good one, liberal media!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:27 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


It's a Crimean shame.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:28 AM on April 8 [17 favorites]


"The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force."

I'm thinking that the desire for US military force and lack of knowledge of geography are both highly correlated with intelligence.

It doesn't seem to follow that knowing Ukraine's location would directly negatively impact the desire for intervention.
posted by explosion at 8:28 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


The first link says young Americans did better than older Americans on locating Ukraine. But the third link says "Young Americans Geographically Illiterate" in a patronizing tone, as if older Americans know better. Clearly not.
posted by stbalbach at 8:29 AM on April 8 [16 favorites]


It doesn't seem to follow that knowing Ukraine's location would directly negatively impact the desire for intervention.

I do wonder if the knowledge that it's right on Russia's border has some bearing on their view of how Russia might respond to a US military intervention in particular.
posted by jaduncan at 8:30 AM on April 8 [7 favorites]


Like there's an actual country named iRaq. Good one, liberal media!

Yeah. I thought we went to war with them because those muslims covered up their women? The war to see rack!
posted by Talez at 8:30 AM on April 8


The percentage of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics issued by the State Department in January of 2014, is about 46%...

Honestly, I'm amazed it's that high. I wonder how many of those passports were obtained for a one-time trip abroad, like for a honeymoon or anniversary trip? Used once and then left to sit in a desk drawer, never to be used again.


...(this number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world.)"

I never knew this existed. Is it new? I bet a lot of those above-mentioned 46% got a passport when this card would have sufficed, but didn't know it was available.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:31 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I'm absolutely astounded that a significant number of people chose places like Greenland and Alaska as being the Ukraine. ALASKA.

One thing both sides are clear on: Ukraine is definitely not Mexico.
posted by erlking at 8:31 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Not necessarily highly correlated with intelligence, but perhaps with the level of exposure one has to different places, cultures and ideas, via traveling, learning opportunities and local demographics, while growing up.
posted by davejay at 8:31 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


It doesn't seem to follow that knowing Ukraine's location would directly negatively impact the desire for intervention.

Being Russian would likely be correlated with being able to locate Ukraine and also correlated with a negative impact on the desire for intervention.
posted by Jahaza at 8:32 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that there should be a law or something that, for every TV news story, they should show a world map, highlight the relevant country, and zoom in to a map of the region with the countries and major cities labeled. It'd take about 2 seconds while the newsperson is talking, and it would help everybody stay properly oriented.
posted by BrashTech at 8:32 AM on April 8 [23 favorites]


Crimea raver: Finally what's at stake is reported on.
posted by gman at 8:32 AM on April 8


Being Russian would likely be correlated with being able to locate Ukraine and also correlated with a negative impact on the desire for intervention.

I think this entirely depends on whether you pine for Russia as the motherland or are sick of being under Putin's yoke.
posted by Talez at 8:34 AM on April 8


I admit, it's fun to point and laugh at America when things like this come out, geographical ignorance being a national stereotype and all. I do have to wonder though, how many countries would actually score all that much higher. I mean, I know where Ukraine is, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't name all the counties in England on a blank map, forex (I'm in England).
posted by Drexen at 8:34 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I want to know exactly how they handled the "locate Ukraine on a map" part of the survey. Such a large number of respondents selected points apparently at random (within Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Australia, or even the mainland US itself) that I have a hard time trusting that the results as a whole are accurate.

I can readily believe that most Americans aren't able to locate Ukraine on a map. I'm a little skeptical about a report that suggests a significant number of them can't correctly identify Canada.
posted by ook at 8:34 AM on April 8 [7 favorites]


I do have to wonder though, how many countries would actually score all that much higher. I mean, I know where Ukraine is, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't name all the counties in England on a blank map, forex.

Indeed. I do wonder how well Ukrainians would score on a geography map of America.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:37 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that there should be a law or something that, for every TV news story, they should show a world map, highlight the relevant country, and zoom in to a map of the region with the countries and major cities labeled. It'd take about 2 seconds while the newsperson is talking, and it would help everybody stay properly oriented.

Fox News can't even get the US right so I'm not sure what hope we have for the rest of the world.
posted by Talez at 8:37 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I never knew [the passport card] existed. Is it new?

Since 2008. It's an cheaper and more portable alternative to a passport to meet the requirement of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004) which required proof of identity and citizenship to enter the U.S. across land borders from Canada and Mexico where it wasn't previously required.
posted by Jahaza at 8:39 AM on April 8


Should've played more Risk on the Subway.

Context
posted by Going To Maine at 8:39 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Most Americans have no savings, little or no vacation time, and can't afford to do much, if any, foreign travel. My current passport has been used exactly once to travel to India on a business trip. The passport before that was only used once to go to Japan, and only because I had a friend living there with a couch I could crash on.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:39 AM on April 8 [25 favorites]


I'd like to know more about these Americans who situated Ukraine in Tennessee.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:41 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


The percentage of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics issued by the State Department in January of 2014, is about 46%...

I think we've had this argument on mefi before, but international travel is expensive and time-consuming. Many, many Americans can't afford it. Maybe some people don't travel abroad because they are just a bunch of lazy hicks who spend lavishly on dumb American junk or whatever, but virtually everyone I know would love to go abroad, doesn't have the vacation time and can't afford the airfare and hostel lodging. I had an active passport when I was working abroad; I don't have one now. And that's because I'm lucky to get a four day weekend of vacation and all my spare money is going into savings and debt reduction. And I have a comparatively good job. In a couple of years, I'd like to save up and visit Scotland - for the intellectual history, if course - but holy crap, that's a $2000 flight. Plus lodging, food and transit. $3000 on a trip, or $3000 in savings, home repair and debt paydown - is that even a question?

I suppose that it might be useful to have a passport if I have to flee the country once the fascists take over, but my primary assumption is that once the fascists take over, either the borders will be sealed or dissidents will be expelled willy-nilly, depending on which variety of fascist we end up with, so I don't worry about that too much.

Now, if I lived near the border, that might be different. This whole "oh, look at how much Europeans travel, Americans are so hick" business - hell, if France was as close as Wisconsin, I'd go to France all the time. And I used to know a bunch of Australians who went to Asia a lot - but then, they were all rich late-career professionals and it was a pretty short flight.
posted by Frowner at 8:41 AM on April 8 [91 favorites]


(I add that if I wanted to go to Scotland with a partner - so that it wasn't just me alone - that would be, like, a $5000 minimum, otherwise known as several months' gross wages. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's a pretty frivolous expense.)
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's just that I'm not a very spatial thinker but personally I don't really get why there's so much focus on filling in unlabeled maps in these sorts of things. I would have a difficult time properly labeling the counties in the state the I live in for example. It's not as if I'm completely ignorant of those places, I just tend to not have a whole map memorized in my head for things when it's completely unnecessary to have one. That's the whole point of maps, if it was easy to memorize them we wouldn't have to use them all the time, they would be more like dictionaries.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:42 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


Q: Can Sarah Palin find Russia on a map?

A: I dunno, Alaska.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:42 AM on April 8 [19 favorites]


I want to know exactly how they handled the "locate Ukraine on a map" part of the survey.

This is a good question. You can also see from the map that there is a vertical line, right about the middle of Russia. I thought this was odd so I emailed the lead author of the piece, and he said they used a high resolution map and that was likely the result of people responding with their monitors at a lower resolution, so it cut off the right hand of the map.

He also said that they re-ran the study with a smaller map of Eurasia, because they feared that the large map would bias their results. They observed the same results.

Academics love talking about their work, so if you have any questions I would bet an email to them would get a rapid and enthusiastic response!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:43 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Perhaps the problem is that too many people are playing Risk. That is not a super-accurate depiction of its borders.
posted by ghharr at 8:45 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


And I used to know a bunch of Australians who went to Asia a lot - but then, they were all rich late-career professionals and it was a pretty short flight.

What? Rich late-career professionals?
Busiest International Routes out of Perth Airport (Financial Year 2012-13)
1 Singapore, Singapore-Changi 997,523
2 Indonesia, Denpasar 851,071
3 Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 471,953
In Western Australia, Bali has been the traditional bogan holiday as long as I can remember. Considering this is a city with only 1.6 million people in it those passenger numbers are god damn astounding. Perth to Bali is in the region of US$160 return which is cheaper than any domestic destination from Perth. You can have a decent holiday for under a grand.
posted by Talez at 8:46 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Was going to make a Risk joke until I realised the Title had one already. I (British) can confidently place Ukraine on a map based on that one game where a single soldier in Ukraine held off the dominant player's entire army and allowed an amazing comeback to victory.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:46 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


this number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world

That's a pretty big asterisk right there. You don't need a passport to travel internationally to the places Americans are most likely to travel internationally to. So therefore, most Americans don't have passports.

Basically, the whole of North America is a bigass Schengen Area. If you could travel without a passport to an equivalent travel-time radius around, say, Germany, I bet a lot of Germans wouldn't have passports, either.

Geographic literacy in the US sucks, because our education system basically sucks, but the passports thing always struck me as sorta dumb. Lack of having a passport isn't holding back Americans from traveling; most people get a passport when and if they're going to travel somewhere that requires one. The fact that you only need a passport if you're going more than a thousand miles is what makes people not maintain them all the time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:48 AM on April 8 [12 favorites]


In Western Australia, Bali has been the traditional bogan holiday as long as I can remember. Considering this is a city with only 1.6 million people in it those passenger numbers are god damn astounding. Perth to Bali is in the region of US$160 return which is cheaper than any domestic destination from Perth. You can have a decent holiday for under a grand.

Well, I guess the ones I knew were rich late career professionals and I assumed that was why they were traveling. But my point holds, since I sure can't have a holiday in Asia for under a grand, so it's not like mere cultural laziness prevents me from traveling.
posted by Frowner at 8:49 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Fools. They fell victim to one the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:50 AM on April 8 [9 favorites]


I've always thought that there should be a law or something that, for every TV news story, they should show a world map, highlight the relevant country, and zoom in to a map of the region with the countries and major cities labeled. It'd take about 2 seconds while the newsperson is talking, and it would help everybody stay properly oriented.

They actually did this during the Parade of Nations at one of the recent Olympics and it was extremely helpful.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:51 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


>>I want to know exactly how they handled the "locate Ukraine on a map" part of the survey.

> This is a good question.


The article says "Survey respondents identified Ukraine by clicking on a high-resolution world map, shown above." Seems pretty straightforward.
posted by stbalbach at 8:52 AM on April 8


Pin the Crimea on the Ukraine!
posted by Kabanos at 8:53 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Before getting too judgmental about people's geographical knowledge, you may also want to assess their level of confidence. A couple of days ago, a really nice guy from Ohio apologized to me before asking how far Toronto was from the Arctic Circle. I didn't think to ask him how far he thought it was before I told him that Toronto was about as far from the Arctic Circle as Detroit was from Mexico City. (I just checked: I was off by about 235 miles. Oh, well. Blame Mercator.) He did seem surprised, though, perhaps partially because I used a foreign city as a reference point for an American city.
posted by maudlin at 8:53 AM on April 8


shakespeherian: "I'd like to know more about these Americans who situated Ukraine in Tennessee."

They are opposed to using military force there?
posted by chavenet at 8:55 AM on April 8


Geographic literacy in the US sucks, because our education system basically sucks, but the passports thing always struck me as sorta dumb.

And ironic. Due to geography, most Americas have little need or ability to travel internationally. Whereas most Europeans can easily pass through several countries with a train ride due to, wait for it...geography.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


In Risk Legacy, the portion of the gameboard classically called Ukraine is just Russia now.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:56 AM on April 8


It's not as if I'm completely ignorant of those places, I just tend to not have a whole map memorized in my head for things when it's completely unnecessary to have one. That's the whole point of maps, if it was easy to memorize them we wouldn't have to use them all the time, they would be more like dictionaries.

It's important because it enables to place things in context. It doesn't make any sense for Russia to try to annex Ukraine if you think it's in South America. It wouldn't make sense for Israel to feel threatened by Iran if you confuse Iran with Indonesia. Why is it taking so long to find that Malaysian plane? Why are there earthquakes in Chile? Are they likely to affect you (in Chicago)? What if Yellowstone blew up? Where Yellowstone is in relation to you has an absolute effect on whether you'll live or die. It's probably good to know whether you should escape to the east or west. It's probably good to know that if Canada started a war, you should be very concerned, but less so if Paraguay starts one.

Closer to home - if someone tells you they live in Schaumburg and they work in the loop, you have a rough idea from which direction they're coming and how long it'll take to commute in. If someone says they're driving up to Door County, you know it's probably for leisure, and you know they're probably going to pass through Milwaukee. Yes, you can look at a map but damn that would get old, just as it would get old to look up every word you encounter.

It matters where things are. It affects why things are.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on April 8 [14 favorites]


Why are there earthquakes in Chile? Are they likely to affect you (in Chicago)? What if Yellowstone blew up? Where Yellowstone is in relation to you has an absolute effect on whether you'll live or die.

I'm not sure knowing where Chile is would help you to know why there are earthquakes there, unless you also memorize a map of the tectonic plates. And if Yellowstone blows up and you live in the U.S., sorry, but you're almost certainly going to die. If you live outside of the U.S., you're probably going to die too, just more slowly.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:02 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I am amazed at the number of people who did not guess a country that borders Russia.

I am even more amazed at the number of people in the United States who guessed within the United States, as if the Ukraine is next to Kansas.

On preview, what desjardins said.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:03 AM on April 8


For those of you wondering what the post title is referencing: Seinfeld Ukraine is game to you!?
posted by kakarott999 at 9:04 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


This Ukraine, it vibrates?
posted by spicynuts at 9:06 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Speaking of European geography there's this online quiz I was linked to from the comments from one article on this or another. My takeaway is that there are a lot of countries in Europe. And a lot has changed since the Berlin wall came down.

Note that it defaults to "Practice" mode.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:07 AM on April 8 [7 favorites]


Yeah, look, I don't mind if you don't get it exactly right. The world isn't going to end because of that. But the same part of the world would help. Knowing that we aren't worried about Putin invading the Ukraine because it's in the United States is an important piece of knowledge.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:07 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I don't think that knowing where Ukraine is on a map gives one any insight into the complexities of the situation there. The western media doesn't help by framing the conflict as between Russia (or Putin) and "the Ukrainian people", as if they are all of one cohesive opinion.

Not all of Ukraine supports the recent revolution. Look at this map of the 2010 Presidential election results. Those Eastern regions just had a President they overwhelmingly supported deposed by the Western half of the country. Their displeasure is wholly justified.
posted by rocket88 at 9:10 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I just realized that the color of the dots represents "how far removed they are from the actual country", not the participants' pro/con position on US intervention! Why use this color-coding when the distance from Ukraine is already represented by, well, the dots' distance from Ukraine? The infographic illustrates nothing about the correlation between geographic knowledge and policy views, unfortunately, while suggesting that the correlation is 1:1.
posted by Kabanos at 9:11 AM on April 8 [9 favorites]


I can believe more kids would know where Ukraine is. After all, from 1922 to 1991, it was labeled as "USSR" on US maps.
posted by eriko at 9:11 AM on April 8 [14 favorites]


Due to geography, most Americas have little need or ability to travel internationally. Whereas most Europeans can easily pass through several countries with a train ride due to, wait for it...geography.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on April 8


70 million people live in the four states that border Mexico, and another 70 million people live in the states that border Canada (which coincidentally is about the same proportion of the US population as the amount that has passports).
posted by dng at 9:13 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure knowing where Chile is would help you to know why there are earthquakes there, unless you also memorize a map of the tectonic plates.

I'm not sure the ring of fire concept is that hard.
posted by jaduncan at 9:14 AM on April 8


What's Johnny Cash got to do with it?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:16 AM on April 8


BrashTech: I've always thought that there should be a law or something that, for every TV news story, they should show a world map, highlight the relevant country, and zoom in to a map of the region with the countries and major cities labeled. It'd take about 2 seconds while the newsperson is talking, and it would help everybody stay properly oriented.

You sure about that?
posted by troika at 9:16 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure knowing where Chile is would help you to know why there are earthquakes there, unless you also memorize a map of the tectonic plates.

Well, why aren't there serious earthquakes in Chicago? Why aren't there a bunch of oil wells in Wisconsin? Why do most people in the midwest speak English? Geography isn't just labels on a map.
posted by desjardins at 9:18 AM on April 8 [4 favorites]


70 million people live in the four states that border Mexico, and another 70 million people live in the states that border Canada (which coincidentally is about the same proportion of the US population as the amount that has passports).

Traveling to Canada or Mexico by car or boat does not require the kind of passport captured by the 46% statistic. It requires only a passport card which is way cheaper, can not be used for air travel, and is NOT captured in the 46% statistic. As of September 2013 more than 7 million passport cards have been issued.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on April 8


(American.) The last time there was a Geography class in my curriculum it was in 5th grade. It was United States geography and we never got to Alaska and Hawaii past mentioning the names. We always had maps in the world history classes but there was never any Ukraine. The finest details would have been Russia and Poland. When I graduated from high school I could have pinned the Rhineland and the Sudetenland but Kiev was the same as Stalingrad to me. The Gates of Kiev were on the classical music station, not on classroom maps.
posted by bukvich at 9:21 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Until geography is a subject in school, this state of affairs will continue.
posted by infini at 9:22 AM on April 8


I used to be good in geography class, nailed all the European countries and capitol cities in no time at all. OOoh, this is hard... Then I grew up. A great big wall fell down. There were wars. Much as I'd love to think I could nail all of Europe still, I know full well that I honestly can't anymore, and I secretly look things up all the time. (yeay internet!)
posted by dabitch at 9:22 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Q: Can Sarah Palin find Russia on a map?
A: I dunno, Alaska.


Whoa. Flashback to the original Sarah Palin thread. (Warning: 5555 comments; may break browser)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:22 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Traveling to Canada or Mexico by car or boat does not require the kind of passport captured by the 46% statistic. It requires only a passport card which is way cheaper, can not be used for air travel, and is NOT captured in the 46% statistic. As of September 2013 more than 7 million passport cards have been issued.
posted by muddgirl at 5:19 PM on April 8


Oh yeah I know. I just thought it was strange that the numbers were broadly similar.
posted by dng at 9:23 AM on April 8


I love maps. I have ever since childhood (in fact, if I had my druthers, I'd own more antique globes and any sort of geographical map that interests me, but alas only so much space in my home). For me, it's rarely a challenge to know where anyplace is because I want to know where it is. For others, I suspect they just don't care. Learning where a country/city/continent is probably only relevant in education. Maybe most people don't care to retain it because much like calculus, how often are you going to be asked where Papua New Guinea or Swaziland or Lichtenstein is?
posted by Kitteh at 9:23 AM on April 8


70 million people live in the four states that border Mexico, and another 70 million people live in the states that border Canada (which coincidentally is about the same proportion of the US population as the amount that has passports).

New York City is in a state that borders Canada. It's still eight hours from Toronto and six hours from Montreal.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:24 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


You can also see from the map that there is a vertical line, right about the middle of Russia. I thought this was odd so I emailed the lead author of the piece, and he said they used a high resolution map and that was likely the result of people responding with their monitors at a lower resolution, so it cut off the right hand of the map.

I wondered about that boundary line too. It seems a fair assumption that many of the wildly-off-base answers are people just clicking wherever so they can move on to the next question.

Revised headline: The Less Americans Give A Shit About Answering Survey Questions Accurately, The More They Want U.S. To Intervene In Ukraine

(which itself is a not-uninteresting result...)
posted by ook at 9:26 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure knowing where Chile is would help you to know why there are earthquakes there, unless you also memorize a map of the tectonic plates.

That's not a crazy proposition. Geography shouldn't merely be 'here's where places are,' but 'here's how to think about places;' linking the idea of pacific coastal boundaries to tectonic movements, and using that to explain why one side of the US is more prone to earthquakes than the other, is good geography.
posted by cjelli at 9:26 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene</em.

I have a theory on this, so bear with me: Americans who don't know geography tend to be less educated, who tend to be Conservative, who like to invade other countries.
posted by waving at 9:27 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Speaking of the U.S. Passport cards, there are similar national identity cards that Germans (or other E.U. citizens) can get that are sufficient for travel within the E.U.

This is similarly a recent development (~2005?), just like needing any sort of paperwork to go these places.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:28 AM on April 8


Until geography is a subject in school, this state of affairs will continue.
Geography isn't likely to come back anytime soon. It was mentioned, but not funded at all, in Bush's No Child Left Behind plan (only subject out of 12 to receive zero dollars!) and Obama's update didn't mention it at all. Geography is jammed in with social studies/history these days, which take testing precedence, and school funding for supplies isn't great either so kids are looking at outdated maps, if the classrooms have maps at all.

Learning where a country/city/continent is probably only relevant in education.
Pretty much the first thing I explain when I'm talking about why geography is important is that the field has one law, Tobler's Law, which states "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things." Understanding that is essential to understand history, politics, current events, economics, weather patterns, epidemiology.....
posted by troika at 9:29 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


Being an American expat in Canada has opened my eyes to how much Americans don't know about Canada. CANADA.

(True story: my dad called a couple of weeks ago and asked us about our impending move to Toronto. "How far away is it from y'all?" "It's about eight hours southwest." "Wow. So it's in the middle of Canada?")

Admittedly, the majority of my family skews Southern Republican, but I am also finding this is disturbingly true for a lot of my friends who are middle-class, pretty well educated, and like to travel (in the US).
posted by Kitteh at 9:30 AM on April 8


It requires only a passport card which is way cheaper, can not be used for air travel, and is NOT captured in the 46% statistic.

In some border states, Vermont is one, you can get an Enhanced Driver's License which does the same thing but is issued by the state. I have one, it's great.

I am terrible, really awful, at geography and I've been re-teaching myself where all the countries are. This site has been helpful for quizzing and it's why I know where the Ukraine is. This one is the opposite (how many can you name and it shows you were they are) but is also helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 9:32 AM on April 8 [12 favorites]


New law: if you criticize a group of people for failing to travel sufficiently for your tastes, you are required to donate $1000 to a fund that helps finance travel by members of that group.
posted by aramaic at 9:34 AM on April 8 [19 favorites]


In some border states, Vermont is one, you can get an Enhanced Driver's License which does the same thing but is issued by the state. I have one, it's great.

I feel like the Enhanced Driver's License thing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's convenient and some people will like proof of citizenship in their pocket. On the other hand, I worry that they risk creating an expectation that people will have proof of citizenship in their pocket.
posted by hoyland at 9:41 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Being an American expat in Canada has opened my eyes to how much Americans don't know about Canada. CANADA.

I’m always surprised when people from other countries know a lot about the U.S.A.
posted by bongo_x at 9:45 AM on April 8


Geography isn't likely to come back anytime soon. It was mentioned, but not funded at all, in Bush's No Child Left Behind plan (only subject out of 12 to receive zero dollars!) and Obama's update didn't mention it at all. Geography is jammed in with social studies/history these days, which take testing precedence, and school funding for supplies isn't great either so kids are looking at outdated maps, if the classrooms have maps at all.

At my high school, you had two social studies options for 10th grade: world history and world geography. World geography was explicitly the easier of the two classes, and essentially functioned as the remedial class for that grade. If you were even slightly below average in academic ability, you got history rather than geography.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:46 AM on April 8


My father didn't get a passport until he'd run out of US to see. He's been to all 50 states, all of the lower 48 on a motorcycle, and all of the Canadian border provinces (before passports were required). It took about 40 years for him to see everything he wanted to see. Now he goes to Europe and Mexico.
posted by desjardins at 9:47 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I am even more amazed at the number of people in the United States who guessed within the United States

Perhaps they were having a bit of fun at the survey-taker's expense.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:47 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I’m always surprised when people from other countries know a lot about the U.S.A.

It's the cultural, economic, political, and military center of the planet. It's only natural that everyone else knows so much about the US when what goes on in the US often affects more than just a periphery of the lives of people in so many other countries.
posted by Talez at 9:47 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I wonder if some confusion between Yukon and Ukraine is going on for those who place the Ukraine in Alaska?
posted by Schmucko at 9:51 AM on April 8 [4 favorites]


mmm.. like those Ukraine Gold potatoes! Great for perogi stuffing.
posted by Kabanos at 9:59 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


As a matter of geography, Ukraine is more properly called The Ukraine. As a matter of politics Ukraine is the preferred usage. It's a bit interesting that people in this thread about geography prefer the political definition over the geographic one, but politics rules everything.
posted by three blind mice at 10:06 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


this number excludes passport cards, which are identification cards that only allow sea and overland entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and certain parts of the Caribbean, but not the rest of the world
That's a pretty big asterisk right there. You don't need a passport to travel internationally to the places Americans are most likely to travel internationally to. So therefore, most Americans don't have passports.
That seems iffy to me, for several reasons:

(1) The "passport card" thing is pretty new, relatively speaking.

(2) I suspect that most people who get passport cards get them as an option when they get their passport. That's how I got mine, for example. I don't imagine that there are all that many people who think "Oh, I'm going to Mexico, and not by plane; time to get a passport card specifically and not a passport".

(3) Even ignoring those, I think it's a stretch to imagine that there's some huge mass of passportless Americans who travel internationally, to the extent that it would explain why most Americans don't have passports. It seems much, much more likely that the predominant reason for an American not having a passport is that he or she does not travel internationally at all.
posted by Flunkie at 10:08 AM on April 8


Ukraine is more properly called The Ukraine.

Not anymore! It was called that because it was The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, but now it's just Ukraine and has been since the early 1990s.
posted by troika at 10:10 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


"The Ukraine" is a holdover from Soviet times (when the region was called was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), and it's been Ukraine, without the "The", since independence.
posted by dng at 10:10 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


As a matter of geography, Ukraine is more properly called The Ukraine. As a matter of politics Ukraine is the preferred usage. It's a bit interesting that people in this thread about geography prefer the political definition over the geographic one, but politics rules everything.

Only if you are posting from the years 1921-1991.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:11 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


As a matter of geography, Ukraine is more properly called The Ukraine.

When you refer to Ukraine as 'The Ukraine' you are parroting Soviet propaganda. The Soviets successfully popularized the definite article to Ukraine in order to depict the country as a mere region, and not something autonomous or distinct from Russia proper.

Moreover, it is not 'more proper' or does not reflect supreme geographical knowledge to refer to Ukraine as 'The Ukraine'. I don't know where you got that information.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:11 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


It's a little tangential to the thread, but an issue that it seems to me hasn't gotten as much public attention as this more typical self-conscious, American cultural navelgazing stuff is that America may be legally obligated by treaty to intervene if Russia moves into the Ukraine. I've heard several analysts assert that the US is automatically committed to providing troops as part of a coalition in the event of a larger Russian military push into the Ukraine under its current international treaty commitments, regardless of whether the US public supports deploying troops to the region or not. If this is true, it doesn't really matter if we know or care where on the map we'd be sending our troops, which makes this seem a little peripheral to the real issues our involvement in the region hinge upon. Don't mean to dismiss the FPP itself as this is an interesting dimension to the whole situation, to be sure, but I wonder if we really aren't talking about the most important questions as much as we should in the US...
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I’m always surprised when people from other countries know a lot about the U.S.A.

It's the cultural, economic, political, and military center of the planet. It's only natural that everyone else knows so much about the US when what goes on in the US often affects more than just a periphery of the lives of people in so many other countries.


I suspect it has more to do with having geography as a classroom subject taught in primary school and onwards until you decide you want to do science or some such.
posted by infini at 10:13 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


When you refer to Ukraine as 'The Ukraine' you are parroting Soviet propaganda.

Please tell me how to say "the" in Russian.

I'll wait.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:14 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


languagehat had a good comment on this in a previous thread:

> For what it's worth, it's generally preferred by everyone but Russia that you call it "Ukraine," rather than "the Ukraine," because the "the" was basically added by the Soviets as a way to claim that it was just a region (think "the Rocky Mountains" or "the Philippines") instead of an autonomous country.

I know it's a minor issue, but this is not true. It was called "the Ukraine" until independence because it was just a region; the only time it was sort of an independent country (self-declared) was right after the February [1917] Revolution. It's the same reason we said "the Congo" (because that used to refer to a large region in central Africa) and, for that matter, "the Crimea." Nothing to do with "the Soviets" (and it's hard to see how they would have added an article to the English language anyway).

posted by Golden Eternity at 10:16 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Please tell me how to say "the" in Russian.

If you're my grandmother, it comes out something like "zeh".
posted by griphus at 10:19 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


It wouldn't make sense for Israel to feel threatened by Iran if you confuse Iran with Indonesia.

I just learned where Iran is and it still doesn't make sense.
posted by klue at 10:21 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


It's the cultural, economic, political, and military center of the planet. It's only natural that everyone else knows so much about the US when what goes on in the US often affects more than just a periphery of the lives of people in so many other countries.

That's disgustingly arrogant and ignorant.
posted by snownoid at 10:24 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


It matters where things are. It affects why things are.

Almost all of the things you listed are useful to know mainly in terms of the relative distance between locations to a close enough degree of accuracy, which is an order of magnitude easier than memorizing the specifics of a map to the point where you can fill in an unlabeled one. There's a spectrum of knowing where things are that goes from having a vague idea of the general region all the way down to drawing a freehand map from memory with all of the details correct and in proportion, and for any given person with any give place there's some level where they would fail at being 100% accurate.

And my point wasn't that knowing the specific locations has no value, just that it doesn't have so much value that it would make sense for it to be the only assessment data point in things like this. In terms of being able to understand the issues, I would put basic historical knowledge like the fact that Russia and Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union until a couple of decades ago or current knowledge about the countries and who lives there above knowing where the specific official dividing lines between countries are. In terms of knowing about a given place, for me at least knowing the exact location to a high degree of accuracy (rather than a vague region) is pretty low on the list of useful things to keep track of in my head, and my brain is really not good at doing that anyway even if I wanted to.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:30 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


We will be greeted as liberators; also, intelligence sources suggest that the girls there will really knock you out.
posted by thelonius at 10:31 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


languagehat had a good comment on this in a previous thread:

> For what it's worth, it's generally preferred by everyone but Russia that you call it "Ukraine," rather than "the Ukraine," because the "the" was basically added by the Soviets as a way to claim that it was just a region (think "the Rocky Mountains" or "the Philippines") instead of an autonomous country.

I know it's a minor issue, but this is not true. It was called "the Ukraine" until independence because it was just a region; the only time it was sort of an independent country (self-declared) was right after the February [1917] Revolution. It's the same reason we said "the Congo" (because that used to refer to a large region in central Africa) and, for that matter, "the Crimea." Nothing to do with "the Soviets" (and it's hard to see how they would have added an article to the English language anyway).


Well, it wasn't 'just a region'. Nations can predate states, moreover, there were a not insignificant number of English speakers parroting and disseminating Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. And while it is true that the Soviets and their supporters didn't invent the idea of referring to it as 'The Ukraine' in English, it seems like they did support the practice.

From Mental Floss: The the has stirred up a lot of strong resentment in Ukraine. The feeling is that the definite article’s heavy use during the era of the Soviet Union by Russians and Westerners alike belittled, intentionally or not, Ukrainians, and demoted Ukraine from a country unto itself to a mere Soviet holding, a border region of the U.S.S.R.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:35 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I remember at time of the first Gulf War, when an international coalition of many countries was involved in ejecting Saddam from Kuwait, US soldiers had a crash course on who was on whose side.

They were tested on things like: "Great Britain - friend or foe?" IIRC, the results on such quizzes were dismal.
posted by philipy at 10:35 AM on April 8


I just learned where Iran is and it still doesn't make sense.

Iran = within missile range of Israel. Indonesia = not so much.
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


We really should require people to pass a test of general knowledge before they're allowed to vote. Administer it in the person's native language (or whatever language they prefer). Make sure they can locate X% of the world's major countries on a map, within 1,000 miles. Make sure that they understand the difference between a contraceptive and an abortifacient. Make sure they can at least accurately describe the evolutionary model of speciation, even if they don't buy it. Make sure they know the basic fundamentals of how insurance programs work. Et cetera. Of course, there's the matter of who gets to decide what questions are asked, and which answers are considered "correct"—but even covering relatively objective, uncontroversial matters would weed out a lot of asshats.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:37 AM on April 8


Personally, I would just like to see the correlation between mislocating Ukraine, favoring military intervention, and being a Fox News viewer.
posted by happyroach at 10:44 AM on April 8


UT-OH:

The Security Service of Ukraine says that pro-Russian separatists have taken 60 people hostage in the security agency's headquarters in Luhansk, and are threatening to sue arms and explosives.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:45 AM on April 8


For a blog post by a couple of academics there seems to be a surprising lack of links to the actual study and its data. Maybe I missed them, but they only seem to have links to other people's related studies.

I was wondering what exact questions they asked, for example what people might have understood by "intervene", what other questions were asked that aren't mentioned at all, how much the overall correlation depends on a subset of particularly ill-informed people.

I would guess that anyone who wants to intervene *militarily* has to be spectacularly clueless about world affairs. I'd like to imagine that while most people aren't too well informed, neither do they have strong views.

I'm also intrigued that a number of people apparently locate Ukraine within the US itself.

What is that? Confusing question design? Mind-boggling stupidity? Something else?

Sometimes with surveys like this I wonder if people are just having a joke at the pollsters expense.
posted by philipy at 10:55 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


We really should require people to pass a test of general knowledge before they're allowed to vote.

This is a total non-starter in the US since it's already been used to disenfranchise already-underprivileged people. Even asshats get the right to vote in America. There's no uncontroversial way you could talk about establishing more hurdles than already exist in the voting process. </poll worker>
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on April 8 [33 favorites]


We really should require people to pass a test of general knowledge before they're allowed to vote.

Pretty sure we tried that already and it didn't go too well.
posted by desjardins at 10:55 AM on April 8 [9 favorites]


New York City is in a state that borders Canada. It's still eight hours from Toronto and six hours from Montreal.

But it's at the center of the universe!
posted by slogger at 11:02 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


But it's at the center of the universe!

As mentioned above, New York is eight hours from the centre of the universe.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:08 AM on April 8 [10 favorites]


This is a total non-starter in the US

It's a total non-starter anywhere. Pretty soon India will go to the polls, and there are many voters there who can't read, never mind locate foreign countries on maps. However what they can do, and which is vital for the functioning of democracy, is make judgments about things like "Is this guy basically on my side?", "Did my life get better while that guy was in power?", etc.

If you want democratic government of the people, by the people, for the people, all of the people have to have a vote.

The alternative ends up with government of the people, by the elite, for the affluent and well-educated. Or, even more so than we have anyway.
posted by philipy at 11:09 AM on April 8 [14 favorites]


We need Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? - the games, the TV show - now more than ever. Right?

I totally cannot point out Ukraine on an unlabelled map of the world. I'm unable to point out lots of countries, actually. I know their general locations, and I know key facts and cultural contexts for many countries. I'm generally knowledgeable about the world outside of the United States, and have traveled abroad a decent amount of times. But I never got around to sitting in front of a map and mindlessly memorizing this stuff.

I honestly don't think this makes me a bad, ignorant, or warlike person. I can't even get around my own city without having Google Maps telling me where to go constantly.
posted by naju at 11:25 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


I've always felt like the reason more Americans don't travel internationally isn't really the sheer dollar amount that a trip would cost (if you live near a major international airport it's really not that expensive unless you only do five star all inclusive resort travel). It's that Americans emphasize other big-ticket purchases over international travel.

When I was living in New York, it was trivial to take an international trip every couple years. In 2012 I bought a last-minute off season ticket to Istanbul for the price of a ticket to California, the Caribbean, or any of the big western ski destinations. I stayed in a dirt cheap semi-sketchy hostel. I ate street food and self-catered from grocery stores. I spent a little money sight-seeing, but otherwise the whole thing was probably cheaper than what it would cost to spend that week off at home in New York.

But now I live in California and need a car. I have to make the car payment and insurance payment whether I'm driving or not. That's over $300/month I can't save toward another trip, and which can't be economized on via thrift, in any way.

A lot of Americans are pressured to become homeowners pretty much immediately upon leaving their parents' homes. When you buy a house -- especially if you do so as soon as you can possibly afford it, and probably even worse if family "helps" you with a down payment -- you can't sock money away to use on something like a last minute trip. You can't give up your apartment to go backpacking through Asia and then come back and find a new one on Craigslist. You can't notice a nice gap between freelance gigs and think, "hm, you know, February is a slow time anyway, why not fuck off to Guatemala for a couple weeks?" The second you get on the homeowner treadmill, you're in thrall to that fucking house.

Another thing is that a lot of Americans don't ever want to get outside their comfort zone. They see travel as a luxury, and when they travel they want it to feel like being pampered, not just leaving one place and spending some time in another place. I could take Frowner's Scotland trip for half her quoted price. And I probably wouldn't choose Scotland as a destination, when a flight to Central America is half the price. But Frowner doesn't have to travel the way I travel.

The average middle class person in the Houston* metro area could totally afford to travel internationally. Their lives are structured such that they won't want to, is all.

*I mention Houston as both an archetypal suburban American landscape which also has a major international airport which acts as a hub for certain airlines. I just looked at Kayak Explore, and a flight to Venice, Italy, from Houston costs about the same as a flight to Hawaii.
posted by Sara C. at 11:26 AM on April 8 [9 favorites]


I tend to give you Americans a bit of slack on the whole "locate an European country" thing. US states are as big as or larger than major European countries, and have similar-sized economies, but my fellow Europeans have no idea where the states are located in the US.

Those of you that pointed out that many Europeans can drive for an hour or two and be in a different country are also right, and it's awesome!
posted by Harald74 at 11:27 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I'm also intrigued that a number of people apparently locate Ukraine within the US itself.

What is that? Confusing question design? Mind-boggling stupidity? Something else?

Sometimes with surveys like this I wonder if people are just having a joke at the pollsters expense.


Yeah I think the proper term for some of that is trolling. Because I don't want to consider the other possibilities.
posted by Carillon at 11:28 AM on April 8


What should we be doing to stop the ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?
posted by Wet Spot at 11:40 AM on April 8


I can't favorite Sara C.'s comment hard enough. For my immediate family, taking a cruise is about exotic as they want to get. I've lived in Quebec for five years and the only family that has visited me in that entire time is my mom and stepdad because we're very close. (My mom wants to come back before we move to Ontario but my dad is officially too sick to travel.) My sister won't because she's uncomfortable about coming to see me in a place where she can't speak the language. My dad and stepmom are the same. And for some reason, Canada alone is just too far for most of my friends to visit. When we go to visit my husband's sister in England, most of my family are horrified and it's just freakin' England. To them, that is way too weird to think about going to, even though linguistically they'd be okay.
posted by Kitteh at 11:41 AM on April 8


"The Ukraine" is a holdover from Soviet times (when the region was called was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), and it's been Ukraine, without the "The", since independence.

sorry for being a nitpicky little weiner, but it was 'the ukraine' because 'ukraine' translates roughly to 'frontier/border', and it was russia's western frontier/border region with europe using its imperial borders
posted by p3on at 11:44 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


(if you live near a major international airport it's really not that expensive unless you only do five star all inclusive resort travel).

I live near a couple major international airports, but it's still way too expensive for me to travel internationally as much as I'd like (every couple years and on the cheap). Though if anything the biggest obstacle is that it's difficult to take that much time off of work. For the cost of travelling internationally, I want the trip to last more than a long weekend.
posted by troika at 11:44 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Well, sure, for a lot of people it's too expensive to go as often as we'd like, or to the specific places we'd like, or at the time of year we'd like, or whatever.

But if you really want to travel internationally, it's not really that expensive.

The issue is that most people don't really want to do it that badly.

Which ultimately is the same reason nobody knows where Ukraine is. Nobody really wants to know. It's not about education or travel or anything else. Nobody really wants to know.

If you want to know where Ukraine is, the information is at your fingertips. Nobody actually wants to, is the problem.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on April 8


I could take Frowner's Scotland trip for half her quoted price. And I probably wouldn't choose Scotland as a destination, when a flight to Central America is half the price. But Frowner doesn't have to travel the way I travel.

How? I mean, I don't personally look for fancy travel - I just looked up the airfares, which seemed to range from $1800 to $2000 if I booked within the next three months, and the last time I looked at hostels it looked like I couldn't get away under $25/night if I sleep in a dormitory, and I assume I'll want to take the train and public transit and go at least a few places that aren't free, plus if I do go, I want to go for ten days so I have enough time to do a lot of walking and secondary place visiting, maybe take in some music. And honestly, I know I'll want to visit some bookstores, and eat a couple of meals in average-good restaurants. I would genuinely love to hear how to do this on $1500 - and I admit, I'm a little bit put off by the implication that I'm looking for luxury travel.

I notice that if I book six months out and go mid-fall, I can get a ticket for $1300, which is better. I would need to add the best kind of trip insurance, though, because there would be no fucking way that I could guarantee six months out that my family and my work would both leave me free to travel.
posted by Frowner at 12:03 PM on April 8 [9 favorites]


I looked at Kayak, and it shows Edinburgh airfares at around $1000 for dates in the next few weeks* (from Los Angeles, if you're flying from Idaho or something, this is all totally different).

$30/night for a hostel dorm bed, for 9 nights (you already lost night 1 on the flight) is $270.

I figure $20/day for food, and hey, why not, let's say $30/day for every other thing I could conceivably want to do, whether that's tourist sites or a bus pass or a pint or whatever. $50/day for ten days is $500.

So that's a $1700 ten day trip to Scotland.

Of course, I'd probably go for more like a 5 day trip, so cut off $120 for lodgings and $250 for food/spending money. I'd also probably not spend $1000 on airfare, because I'd go during the low season. I'd also look into flying into London and taking a bus the rest of the way, because I noticed that even on this search, Edinburgh was $1000 to London's $750, and it can't possibly cost more than $250 to take the UK equivalent of Greyhound from London to Edinburgh. All in all, I feel like I could probably do the whole trip for something like $1200.

Trip insurance on a five day trip to a safe anglophone country is for chumps, and booking six months out is ridiculous. If I were desperate to go to Scotland, I'd start planning this in early October for a late November trip. Go over Thanksgiving weekend and take two personal days, and then even time off isn't really a factor.

*Three months from now is high season in Scotland. I'd never go in June, and probably wouldn't even consider a trip to the UK unless I was going in fall or late winter.
posted by Sara C. at 12:31 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


The average middle class person in the Houston* metro area could totally afford to travel internationally. Their lives are structured such that they won't want to, is all.

*I mention Houston as both an archetypal suburban American landscape which also has a major international airport which acts as a hub for certain airlines. I just looked at Kayak Explore, and a flight to Venice, Italy, from Houston costs about the same as a flight to Hawaii.


How many Houstonians are going to Hawaii? You've picked a part of America that is also expensive to travel to, so that doesn't really prove much. I also don't know we need to go looking for explanations in comfort zones and priorities when plenty of people who want to travel internationally, but don't, are explaining why. For me, I can get to a international airport (three of them actually) on public transit, I don't own a home, I spend basically nothing on my car. You know why I don't travel overseas more? Crushing student debt and two weeks off a year.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:32 PM on April 8 [9 favorites]


Americans don't get guaranteed vacation time, so its understandable that they might prioritize closer travel if they only have a long weekend or maybe 6 days in the summer.

Also I wonder if Americans are more spread-out from their families than Europeans. If I had the choice right now between going to Prague or going home to see my folks in California for a week, I'd pick California, because it may be the only chance I get this year to see them. Does that mean I don't "want" to go to Prague? I think it means that I have different priorities when it comes to spending vacation time?
posted by muddgirl at 12:35 PM on April 8 [10 favorites]


If it were as customary for family to foot the bill for a gap year as it is for family to help out with a down payment on a house, a lot more Americans would travel internationally.
posted by Sara C. at 12:37 PM on April 8


I'm pretty sure that we can subtract out a lot of those dots as pure noise, using the density of points in the US as an estimate for random pointing.
posted by zscore at 12:43 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I've always felt like the reason more Americans don't travel internationally isn't really the sheer dollar amount that a trip would cost (if you live near a major international airport it's really not that expensive unless you only do five star all inclusive resort travel). It's that Americans emphasize other big-ticket purchases over international travel.

Time time time time time. Americans don't have guaranteed vacation time, and those that have any usually only have a couple of weeks, and those that have a couple of weeks are heavily pressured by an insane work culture not to actually take it. International travel - especially if we're excluding Mexico and Canada from that definition - generally requires an 8+ hour flight, plus a huge chunk of time to get over a pretty significant jet-lag hit. Just getting to another country and getting acclimated to the time enough to relax consumes a huge chunk of those precious vacation days, leaving precious few for frantically trying to play tourist.

Ten vacation days a year: A week at Christmas, a couple at the kids' Spring Break, and maybe a couple for a long weekend in a nearby state or eaten up by your kids getting sick at an inopportune time, because remember, you only have a few sick days too.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:46 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


If I had the choice right now between going to Prague or going home to see my folks in California for a week, I'd pick California

This all sort of falls under the rubric of "don't really want to", though, no? People have x number of opportunities to travel. People choose to do that travel in y way rather than z way. That's just... life.

I mean, I guess if you live in the Netherlands, and it's trivial to drive over to Germany to pick up a particular kind of cheese you like, sure, the American travel landscape looks really, really different.

But it's not like everyone else in the world lives on some other plane where money, work, and the laws of physics are all different. You choose to prioritize family, or a beach trip over a city trip, or a longer trip over a shorter trip, or a resort over a hostel, or a nicer car all year over a week in Costa Rica. Everyone else in every other country is making the same types of choices. Those people just choose differently from Americans, for a million reasons that shouldn't make any particular individual feel personally guilty about picking that nicer car or beach trip or Christmas back in Ohio instead of the week in Costa Rica.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


My (unpaid) vacation days have traditionally gone to weddings and funerals.

Sara C., I think you're making shit up that sounds good to you and then arguing it to death, when really it is an opinion that you have no reason to believe is truer than anyone else's.

Plus, idk why someone from Houston's first international stop would be Italy instead of Mexico ...
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:51 PM on April 8 [15 favorites]


But it's not like everyone else in the world lives on some other plane where money, work, and the laws of physics are all different.

Considering what my friends who live in Europe a) get paid comparatively to people in the US and b) are allowed for time off comparatively to people in the US (especially when considering what "a" is) they may as well be living in a parallel universe much better than our own.
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on April 8 [11 favorites]


(Not that I'm even about to pick up my shit and move to Europe, but certain aspects of life are Objectively Better in first-world nations that aren't America because of this country's dumbass work culture.)
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on April 8


Maybe I'm crazy, but compared to the average level of dipshittery you'll usually see in surveys of Americans, this is really not that bad. There's a clear clustering in Ukraine, neighboring countries that also border Russian like Belarus and the Baltics, Another big lump are clicking on Kazakhstan, which is dumb but not spectacudumb.

I feel bad for the people clicking on the Black Sea, though. Those poor people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:00 PM on April 8 [4 favorites]


I was kind of leaving northern/western Europe out of it, since those are the countries where you can just drive over to France and pick up this year's Beaujolais, of a Saturday afternoon, if that's what you feel like doing this weekend.

Looking at countries like Canada, Australia, and Israel as case studies on this whole "Americans don't travel" phenomenon, it's pretty clear that it's because our priorities are different, not because everyone else in the world magically has it better. You travel abroad and constantly run into Australians, Israelis, and Canadians. And yet they have all the same "too far, shitty work culture, crushing debt" problems we Americans have.

It's pretty clearly a difference of priorities, if we're talking about middle class people's choices on what kinds of vacations to take and in general how to spend their disposable income.
posted by Sara C. at 1:02 PM on April 8


You interest me strangely, Sara C.

Trip insurance on a five day trip to a safe anglophone country is for chumps, and booking six months out is ridiculous. If I were desperate to go to Scotland, I'd start planning this in early October for a late November trip. Go over Thanksgiving weekend and take two personal days, and then even time off isn't really a factor.

The trip insurance would be in case work was all "oh, sorry, you have to be here on Date In The Middle Of Your Trip, too bad about what we said two months ago" - which has happened, although luckily on a shorter trip.

But I notice that I could take the train from Euston station - famed in song and story! Admittedly the particular story I'm thinking of is a rather depressing queer memoir, but still - to Edinburgh. And then later I could take the train on to Glasgow. I think that if I were to fly in to London, I would rather take the train than the megabus - both seem, as you say, cheaper than flying direct. If I fly to London, it takes time (and causes me to regret that I am not visiting London) so I want to compensate myself by taking the train, because I love trains.
posted by Frowner at 1:06 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Sara, here's a list of statutory minimum employment leave by country. It's just raw numbers in re: you are incorrect.
posted by griphus at 1:07 PM on April 8 [5 favorites]


I wonder if some of the weird data points that appear in bodies of water are because people are trying to click and drag the map (or double click to zoom in) and the survey wouldn't let them redo their misclick.
posted by desjardins at 1:11 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, as much I love that we get to go to London every two years--I wish we could do it every year but it takes a while to save up and we have pretty decent white collar jobs and no debt--I have to use some of my vacation time to visit family back home in South Carolina because I have a sick parent. That's not me saying "oh, I don't want to go to Paris/Rome/etc" (because I totally do); that's me saying, "I am choosing to visit my sick parent because I don't know how long they're going to be around." One day when I no longer have those obligations, I will get to do more personal traveling, but that's not me choosing that I don't really want to.

Besides, Canada is crazy huge enough for me to get some personal travel in that isn't family to tide me over.
posted by Kitteh at 1:11 PM on April 8


sure, the American travel landscape looks really, really different.

What really surprised me because I hadn't thought about before was a friend who'd just moved back to the US was wanting to go 1,000 miles from the medium sized midwestern city where they live to Houston, and was really struggling to find a ticket for less than $500. The reason they moved back to the US? Refused re-entry to the UK after a long weekend in Moscow (1,800 miles, £130 return).

I'd assumed Southwest et. al would have prices similar to Easyjet, Wizz, Norwegian and Ryanair, but there doesn't seem to be the density of 737/A320 low-cost operators that Europe has. Maybe it's the competition from train journeys over the 300-500 mile range, maybe it's the more leisure focussed (rather than visiting family) middle distance travel needs of Europeans, maybe it's the fact that the big operators need 767s to get transcontinental, but I was just surprised that the cost per mile is so much lower on the European network.
posted by ambrosen at 1:14 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Whether a week-long trip is $1500 or $3000, that's still a lot of money for a luxury. At the higher end, that's kind of the amount I've allocated for myself for an entire YEAR of luxuries. And I'm decently employed.
posted by naju at 1:14 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


It is cripplingly expensive to travel from midsized cities, which is another reason a lot of Americans don't travel long distances. I'm lucky that I grew up in a smallish city that happens to be a huge tourist mecca, so it's relatively cheap to fly there. But man, if you want to travel pretty much anywhere from, say, Grand Rapids, Topeka, or Missoula, it's going to cost an arm and a leg.

And even international destinations are crazy from my touristy home city of New Orleans, because most trips involve first flying to an international hub like New York or Miami. It can be pretty affordable to fly to one of a few popular Caribbean/Central American destinations, but otherwise you add a full travel day and an extra fare onto any international trip.
posted by Sara C. at 1:20 PM on April 8


It's a little tangential to the thread, but an issue that it seems to me hasn't gotten as much public attention as this more typical self-conscious, American cultural navelgazing stuff is that America may be legally obligated by treaty to intervene if Russia moves into the Ukraine. I've heard several analysts assert that the US is automatically committed to providing troops as part of a coalition in the event of a larger Russian military push into the Ukraine under its current international treaty commitments, regardless of whether the US public supports deploying troops to the region or not. If this is true, it doesn't really matter if we know or care where on the map we'd be sending our troops, which makes this seem a little peripheral to the real issues our involvement in the region hinge upon. Don't mean to dismiss the FPP itself as this is an interesting dimension to the whole situation, to be sure, but I wonder if we really aren't talking about the most important questions as much as we should in the US...
I strongly believe that this "legally obligated" claim is false. Every time I've heard someone say something like it, they either explicitly refer to the Budapest Memorandum, or else they don't specifically say what treaty they're referring to. The problem is that if you actually sit down and read the Budapest Memorandum -- and it's not a long or complicated document -- you'll see that there is no one it obliges to defend anyone, and there is no situation in which a defense of anyone is ever obliged.

I have a theory on how this "legally obligated" claim came about:

(1) The Budapest Memorandum imposes obligations on the US (and others) along the lines of "the US will not use nuclear weapons on Ukraine", and "if Ukraine is attacked with nuclear weapons, the US will bring the matter before the UN Security Council".

(2) Loosely speaking, such things are "security guarantees".

(3) Various people who want US intervention in Ukraine get on talk shows and say things like "The US is legally obligated by the Budapest Memorandum to guarantee the security of Ukraine!"

(4) That gets interpreted as "The Budapest Memorandum legally obligates the US to defend the Ukraine", which is, as far as I can tell, totally false.
posted by Flunkie at 1:22 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Who the hell in their 30s and 40s has $1500-3000 laying around to blow on a trip? No one I know, at least not more than once every 5-10 years. I did in my 20s, when I didn't have student loan payments and car expenses and credit card debt and I wasn't worried about retirement. But now, forget it. I will be very lucky if I go on an overseas trip in the next decade.
posted by desjardins at 1:23 PM on April 8 [6 favorites]


People who chose not to go into debt for school, not to accrue credit card debt, and not to take out a car loan, I suppose.

I know enough middle class people who go to Disney, skiing, or an all-inclusive resort every couple years to know that a lot of people could travel internationally, they simply don't prioritize that for a host of complicated social and cultural reasons.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on April 8


It's true, I don't go to Disney for cultural reasons.
posted by Kabanos at 1:33 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


People who chose not to go into debt for school, not to accrue credit card debt, and not to take out a car loan, I suppose.

This is a very, very small subset of Americans you're talking about, all of a sudden. You're proving the point here. Most of us simply can't afford it, for valid reasons. Weird judgey tone to this as well. (Sucks to be those people who use CARS to get around, or took out loans to go to college, haha. They could be having cultural experiences abroad if they made wiser life decisions.)
posted by naju at 1:39 PM on April 8 [12 favorites]


Is anyone disagreeing with the idea that the reason that only 3.5% of Americans travel internationally is because of complicated social and cultural reasons? We're disagreeing with the implication that there's anything particularly objectionable about that. I don't think that Europeans are provincial because they choose to vacation on the Mediterranean rather than in Puerto Rico or Hawaii.
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I mean, the social and cultural drivers themselves may be objectionable, like our capitalist work ethic, huge income disparity between the rich and the poor, or poor education in arts and culture. But the fact that people don't travel outside of a country that is 3 million square miles of diverse cities, states, and regions, on it's own, doesn't seem surprising or sad to me.
posted by muddgirl at 1:56 PM on April 8 [6 favorites]


complicated social and cultural reasons?

Yeah, I wonder if it's as common for Europeans to have family as far-flung as a lot of Americans do. I live in Austin, and have relatives in the Bay Area, that's 1500 miles (so to be realistic, let's say a full day-ish getting to/from airports etc, each way, or a few days in a car each way, out of all that vacation time we get heh heh :( ) Because, again, there tends to be a lot of geography here before you hit a border.

If I lived in Paris (the one that's not in Texas) , going 1500 miles or less would put me in, let's see... Moscow, Athens, Casablanca, Reykjavik, or Istanbul. Not to mention, of course, pretty much all the western European countries/ major cities I could name without thinking too much about it. But I don't know how typical it'd be for people to have to travel that far to visit family.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:06 PM on April 8


and of course to belabor the point 1500 miles is only halfway across the country. But hey, give us several hundred years, maybe there'll be a whole bunch of countries here, too, and we can also be international.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:09 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


People who chose not to go into debt for school

You mean I could have gone to college without going into debt?!?!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:12 PM on April 8


You mean I could have gone to college without going into debt?!?!

You, personally, I don't know. But plenty of people aren't carrying crippling student debt.

There's this weird idea on Metafilter that the vast majority of Americans are living in penury. That's... not true. I'm on Facebook. I see lots of people who are not in any way wealthy taking vacations, pretty much all the time. If I had to guess, I'd say that the average person in my Facebook feed travels purely for leisure purposes once every couple years. I grew up middle class.

A lot of people can't afford to ever take a vacation at all. It's true. But keep in mind that the stat is 46% of Americans not having passports. Which doesn't really gloss with "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE POOR", since I'm pretty sure 46% of people are not living in poverty in this country. And I'm pretty sure the people from other countries who are traveling abroad extensively are not poor, either.

From my travels I get the sense that it's easier for working class Brits and Scandinavians to travel internationally, but that's because, as griphus said, they are living on a completely different plane from us, both economically and travel-wise. And even so, I don't think I've ever come upon any European travelers who were actually poor, it just seems to be slightly more accessible.
posted by Sara C. at 3:11 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


There's this weird idea on Metafilter that the vast majority of Americans are living in penury.

No one here has said that. No one has made that point, yet you seem to be intent on arguing it.

I'm genuinely curious: Why is the point you're trying to prove -- from my reading, that more Americans could travel abroad if they really really wanted to -- so important for you to prove right here in this thread? I'm finding it hard to understand. At this point it's not even a derail so much as it's that the train has switched tracks from Finding Ukraine on a Map to You Could Take a European Vacation if You Reprioritized.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:28 PM on April 8 [16 favorites]


America may be legally obligated by treaty to intervene if Russia moves into the Ukraine.

Meh... You're talking about treaties, right? Yeah, the US is pretty comfortable breaking those whenever we feel like it (torture, nuclear material in space, etc, etc). Sure the rest of the world calls us assholes when we do, but we're used to it.
posted by el io at 3:41 PM on April 8


We know that Americans are not taught very much international geography in school. A few years ago my parents were watching 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and the question was "What is the capital of Australia?" The contestant decided to poll the audience. My mom turned to me and said, "No, this isn't going to work out."
posted by ovvl at 3:51 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Is anyone disagreeing with the idea that the reason that only 3.5% of Americans travel internationally is because of complicated social and cultural reasons? We're disagreeing with the implication that there's anything particularly objectionable about that. I don't think that Europeans are provincial because they choose to vacation on the Mediterranean rather than in Puerto Rico or Hawai posted by muddgirl

Agreed. It may not have the luster of international exposure, but one can be broadened by visiting Alaska, Hawaii, Manhattan, LA, NOLA, Wyoming, Arizona, Puerto Rico etc. etc. Some of it is just what is immediately accessible and is reasonably accommodating.
posted by rosswald at 4:43 PM on April 8


Evidently, they quit teaching geography sometime before I entered the system, in the 1970's.

Who decided to do that? Why? They still had a little, in "Social Studies" classes, I think, but I remember the high school World History teacher gave a big speech every year about what a bad idea this had been. She was getting more and more annoyed each year, as new waves of students shattered the previous standard of ignorance, I guess.

It's dumb to make kids remember like the 25 longest rivers or something like they supposedly used to do in school, but they ought to know something about where things are, on the actual planet that the school is chained to.
posted by thelonius at 5:57 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


But plenty of people aren't carrying crippling student debt.

Yeah and of those that did go to college, the vast majority of them aren't people who "chose" not to go into debt.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:04 PM on April 8


[Maybe don't turn this thread into a student debt thread? MeMail works just fine for side convos that have nothing to do with this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


An interesting film dealing with cultural differences regarding travel within Europe or even to be sure within just the UK itself is Mike Leigh's Another Year. One couple in the film is well-educated, professional, and well-traveled, while another character who went to a lesser school and is in a lesser career trajectory seems unable to even organize a car.

As to Americans, I think little more need be said than that the population center of the US is between 900-1200km from any international border, while the population center of the largest country in Europe proper (France) is less than 500km from any border. (Inverting hap_hazard's point.)
posted by dhartung at 6:15 PM on April 8


certain aspects of life are Objectively Better in first-world nations that aren't America

Well, more like Are European. Japanese don't get much vacation time either, and I think thats probably true in South Korea too. (I believe in Japan lots of workers technically get 2 weeks, but like Americans they are very likely to not use all their vacation days).
posted by wildcrdj at 7:30 PM on April 8


Sorry that I'm bad at geography, sheesh.
posted by gucci mane at 7:54 PM on April 8


desjardins: "What if Yellowstone blew up? Where Yellowstone is in relation to you has an absolute effect on whether you'll live or die. "
Yellowstone lets go and you're pretty well dead. The only question is whether your passing is quick and mostly painless or slow and lingering.

Sara C.: "(if you live near a major international airport it's really not that expensive unless you only do five star all inclusive resort travel)"

I can drive my family camping to a destination farther from me than Paris is from London; pay for a weeks camping in a provincial site; cover all our expenses (gas, food, wear and tear allowance, depreciation on our tent trailer, insurance, etc.) for less than just the airfare for three people to someplace not on the US/Canada from Vancouver. And I'd still have to travel the 350 kilometres to Vancouver. Road travel vacationing in Canada can be wildly cheaper than flying any wear and that is as much as lots of people can afford. I'm guessing the US is similar.

Sara C.: "But if you really want to travel internationally, it's not really that expensive. The issue is that most people don't really want to do it that badly. "

Ok, the latters true. I live someplace people travel all from all over the world to vacation in. I mean for example I can literally fish a different world class lake/stream/river within a couple hours drive every weekend of the year. And I can spend a lot more (like ten times more) time vacationing close-ish to home every year if I'm not saving up for a week or two outside the country. I'm probably never going to see the Louvre or the Sistine Chapel or a noisy, crowded dormitory hostel in Laos but I'm really OK with giving those up in exchange for a weeks paddle in Well's Grey or a weekend fishing for Sturgeon older than I am.
posted by Mitheral at 10:39 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Leaving all conversations aside, I spent perhaps on hour playing with these world map quizzes and I feel like it really sorted out some geographical confusion for me. Am I totally sure exactly which is Lithuania, which is Latvia and which is Estonia on an unlabeled map? Maybe not, but I am no longer in danger of putting them south of Belarus. Also, I have a much better sense of the layout of Africa, even if I can't quite sort out all the countries. I don't expect to remember all the details, but I feel like I have a better general sense of where countries are in relation to each other.
posted by Frowner at 8:29 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


Am I totally sure exactly which is Lithuania, which is Latvia and which is Estonia on an unlabeled map? Maybe not, but I am no longer in danger of putting them south of Belarus.

A map memory tip, Frowner: 'The Baltics' are in alphabetical order from N to S.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:34 AM on April 9 [6 favorites]


Uh, unless you count the Kaliningrad Oblast, but it's completely to the south of all three independent Baltic states.
posted by Herodios at 8:39 AM on April 9


I've never understood all the shaming of people/"those uneducated Americans" who don't know much world geography. If it's totally unrelated to both your profession and your interests, why are we all expected to know the locations of all the countries thousands of km (and major travelling time/cost) away? Not everyone is interested in world politics or even travelling, and I'm not sure that that's a bad thing. We all have a limited amount of time and energy and money, and if someone wants to spend their precious time thinking about say, new treatments for diseases instead of memorizing the precise locations of distant countries, I don't see a problem with that.

Full disclosure: I am Canadian, highly educated (STEM) and a very enthusiastic reader, and was forced to memorize all those European countries in grade 10 - but I still could not tell you where Ukraine is beyond "Eastern Europe somewhere". I don't really have any plans to change that, at least until I have enough money to travel overseas. I'd rather spend my time learning things that actually interest me and/or that have some relevance to either my daily life or my career. There are a staggering amount of things to learn about in the world, and political boundaries are pretty low on my list.
posted by randomnity at 12:28 PM on April 9


If it's totally unrelated to both your profession and your interests, why are we all expected to know the locations of all the countries thousands of km (and major travelling time/cost) away?

Because it's a big exciting world out there, and anyone who isn't curious about it is... well, dull, to start with.

I feel like in this thread I've come off as having a chip on my shoulder that people should travel internationally, and if you have the ability but choose not to, there's something wrong with you. I don't actually feel that way, at all. But I do feel like there is something wrong with people who don't even want to know about other places.

Google Earth is free.
posted by Sara C. at 12:47 PM on April 9


Yes, Google Earth is free. If I need or want to know where Ukraine is, I look it up on a free map rather than have it memorized. Not knowing where Ukraine is signifies nothing about whether or not I want to know about other places. Maybe it's because I have a bad memory and I'm overcompensating, but I've never understood this fascination with having facts memorized when they can be easily referenced.
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


I feel like in this thread I've come off as having a chip on my shoulder that people should travel internationally, and if you have the ability but choose not to, there's something wrong with you. I don't actually feel that way, at all. But I do feel like there is something wrong with people who don't even want to know about other places.

That attitude is what makes you sound like someone with a chip on your shoulder.

You're welcome to have your opinions on the value of travel and knowing more about geography. Everyone has opinions about the relative merits of those sorts of things. However if you're trying to participate in a wide-ranging discussion with other people who aren't necessarily like you instead of just drawing lines in the sand about who does and does not measure up to your personal standards you're not doing a great job at it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:01 PM on April 9 [11 favorites]


Because it's a big exciting world out there, and anyone who isn't curious about it is... well, dull, to start with...But I do feel like there is something wrong with people who don't even want to know about other places.

Curiosity is not the same as wanting to memorize country locations. The most incurious person in the world could memorize countries because they think "everyone should", and many people are highly curious about some topics without being all that curious about others. Similarly, not wanting to memorize country locations is not the same as not wanting to know about other cultures.

I don't think there's something wrong with people who aren't as fascinated by the intricate biology of a tumour cell as I am (seriously, it is super cool, but I get that not everyone cares, and that's OK). I don't think there's something wrong with me for not being very interested in geography or politics. Different people have different interests. I'm not going to shame people for not taking the time to memorize the names of all the muscles in the body, even though they're critically important for everything you do in your daily life.
posted by randomnity at 1:04 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


But you know that you don't learn where countries are located by memorizing maps, right?

I had to do that in fifth grade, too, and it sucked, and I remember very little of any of that.

The extent to which I know geography facts, I know it because I'm interested in those places. As places. I know Ukraine* shares a border with Russia because I know stuff about the history of Russia and its relationship with the rest of Eastern Europe. I know about the Holomodor. I know about the Crimean War. I had some Ukrainian classmates in a college linguistics class, and I remember them being super passionate about how Ukrainian and Russian are So Not The Same Language At All. I feel like there was reference to Ukraine somewhere in all the stuff I know about, like, the Pale Of Settlement and Pogroms and the Jewish diaspora.

You just pick up facts, you know, and that enables you to slot countries into where they belong, because that's where it makes sense for them to be, spatially.

People who think Ukraine is France or Alaska are that way because they don't really care to know things about the world around them, not because they were absent the day we covered that in school, or because knowing where Ukraine is constitutes arcane knowledge.

*Full disclosure, one of my great-grandparents was Ukrainian, so on the topic of Ukraine specifically I know maybe more than the average bear without taking any special interest.
posted by Sara C. at 1:06 PM on April 9


For the record, I also think that people who don't care to know anything about tumors are also dull.
posted by Sara C. at 1:10 PM on April 9


People who think Ukraine is France or Alaska are that way because they don't really care to know things about the world around them

This is not true, and you are once again doing the thing where you assume your own experiences and privileges are universal.
posted by lalex at 1:13 PM on April 9 [10 favorites]


"The Humanities Are Important, For Chrissakes" is a hill I'm totally willing to die on.
posted by Sara C. at 1:18 PM on April 9


This is not true

Well, it could be true, but we have no clue because we're basing this on a study that has nothing to do with how many people know where Ukraine is (because it doesn't appear to ask confirming questions to weed out trolls and misunderstandings), nor does it seem to care why people pick that particular point as being Ukraine (because it doesn't appear to ask any follow-up questions). They are using knowledge of Ukraine's location as a shorthand for knowledge about Ukraine itself, probably based on some other study that showed that this could be done. But yes, this study does not support the idea that people who can't identify Ukraine on a map don't care about the world around them. Like, at all.

"The Humanities Are Important, For Chrissakes" is a hill I'm totally willing to die on.

Literally no one is trying to dispute that the humanities are important. You are martyring yourself.
posted by muddgirl at 1:22 PM on April 9 [6 favorites]


"The Humanities Are Important, For Chrissakes" is a hill I'm totally willing to die on.

Maybe start a blog about it, then? Dying on a hill tends in practice to look an awful lot like refusing to let other people have a conversation other than the one you feel like having, and repeatedly declining to sort of take that hint isn't going great.
posted by cortex at 1:22 PM on April 9 [15 favorites]


this study does not support the idea that people who can't identify Ukraine on a map don't care about the world around them. Like, at all.

Indeed. An argument could be made that there is a significant overlap between isolationism and a lack of curiosity. I'm sure at one point, and in different contexts, the positive correlation between ignorance of Ukraine and supporting intervention would be reversed.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:33 PM on April 9


People who think Ukraine is France or Alaska are that way because they don't really care to know things about the world around them

This is wildly ironic. Mote, beam, etc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:59 PM on April 9 [8 favorites]


It's wrong to make a proclamation about how people learn geography facts based on your own experience. I know where some countries are because of knowing their history, some because of memorizing it, and some in other ways. I know a bit about Ukrainian history, but I can locate it on a map, at least partially because I know what it's shaped like. People know or don't know things for basically as many reasons add you could possibly think of.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:22 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Like Sara C I had to learn all of the countries in the world in 5th grade. We spent a few weeks on each continent and would have an exam at the end. You got to color in maps and had to do a presentation on a country in the continent during the week. Up until then I thought that everyone just remembered everything, because that was normal for me to do, but when my classmates couldn't memorize maps I was very confused. I mean you just had to remember it, nothing difficult so why are you doing so bad? I can now see why people have no idea where places are because they just forced themselves to remember something for a test and then promptly forgot it because they don't know how to remember.

I still think it is a bit ridiculous to not know general areas, so the people not picking eastern Europe for where Ukraine is shows a general lack of understanding of the world that people should have, but if they had picked anything in eastern Europe it wouldn't irk me.

We did a party game recently where people pulled a name of a random country out of a hat and they had to draw it on a piece of paper including major rivers, capital and major cities, neighboring countries and important geographical features. I got Brazil and people were rahter amazed when I started by drawing the outline of South America and filling in rough sketches of the borders of the countries before filling in all of the other information. How else are you supposed to get everything to scale? I don't know how to do it I just know how to remember things, especially shapes and how they fit together, which is why I was much better at the east coast of the US map than the great plains because the states there are too uniform.
posted by koolkat at 1:46 AM on April 10


Lots of people have trouble with squarelandia in the middle-west part of the USA. I just write HERE BE DRAGONS.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


There's this weird idea on Metafilter that the vast majority of Americans are living in penury. That's... not true. I'm on Facebook. I see lots of people who are not in any way wealthy taking vacations, pretty much all the time. If I had to guess, I'd say that the average person in my Facebook feed travels purely for leisure purposes once every couple years. I grew up middle class.

Extrapolating from the average person in your Facebook feed to the average American sounds ironically provincial. And 'middle class' is a slippery target.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:03 AM on April 10 [6 favorites]


I was talking to Muffy down at the yacht club and we couldn't figure out where this absurd notion that povery is a problem comes from. Sure, sometimes when the economy is not doing well it can be difficult to afford the upkeep on your second yacht, but surely that isn't a problem solvable through food stamp handouts! Times are tough, we all have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, tighten our belts, and perhaps downsize from a 7 bedroom Hamptons estate down to a 5 bedroom. It may be radical but we must all do our part.
posted by Justinian at 2:27 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Plus, idk why someone from Houston's first international stop would be Italy instead of Mexico ...

Oooh, anecdote answer time! My aunt is from Houston. She has been to Italy many times. I have no idea if she's been to Mexico. Why? Because she married rich, and she is snooty.
posted by psoas at 2:39 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


I had geography in school as well and it was way more than memorizing countries. This is where students learn how to read maps and legends. About the world's history (GTS), how the continents drifted apart, how dissimilar maps looked throughout history and the different map projections we use. About all the different bodies of water, landforms and topography, the layers of the atmosphere, the climate and vegetation regions (arctic tundra, desert, forest, etc.) and even stuff like land use, urban planning and sustainability.

It's basic knowledge about the world we live in and belongs generally into the category "good educational background". Knowing those basics shapes one's understanding going forward and there are dozens of related science fields. How are students supposed to know they are interested in science if they don't learn the basics in school?

So yes, I think people should be able to point out any given country on a map (it even had the borders already filled in!). But this lack of knowledge is not limited to the US. Surveys like this one have comparable results throughout the world I think.
Another data point for the state of American Education is PISA. Sad results, and they don't even test geography facts.

I like this fairly advanced geography quiz. And also WFP's freerice, so here is their "Countries on a map".
posted by travelwithcats at 3:07 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Thanks to this thread, I've been quizzing myself and quickly learning how to place countries on the map. It's pretty easy now that I'm actually doing it. I don't feel like my worldview has increased even a little bit, but maybe less people will judge me for it now.
posted by naju at 3:10 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


I just feel a little bad for the people who didn't play a lot of Carmen Sandiego in the 80s, because then they wouldn't have that time in any quiz where they spend several minutes sure they can remember the capital of Finland if they just knew what artifact was stolen from there.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:57 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


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