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Americans get a D in geography
November 20, 2002 2:59 PM   Subscribe

An international survey for National Geographic finds that of Americans surveyed between 18 and 24, half couldn't find New York on a map of the US, only one in seven can find Iraq on a map of the world, and one in nine couldn't find the United States on that same map. Sweden averaged 40 correct answers out of 56. The US averaged 23. What is the US doing wrong that countries like Sweden are doing right in education and world awareness?
posted by AaRdVarK (127 comments total)

 
who in the world did they survey?? i don't think im a geographical genius, but what kind of American can't find America... i thought Americans were obsessed with their country... at least nowadays.
posted by prescribed life at 3:04 PM on November 20, 2002


Me fail Geography? That's Unpossible.
posted by trigfunctions at 3:05 PM on November 20, 2002


oh, it's worse than that, why, 9 out of 10 of my fellow americans can't tell their ass from a hole in the ground.
posted by quonsar at 3:06 PM on November 20, 2002


The site is slow, but you can take the survey yourself here.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:08 PM on November 20, 2002


Ignorance is bliss. America is blessed that way.
posted by stbalbach at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2002


Only 1 in 9 couldn't find the US. That means that 8 in 9 could. If you ask 100 people to point to the US on a map, what are the chances that 12 of them aren't going to take it seriously and go for the joke answer?
posted by willnot at 3:18 PM on November 20, 2002


i remember how suprised and appalled i was on the first day of my junior year of high school: US history class, and i was the only one who could identify all 50 states. One girl kept arguing that washington state was our capital... *sigh* the joys of growing up and going through public education in the south...
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 3:21 PM on November 20, 2002


Unpossible.

Hi Larry Us
posted by folktrash at 3:21 PM on November 20, 2002


What is the US doing wrong that countries like Sweden are doing right in education and world awareness?

Can you say, "HALF OUR TAXES GO TO THE MILITARY?"
posted by zekinskia at 3:23 PM on November 20, 2002


I could say that, zekinskia, but that would leave me wondering why Mexico consistently scores 20-30% less than any other country taking the survey. Hmmm.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:29 PM on November 20, 2002


Why? Because Americans don't give a shit about the rest of the world.
posted by dydecker at 3:29 PM on November 20, 2002


There is no real problem here. Most Americans could not identify Korea. Most Americans could not identify Viet Nam...but go to war and have your sons sent there, or your cousins etc and soon you learn where they going...countries only become worth knowing about when we go to war with them. It is nice that our leaders always seem able to find places on the map to attack that most of us have not heard of till the attack begins.

After we win or break even, we then know where our tax money is going for reconstruction. And then where our cars come from
posted by Postroad at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2002


Part of the answer to this is the same as the answer as to why so many of us Americans are monolingual. It's not because Europeans are smarter, hipper and more liberal.

It's because we don't NEED to know another language. We don't NEED to find another country on a map to survive and prosper. (Most of us.)

I deplore ignorance as much as the next guy. When I taught at an inner-city school, I had a personal obsession in letting kids know that Japan and China and Vietnam were NOT THE SAME COUNTRY! (You'd be surprised.)

This "can't find shit on a map" has been in the news for decades. It's no longer news. What's more upsetting (and, I know, related) is that U.S. citizens don't even CARE about other countries even though the decisions of our elected officials end up being a matter of life and death to millions.
posted by kozad at 3:35 PM on November 20, 2002


wow, now I don't feel like such a moron, after all.
posted by angry modem at 3:43 PM on November 20, 2002


Wolfdaddy: The fact that the U.S. and Mexico, both low-scorers, are on a different continent altogether than the European countries makes me wonder whether this is a question of proximity and of coverage in local news.

I know that in Spain, watching TV, even the weatherman would have a full map of Europe and sometimes the near East right on the TV screen.
posted by Winterfell at 3:49 PM on November 20, 2002


Only 71 percent of the surveyed Americans could locate on the map the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water. Worldwide, three in 10 of those surveyed could not correctly locate the Pacific Ocean. quoted from the original story

you gotta love the twisty way this works out---70 percent of those surveyed know where the Pacific Ocean is--country of residence appears irrelevant. yet somehow I get the feeling that initial "only" represents a sigh on the part of the writer that Americans didn't do worse on this question than the rest of those queried...
posted by newlydead at 3:51 PM on November 20, 2002


We don't NEED to find another country on a map to survive and prosper.

Except for the fact that we are citizens of a democracy that fancies itself a leader in world affairs. Democracy requires an informed citizenry, and if the US is going to act on the world stage, her citizens must know the world. Ignorance will lead only to failed foreign policy, which doesn't help anyone prosper.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:53 PM on November 20, 2002


You've got to allow for a certain number of idiots in every society. 3% of Swedes couldn't find Sweden. Is it possible that some of these problems are with the administration of the test? You look at countries like Sweden and Japan that are largely homogenous and compare them with countries like the US. Do half the kids in a Swedish classroom use Swedish as a second language?

If you really look at the results, American kids don't always do the worst. French kids don't know wtf El Nino is.
posted by pejamo at 3:54 PM on November 20, 2002


zekinskia: True, military spending is half of the federal discretionary budget. When non-discretionary spending such as debt interest and entitlements such as social security are added in, military spending falls to 17% of federal spending (around $2T all told). When state budgets (just over $1T) are added in, military spending is a mere 12% of outlays. And we still haven't added in local property taxes, the largest single source of education funding (around $300B nationally). When all taxation jurisdictions are collated (making for a fairer comparison with other nations), mlitary spending and educational spending are both less than 10% of all outlays. Just a few BOTE calculations.
posted by dhartung at 3:57 PM on November 20, 2002


Ask the Sweedes to identify the U.S. states or the Canadian provinces - that's the equivalent of the Americans identifying the Middle-Eastern countries.
posted by trigfunctions at 3:59 PM on November 20, 2002


Democracy requires an informed citizenry, and if the US is going to act on the world stage, her citizens must know the world. Ignorance will lead only to failed foreign policy, which doesn't help anyone prosper.

Then why would the US government keep the education of our children as such a low priority. Practically ordaining an uninformed electorate that can't look at issues with a critical eye but would tend to vote based on personality and emotion? Or, worse yet, wouldn't vote at all ensuring that incumbents dominate in every election? Why would they do that?
posted by pejamo at 4:00 PM on November 20, 2002


I wonder what percentage of Americans didn't take this survey seriously? Alot of jokers out there, you know...
posted by LoopSouth at 4:04 PM on November 20, 2002


I will be the first guy to say that Americans people are stupid. It's the foundation of my world view. I count on it for planning everything from traffic congestion to theatre patronage. It's my central tenet, my credo, the invisible bumper sticker I wear on my forehead.

But not being able to locate countries on a map doesn't make you stupid. It doesn't even make you generally ignorant. All it means is that you don't know how to locate countries on a map. I got 19/20 on the sample quiz, but that's because I have a specific reason to know this stuff. Still, I'd say it's acceptable to know what's going on in a country than what shape it is and who lives next door to it.

And wow, a test administered by the National Geographic Society that finds that people need more geography!

Recent tests by the Hoover company show that people need to buy a new vacuum! A double-blind study by the Bacon Institute shows that people don't eat nearly enough bacon. Whoopee!

Now, all of the current events questions that people got wrong are a little troubling. Not for me, of course, but maybe for people who still think we're not all doomed anyway.
posted by Hildago at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2002


America just sucks, don't it?

*rolls eyes*

What, exactly was the point of this?

On preview, what Hildago said, in spades!
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:09 PM on November 20, 2002


The survey was of 300 men and women between ages 18 and 24, and the surveys were done face to face, so I'm sure the number of jokers wasn't that high. The 300 number concerns me, because that's not a very large sampling. I'm wondering how statistically significant the results are, if they are at all.

My favorite part of the article was:

"Someone once said that war is God's way of teaching geography, but today, apparently war or even the threat of war cannot adequately teach geography," John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society, said. "More American young people can tell you where an island that the Survivor TV series came from is located than can identify Afghanistan or Iraq. Ironically a TV show seems more real or at least more meaningful interesting or relevant then reality."
posted by AaRdVarK at 4:10 PM on November 20, 2002


Well... no one ever went broke underestimating the American public...
posted by LoopSouth at 4:11 PM on November 20, 2002


But not being able to locate countries on a map doesn't make you stupid. It doesn't even make you generally ignorant. All it means is that you don't know how to locate countries on a map. I got 19/20 on the sample quiz, but that's because I have a specific reason to know this stuff.

Bravo, hildago, I think this every time I see a survey of this sort lamenting the "sad state of geography education" in the US.

I am a cartographer, I have a degree in Geography, and I still fail to see why rote memorization of country/state/city location and interrelation will help anyone.

Sadly, if you go to any US Geography department at any major university, you'll find a small but vocal group of people (headed for elementary education, I can assure you) who pretend that state capitals are an important component of geography. I know, probably... 35 of the state capitals? But... you know what... I can find an Almanac/Atlas on my bookshelf and figure out any of the ones I've missed!

There is so much more to the discipline than finding things on a map... and we're concerned with graduating people that can be replaced by a good atlas.
posted by cadastral at 4:21 PM on November 20, 2002


"Well... no one ever went broke underestimating the American public..."

Except the XFL.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:21 PM on November 20, 2002


There's a new york?
posted by mathowie at 4:23 PM on November 20, 2002


My theory is everyone in the world, whatever their nationality, has a thirty state topographical limit. We Europeans can handle another 29. You Americans are forced to squander all your geographical brain cells on your own big country and you still have to forget twenty.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:25 PM on November 20, 2002


You know, I've lived in Atlanta for a good 2 years now, and I just recently found out that Atlanta is the capitol of Georgia! No, really! I'm not shitting you! That gold dome in the middle of downtown, it's the Capitol Building! I thought it was a church. But actually, the place I thought was a church (The Tabernacle) is actually a cool place where you can see concerts!

Goddamned if I knew where Korea was on a map. That's like how I refer to North and South Dakota as "Dakota." I'd probably fumble around a bit and remember my Risk knowledge and say, "It's that territory that you should occupy, because it's the only way to attack North America"
posted by Stan Chin at 4:41 PM on November 20, 2002


'i remember how suprised and appalled i was on the first day of my junior year of high school: US history class, and i was the only one who could identify all 50 states.'

'You've got to allow for a certain number of idiots in every society.'


congratulations! you get a gold star tommy!

yeah, there are problems with our educational system, i don't think anyone would argue that. what i find more troubling however is that the same people who would defend the 'poor and uneducated' in america are the first to demean and belittle them.
posted by poopy at 4:43 PM on November 20, 2002


It's not so important whether some huge percentage of Americans know where, say, Sudan is, and what their topographical features are like (say, WMD factory, or Aspirin production line).

No, its crucial that the tiny percentage of Americans with their fingers on the triggers possess that knowledge, and use it appropriately.

They did what?

posted by dash_slot- at 4:47 PM on November 20, 2002


Goddamned if I knew where Korea was on a map. ...I'd probably... remember my Risk knowledge and say, "It's that territory that you should occupy, because it's the only way to attack North America."

AH! I knew that there had to be some logical explanation for Bush's foreign policy!
posted by cadastral at 4:48 PM on November 20, 2002


I am a cartographer, I have a degree in Geography, and I still fail to see why rote memorization of country/state/city location and interrelation will help anyone.

Finding your own country on a world map might just be a useful indication that you're not a drooling cretin, though. Me, I'll never understand folks who find it necessary to defend the wisdom of having less information at one's mental disposal.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:53 PM on November 20, 2002


It seems that comparing the US (pop 290m) with Sweden (pop 9m) on places outside of their respective borders is not likely to be very illuminating. While I am sure it is nice, there just isn't all that much Sweden to know about, folks.

It would be interesting to see the results from other big countries like India, China, or Russia.
posted by ednopantz at 4:57 PM on November 20, 2002


Finding your own country on a world map might just be a useful indication that you're not a drooling cretin, though.

So... in the 7,000 years of human civilization, everyone for the first 6,500 years, and the vast majority of people for the last 500 years has been a "drooling cretin" ? Not buying it.
posted by cadastral at 4:58 PM on November 20, 2002


In the realm of spatial knowledge, finding your way to the grocery store is much, much more important than finding Iraq on a map. Maps are useful tools, but they are useful for some very specific things that the average person need not ever do.

Are you planning a trip to Iraq that you're navigating? Are you doing a spatial survey of water availability for Iraq? If you're doing these things, then you'd better consult a map. If you're an average american, you'll not need to know anything about Iraq's (spatial) orientation and situation.

Also important; Which projection did they use? I can break out a funky equal-area nonconformal sinusoidal projection, and no one in this thread could find the US... I guarantee it. I can't get the page to load, but I'm almost certain that the NGS would use their pet Winkel Tripel projection, and that might confuse some people. How about a Havlicek/Kavraisky projection with an oblique aspect? (I know that this is the projection I'd use if I was trying to get a shocked and angered congressman to increase geographic funding).

When I start hearing survey results saying 83% of Americans unable to find their way to a grocery store That's where I'd start worrying.
posted by cadastral at 5:15 PM on November 20, 2002


Me, I'll never understand folks who find it necessary to defend the wisdom of having less information at one's mental disposal.

absolutely. as we've all seen, the world is such a better place now than it was thousands of years ago, all thanks to education.

for instance, look at how science has benefitted humankind: longer lifespans, luxurious lifestyles, and a more 'enlightened' and 'civlized' world (at least the developed world). i suggest we not touch the other side of the blade.
posted by poopy at 5:16 PM on November 20, 2002


I think that not knowing the location of countries on a map does make you stupid. Stupidity doesn't just depend on brain capacity or the ability to give good conversation, it depends on your desire to understand things, and if you want to understand the important things that happen in the world, then knowing how countries relate to each other physically is very basic.

cadastral, people in the first 6,500 years weren't faced with world maps on TV every couple of minutes.

poopy, I was initally worried your post was being sarcastic. I agree with you totally.

There's a New Mexico?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:17 PM on November 20, 2002


I can find an Almanac/Atlas on my bookshelf and figure out any of the ones I've missed!

An excellenet point. I'm going to admit here, for the moment, that my geographical knowledge is sometimes lacking. I was staring recently at a map of the U.S. and I realized that I couldn't remember what that large square above Oklahoma was, and wasn't sure of the exact order of Vermont and New Hampshire. Years ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to keep Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and George straight, but I drove through the first two. Same with Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, etc. I've solidified them in my head as I've traveled through them. And two weeks ago, I went to look up Iraq, and realized I had its geography wrong. It happens.

I'm not a drooling cretin. I can do differential equationas, cod an FFT algorithm, and fix kites with a pocketknife. It's just that memorized geography isn't a very useful skill.... being able to look it up, and retain relevant portions is.

If I ever teach math in the public schools again, by the way, one of the major skills my students will learn is how to look up mathematics in a public library or on the net. Not half of them will remember how to solve difference equations. Some days *I* don't. But I know how to find the relevant information when I need it (or how to derive it, with some effort, if I can't find it). That's the more useful skill.
posted by namespan at 5:17 PM on November 20, 2002


There's a New Mexico?

Yes, and the reason no one knows about it is because weathermen find it the perfect state in front of which to stand. Point to Texas, then 180 and point to the left coast.

Blame Al Roker for this shocking state of affairs.

Pre-stomach stapling, of course.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:24 PM on November 20, 2002


My other theory is that countries that were "discovered" (ex-colonies) shut out geographical knowledge in order to try to forget their origins and affirm their identity, whereas the "discovering" countries (ex-empires) actively encourage it, as their own self-image depends so heavily on those discoveries as their one claim to world importance.

This is certainly true of Portugal - any seven-year-old can locate the Americas, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, etc. Specially the coastal regions, for obvious reasons.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:34 PM on November 20, 2002


I have to ask though, given US time is divided into four zones and the most Western one is called Pacific, failing to grasp that the Pacific Ocean might be the huge mass of water just to the left of the US on a map is pretty dumb, isn't it? A third of the US people polled didn't know which oceans are directly to either side of their country?
posted by anyanka at 5:34 PM on November 20, 2002


I'll preface this by saying that I heard the story on NPR and haven't read the CNN article but I assume the facts are about even.

Postroad,

NGS was saying that we couldn't find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map, two countries that we've gone to war with in the lifetime of the demographic.

Hildago,

I think you could definitely say the NGS is a conspiracy to educate about geography, yeah, they're guilty. This was a cross sample of different countries. It just happens that the U.S. fared poorly.

When I start hearing survey results saying 83% of Americans unable to find their way to a grocery store That's where I'd start worrying.

Right. That would be the time to start worrying.

It would be nice to have seen how this broke down on a state-by-state basis.
posted by velacroix at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2002


Ask the Sweedes to identify the U.S. states or the Canadian provinces - that's the equivalent of the Americans identifying the Middle-Eastern countries.

Oh yeah?! But ask an american to identify the different parts of Sweden and s/he's utterly stumped! How many landskap do you know? ;)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 5:37 PM on November 20, 2002


Stan Chin: Atlanta is the capital of Georgia, with the capitol located within the city.
posted by raysmj at 5:46 PM on November 20, 2002


everyone for the first 6,500 years, and the vast majority of people for the last 500 years has been a "drooling cretin" ? Not buying it.

Don't be foolish. For the greater part of human history, there weren't any maps of the world. It was impossible, or maybe just very very unlikely and very difficult indeed to visit any of the far-flung places that had been mapped. Wars occurred between neighbouring nations or states or tribes. It was pretty unlikely, unless you lived in a major city, and that only in the last couple of millenia at best, that you'd ever meet anyone outside your own ethnicity. There were no jets to carry you in a matter of hours to the other side of the planet, and as mentioned above, no world maps flashed up on the TV news every 5 minutes. And so.

I stand by my drooling cretin remark. With possible exceptions for those who are the cartographic equivalent of dyslexic.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:58 PM on November 20, 2002


wasn't sure of the exact order of Vermont and New Hampshire.

The way I remember it is that Vermont looks like a V.
posted by wanderingmind at 6:04 PM on November 20, 2002


And so on, I meant. Doh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on November 20, 2002


poopy, I was initally worried your post was being sarcastic.

actually, i was...trying. sorry for the confusion.

i just think that it's hypocritical to complain about the current state of the world (e.g. environment, overpopulation, war, all direct outcomes of 'progress') and then go on to imply that enlightenment and education are the solutions to these problems.

myself: unless humanity somehow miraculously manages to shed itself of it's very basic nature then i don't really see any progress beyond the size of our toys and the number of our conveniences. i'd much rather be a blissful idiot or cretin. take your pick.
posted by poopy at 6:16 PM on November 20, 2002


Ask the Sweedes to identify the U.S. states or the Canadian provinces - that's the equivalent of the Americans identifying the Middle-Eastern countries.

It's "Swedes". And I don't recall Sweden spending the last ten years bombing any of the US states or Canadian provinces, or imposing sanctions against them that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people due to shortages of food and medical supplies.

56% of Americans couldn't work out that the Euro is the currency used by the European Union. Dear God. Perhaps that tricky "Here's a list of six; the answer is the one that starts with the word Euro" fooled them.

I have to ask, though, who in hell the Mexicans they surveyed were. Only 29% of them knew which way west is.
posted by Hogshead at 6:16 PM on November 20, 2002


While I understand (and agree with) the point that this is not exactly damning stuff, it doesn't do to stand around defending the merits of ignorance either.
posted by Nothing at 6:17 PM on November 20, 2002


What is the US doing wrong that countries like Sweden are doing right in education and world awareness?

Can you say, "HALF OUR TAXES GO TO THE MILITARY?"


Okay, next American who has anything derogatory to say about Canada spending its money on healthcare will have this little factoid shoved up his ass.

My god. Half of the money goes to warfare instead of making people healthy? How sick is that?!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:20 PM on November 20, 2002


pejamo: "Is it possible that some of these problems are with the administration of the test? You look at countries like Sweden and Japan that are largely homogenous and compare them with countries like the US."

About 20% of Sweden's population are immigrants or have at least one foreign-born parent. Sweden is very much a multilingual society with a number of ethnic minorities. So much for that theory...

I see a lot of trumped-up excuses here. Isn't it time for you Americans to admit that you are -- if truth be told -- more ignorant about what goes on outside your borders than the average European? Or are you as bad at acknowledging your imperfections as you are at geography?
posted by livingdots at 6:24 PM on November 20, 2002 [1 favorite]


Ask the Sweedes to identify the U.S. states or the Canadian provinces - that's the equivalent of the Americans identifying the Middle-Eastern countries.

Oh yeah?! But ask an american to identify the different parts of Sweden and s/he's utterly stumped! How many landskap do you know? ;)


Outside of Smaland, Lappland, and Jamtland, I can't think of any.
posted by trigfunctions at 6:25 PM on November 20, 2002


My favorite factoid from the survey: more French people know where Italy is than Italians do.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:28 PM on November 20, 2002


It's "Swedes". And I don't recall Sweden spending the last ten years bombing any of the US states or Canadian provinces, or imposing sanctions against them that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people due to shortages of food and medical supplies.

Maybe if the Swedes spent more time bombing and less time studying geography, we would know more about them!

Swedes, not Sweedes? Me fail spelling to? Unpossible.
posted by trigfunctions at 6:29 PM on November 20, 2002


The Swedes did give bombing a shot -- at least one did, Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite. He decided it was a bad idea and created a peace-prize instead.

From the survey website, since nobody's mentioned this bit yet: "The National Geographic-Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey assesses the geographic knowledge of 3,250 young adults in nine countries, including the U.S. The research also addresses young adults’ attitudes toward the importance of geography and how aware they are of geography in the context of current events. In total, 2,916 interviews with 18- to 24-year-olds were conducted using an in-home, in-person methodology. Interviews were conducted in the following countries: United States, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Great Britain, and Japan. A total of 300 interviews were conducted in each country except the U.S.; in the U.S. nearly 500 interviews were conducted with 18-to 24-year-olds and an additional sample of more than 300 25-to 34-year- olds." Seems pretty comprehensive.
posted by Hogshead at 6:35 PM on November 20, 2002


I see a lot of trumped-up excuses here. Isn't it time for you Americans to admit that you are -- if truth be told -- more ignorant about what goes on outside your borders than the average European? Or are you as bad at acknowledging your imperfections as you are at geography?

I don't think many of us Americans would deny that, and fewer would care. America is a HUGE country, with two, count them two, neighboring countries that are easily accessible. You know how long it takes to drive from California to New York? About 60 hours. We can't just hop
on a train and visit 10 countries in a week.

And again, how much do Europeans know about the internal affairs of the US? Most of this type of America bashing seems to born of resentment by smaller countries that, not only do we have a huge influence on them, but we don't even consider them important enough to know where they are on a map. Just keep smokin' our Marlboros!
posted by trigfunctions at 6:36 PM on November 20, 2002


I blame it all on the cancellation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego TV show and video games.
posted by Stan Chin at 6:51 PM on November 20, 2002


America is a HUGE country, with two, count them two, neighboring countries that are easily accessible.

And Canada is actually huger, with only one country adjoining.

Next excuse, please...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:52 PM on November 20, 2002


When does the average American learn geography in school? Eighth grade? Ninth? Before they're even able to drive legally. Teens are, if anything, insular and not inclined to remember that which doesn't seem to matter to them at the moment. When you're 14 or 15, can't drive and the mall may as well be on the other side of the world, then why in hell does it matter what actually is on the other side of the world? You're not thinking about the future, about wars or elections, geopolitics is a word you probably haven't heard yet, so what's it to you?

That people 18-24 who likely haven't taken a geography class in 4-10 years, haven't taken a world history or civilizations class (who doesn't take the easiest elective -- US history -- to get their core curricula out of the way) would have difficulty finding countries on an unlabeled map shouldn't surprise anyone. Whether it's as big a deal as has been portrayed, well, I refer back to what Hildago wrote.

My god. Half of the money goes to warfare instead of making people healthy? How sick is that?!

You like to read selectively, doncha, fish?
posted by Dreama at 6:57 PM on November 20, 2002


"America bashing" and "resentment by smaller countries"? What has that got to do with this? National Geographic is American, is it not? It isn't an "America bashing small country", that's for sure...
posted by livingdots at 6:58 PM on November 20, 2002


The most important post above, I think, is dot_slash's. He says that while it may not be important if you and I and our kids can find Iraq on a map, it sure is important that those with "their fingers in the triggers" can find Iraq - and understand its history, and our history with it.

I'm not confident that GW is conversant with any of our history vis-a-vis places like Iraq, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Iran, China....that's what really scares me.

BTW, despite all the money we're sending to Colombia, I doubt GW could find it on a map.
posted by kozad at 7:00 PM on November 20, 2002


And again, how much do Europeans know about the internal affairs of the US?

Oh, you'd be depressed to know: quite a lot.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:02 PM on November 20, 2002


More fuel for the fire: according to an article in yesterday's Guardian:

"most Americans are so ignorant of their kinsfolk in Britain they believe the UK is a far off country 'somewhere' in the Middle East, according to the outspoken tourism minister, Kim Howells."

*giggle*
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2002


Miguel> No offense intended, but I'm not entirely convinced.

Most Europeans who's opinions I've asked on the subject (not a huge number, but more than a few) have very twisted views of America because the only contact they have with that country is meeting the occasional loud-mouthed American tourist, watching American television shows, and reading American newspapers. It's like getting your entire picture of what Britain is from watching 'Yes, Prime Minister' and reading the Daily Mirror.

Not that I'm claiming that Americans are exactly misunderstood either - they _are_ brash and pugnaciously ignorant when possible. I simply deny that the latter is a specifically American trait.

What many Europeans don't quite seem to realise is that America is more or less a continent unto itself in terms of cultural diversity, geographic size and population. Think about how much you can name off the top of your head about say, Armenia. Could you point out its specific location on a map? (I can't either, before you think I'm getting high and mighty)

And yet, the cultural and geographic distances are equally great between North Dakota and New York, or California and Florida. In my experience as a Canadian who's traveled up, down and across America more times than I can count, the idea of the 'Typical American' is as much a fiction as the idea of the 'Typical European'. Louisiana is as culturally distinct from Maine as Germany is from France, and it's only the fact that they have a common federal government (which is only about as powerful and unifying as the EU's federal government, really) which makes anyone think differently.

People the world over really only care about what happens more or less locally to them. It just so happens that when you say "local" in reference Europe, things are so much closer together that Spain, Portugal and France are all "local", whereas in America, that same geographic and cultural distance is Massachussetts, North Carolina and New Hampshire.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:29 PM on November 20, 2002


Okay, next American who has anything derogatory to say about Canada spending its money on healthcare will have this little factoid shoved up his ass.

With the minor quibble that it's completely false, as five minutes of googling would find. If you do this, remember that ya gotta add in state and local taxation to the feds.

My god. Half of the money goes to warfare instead of making people healthy? How sick is that?!

Imagine how much sicker it would be were it actually true!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:45 PM on November 20, 2002


fishy's point is one I agree with, even if the numbers are wrong. America does spend an unholy amount of money on the military and its weapons.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:51 PM on November 20, 2002


Well put Pseudoephedrine, but I would differ with your first premise, that firners don't understand America because all they know us from is television and movies. It's not so much that tv and movies portray American society accurately as the fact that American society redefines itself according to what is going on on the big screen and the small screen. Evidence of this is legion (the Eminem effect springs to mind first). I'd say the ideal American defies tv stereotype, but that the average can be pretty well compared to what you see on television.
posted by Hildago at 7:52 PM on November 20, 2002


Spain, Portugal and France are all "local", whereas in America, that same geographic and cultural distance is Massachussetts, North Carolina and New Hampshire.


You almost had me convinced up to the reference to cultural distance, Pseudoephedrine. The three countries you mention all have distinct cultures of their own (hey, different languages even) and the distance between them is probably greater than that between, say, Canada and the UK.

That said, I agree there's no typical American, as there is no typical European. Still, I'd say the range of Americans is much narrower than the range of Europeans.

An enormous amount of Americans don't have passports and many have no interest in visiting foreign countries at all. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

Also, the U.S. and Canada are host countries, who receive people of all nationalities and whose culture is multifarious. Europeans are migrants and travellers - they spread out more and settle abroad much more. Americans tend not to do this. If you'll pardon all these gross generalizations, I don't think they're really interested in the world. Canadians and Australians are also gigantic countries but they seem to be much more interested.

Anyway, thank you (and also others in this fascinating thread) for getting my grey cells going. As in all good threads, ending up more confused than when you went in is a sure sign that it was worth the exercise!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:57 PM on November 20, 2002


Pseudoephedrine, I agree with nearly everything you said except for the bit about the EU gov't being as powerfully unifying as the US Federal gov't. The "states" of the United States of America really don't administer much beyond their own criminal and some civil law enforcement; since the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, and States' Rights died at the end of the Civil War, the Fed has reigned supreme and the states are comparatively weak.

AIUI, in the EU, one demurring country can royally screw things up for the rest of the EU iwth untold politicking and bickering required to solve the problem, but the US system of the Federal judiciary and Congress tend to resolve disagreements between states and between a state and the Federal government pretty handily.

The cultural part is pretty true, though. I can usually figure out eventually that I'm talking to somebody from a neighboring state here in South Carolina, and I don't mean by just the accent, either.
posted by alumshubby at 8:01 PM on November 20, 2002


I dunno about you, but I would want my doctor to be able to find the Islets of Langerhans.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:09 PM on November 20, 2002


What is the US doing wrong that countries like Sweden are doing right in education and world awareness?

Lack of discipline... education's biggest problem regardless of subject matter.

i thought Americans were obsessed with their country... at least nowadays.

Huh? No, YOU are... and the rest of you "whatever-the-fucks"

Why? Because Americans don't give a shit about the rest of the world.

Speak for yourself.

Isn't it time for you Americans to admit that you are -- if truth be told -- more ignorant about what goes on outside your borders than the average European?

Who isn't admitting it? This whole thread is about admitting it, while trying to reason as to why.

(who really cares though)

Oddly enough 87% of Americans bathe and brush their teeth on a regular basis, while their European brothers and sisters fail to cleanse themselves more than once every 3 to 4 days... damn dirty apes. Also, shaving is a GOOD thing.

An enormous amount of Americans don't have passports and many have no interest in visiting foreign countries at all. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

Where do you come up with this crap? I'm starting to miss the whole point of this thread. If Americans needed a passport to travel from one state to the next, you'd see many more Americans with passports. Number two, travelling ain't cheap. Three, I have just as much interest in exploring the far corners of the US as I do visiting other countries. Hell, there are places in Virginia (my home state) I haven't been to yet (read: that little nippily area in the southwestern corner).

Wow, something we scored lower in than other countries. It makes perfect sense to me. It also makes perfect sense to me that the US produces better basketball players.

I don't think they're really interested in the world.

You must be drunk.

Canadians and Australians are also gigantic countries but they seem to be much more interested.

It doesn't take long to burn through those countries either. Sure Canada is big... most of it is inhabitable, same with a large portion of Australia. There are practically as many major cities in the state of California as there are in both of those countries. Argentina is pretty damn big too. How many cities does it have? ONE! How long do you think it would take a capable Argentine to consider doing a little bit of travelling across the borders.
posted by Witty at 8:37 PM on November 20, 2002


Man I got 20 out of 20 on that National Geographic thing. Don't know what was so hard about it. And I'm just your average Okie.
posted by Ron at 8:43 PM on November 20, 2002


Hildago> I'm afraid I disagree there. I deny that there is an 'average American' or even more than a pretense of a single 'American society' with a single set of norms which the 'avergage Americans' follow. One can quite happily spend one's days as a backwater farmer in Virginia living up quite readily to local social norms and generally being held as a good citizen while at the same time, someone in New York who tried to do the same would be considered nuts. I'm not going to go so far as to deny that there's a certain degree of unity amongst Americans, but I find this unity to be purely political in nature, not cultural.

Alum> To be honest, I consider that more the result of longevity on the part of the American system than a fundamental difference. Europe is in it's "Spirit of '76" phase, but the eventual ideal does seem to be something along the lines of American union.

Miguel> We're going to have to agree to disagree unfortunately. The American states _are_ as culturally distinct from one another as most European countries. If the linguistic thing throws you at first, think of whether the fact that Brazil and Portugal speak what is ostensibly the same language means they are culturally similar or whether it's just a historical relic. And let's not forget that historically, the United States _came_ to speak English as a majority language - Dutch, German, Spanish and French were all flourishing mother-tongues in North America until the 19th century, and in many cases continued as second-language instruction into the 20th (bolstered by constant waves of first-generation immigrants teaching their children their natives tongues).

And to be honest, I don't find the American range of culture to be more narrow at all. It genuinely does appear to simply be the case that Europeans like to pretend they're more different than they appear to me (an outside observer in this case), while the Americans like to pretend they're more similar than they appear to be. When you scrape off the ideological cover, I find remarkably little difference in the scope of cultural expression in either area.

I agree with you that the vast majority of American's aren't as interested in foreign countries as Europeans, but my intent is to find a reason other than 'They're dumb Americans', and I honestly believe that it can be explained by the idea of having a geographic and cultural "scope", which for Europeans include their European neighbours, and for Americans includes their neighbouring states, more due to quirks of geopolitics than intrinsic differences.

Thanks all. I appreciate the discussion.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:48 PM on November 20, 2002


I wonder how much of the test performance comes from the fact they used a different map projection than the one we (Americans) are used to. Almost every map I was taught on was using a Mercator projection, whereas the ones National G used look like some sort of equal area projection. Places like Russia, Alaska, and the whole China/SE Asia area look quite different between the two. Now, that doesn't mean that people shouldn't be able to figure out where things are, but it does make these questions an extra step removed from the geography taught in school.
posted by Schismatic at 9:01 PM on November 20, 2002


Okay, next American who has anything derogatory to say about Canada spending its money on healthcare will have this little factoid shoved up his ass.

My god. Half of the money goes to warfare instead of making people healthy? How sick is that?!



five fresh fish: It dosn't really matter how sick it is. It isn't true.
posted by delmoi at 9:04 PM on November 20, 2002


I haven't heard anyone mention that according to this poll, 21 percent of Britons can't find the U.S. on a map, Great Britain only beat the U.S. by 4 percent in locating Japan, only 51 percent could find Mexico, and 48 percent couldn't find the Pacific Ocean (Sweden pulled up a close second with 41 percent missing that question). Man British people are DUMB. It's true, just look at the statistics.

Also, did anyone notice how low the percentages were for people locating Sweden? What I took from this survey (which i scored an 18 of 20 on) is that people don't learn things like geography from textbooks, they learn them from life. This would explain why Europeans find countries in Europe easier and why Great Britain and Sweden scored low in locating the Pacific Ocean (Neither of them borders it, in case you don't know where Sweden and Great Britain are).

Finally, I heard that 76 percent of statistics were made up (it had to be said).
posted by untuckedshirts at 9:45 PM on November 20, 2002


Oh, and I have recieved more blank stares than I can count from people when I tell them that my mom was born is Wales. Sheesh.
posted by untuckedshirts at 9:49 PM on November 20, 2002


Okay, next American who has anything derogatory to say about Canada spending its money on healthcare will have this little factoid shoved up his ass.
I actually have derogatory things to say about Canada's spending on health care, AND the U.S.'s spending on the military. I realize this does not merit the ass shoving, but we can cuddle if you want.
posted by thirteen at 10:16 PM on November 20, 2002


Or rather, my middle stance might make you rethink the ass thing. I just wanted to provide an alternative.
posted by thirteen at 10:18 PM on November 20, 2002


When given a map of the universe and told to find New York, 80% of New Yorkers point right to the center.
posted by Hildago at 10:38 PM on November 20, 2002


i wasn't able to identify sweden on the map, doh. maybe because of all that ikea furniture in my living room my geographical sense is askew...? still 19 out of 20 is pretty damn good, 'specially considering my fellow canadians sucked ass in this survey - only correct 32% of the time...? buncha healthy morons.

but a sampling of only 300 people...? give me a break, what sort of survey is that...? did richard dawson administer it...? "let's play the faaaaamily feeeeewd!"

When given a map of the universe and told to find New York, 80% of New Yorkers point right to the center.

hehe. coincidentally enough, torontonians do the exact same thing.
posted by t r a c y at 10:42 PM on November 20, 2002


The American states _are_ as culturally distinct from one another as most European countries

I'll say. Try ordering "pizza" in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, New York. Entirely different things.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:01 PM on November 20, 2002


"A View of the World from Ninth Avenue", Saul Steinberg, 1976 (New Yorker cover). Much ripped off, since.



See also this Dutch mathematician's view of the world from his hometown along similar philosophical lines, generated from a series of professional maps. It's big, so I didn't link directly.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 PM on November 20, 2002


That exponential map is superb. Does anyone else have a pleasant dream where they float off above their location and slowly see more and more of the world? People who know what a world map looks like, of course.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:45 AM on November 21, 2002


I find this percentage amazingly low for all countries surveyed, but especially the US... I mean where have all the people who answered incorrectly been living for the past year?
I find also incredible that anyone living in the EU cannot answer the Euro question... What do, say, 9% of Italian youth use for money nowadays, Lirettas?
This question must have been poorly worded in Spanish, but still it shows that a percentage of the population ranging from 30% in the US to 14% in Sweden have difficulties with the concept of "west" on a map.
Keep in mind that these were multiple choice questions... I shudder to think what the results would have been if they were asked to identify a country on the map without having a limited selection to choose from.
posted by talos at 4:21 AM on November 21, 2002


I'll say. Try ordering "pizza" in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, New York. Entirely different things.

Yeah, WolfDaddy, that must be, like, really difficult. How many years of study do you think it would take for an average American to be proficient in ordering "pizza" in those four cities? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:45 AM on November 21, 2002


The American states _are_ as culturally distinct from one another as most European countries

Dear God.

It's because we don't NEED to know another language. We don't NEED to find another country on a map to survive and prosper.

Bloody hell.

Ask the Sweedes to identify the U.S. states or the Canadian provinces - that's the equivalent of the Americans identifying the Middle-Eastern countries.

? What relation does Sweden have to the Middle East? This is utter rubbish.

The answer is education. The US (and Britain) don't seem to have much. Sweden has a lot. Or perhaps a different, more thorough type that teaches things like where foreign countries are.

Remember, these are young people being tested, people who haven't had a chance to learn things from experience yet. I got 20/20 on the test, but if you'd asked me at age 18 it might have been a different story. Under trendy teaching policies of the time, 'facts' were unfashionable and we were rarely shown maps in school. I knew a lot about the weather patterns of equatorial Africa, but not a lot about where all the neighbouring European coutries were.

Americans can try and explain the results away all they like, but it has nothing to do with a country's position, world view, borders, history or pattern of immigration. it has to do with education. Mexico's education system is clearly in a bad way.
posted by Summer at 5:31 AM on November 21, 2002


I've not been on MeFi since yesterday afternoon, so I didn't see if this test on the countries in the middle east was posted. Anyway...How well did _ you_ do?
posted by notsnot at 6:36 AM on November 21, 2002


And to be honest, I don't find the American range of culture to be more narrow at all.

You got that right, even if you ignore the fact that we Americans have more immigrants than any other country, and more languages are spoken here than anywhere else. (Ask the superintendent of a big-city school district in the United States about the challenge of finding teachers who speak all those languages.)

A rural gun nut, a black kid in a big city, and a suburban white-collar worker are so culturally distinct as to practically live in separate countries. You have to be an American to understand this. The three people above almost surely never watch the same TV programs, listen to the same music, vote the same, decorate their homes the same.

When the OJ Simpson verdict was announced, blacks and especially whites were surprised by the different reactions. A lot of white people asked themselves, "Do we live in the same country?" Culturally and economically, we don't.

Outsiders have no idea how diverse the United States is. Americans, for example, appear to have much less unanimity of opinion about U.S. foreign policy as Europeans have. I daresay that informed Americans have a more nuanced view of U.S. policy, or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, than most Europeans.

There's little surprise that such a huge, diverse country doesn't know much about other countries. It's disconcerting, though, that so few Americans know their own country's population. Perhaps that ignorance can be traced back, yet again, to the sheer size and diversity of this country.
posted by Holden at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2002


Holden: let me point out that in any single country one can find three or more social groups that have so little in common that they might as well live in distinct countries. Especially if the criteria are:
"... never watch the same TV programs, listen to the same music, vote the same, decorate their homes the same."
This is the case in Greece (pop. 11 million) where I live and is certainly the case in, say, Germany (pop. ~80 mil). This by itself does not prove the US's greater social diversity than Europe- much less Asia- which consist of more than one countries and civilizations.
As for American opinions about foreign policy, having lived in the states for a total of 7 years, I was constantly surprised about the lack of interest most Americans have (or had- that was before 9/11/01) about foreign policy at all- and I can't see where you base this idea that "Europeans" (in general) have some sort of unanimity about their foreign policy.
posted by talos at 7:47 AM on November 21, 2002


The American states _are_ as culturally distinct from one another as most European countries

I'll say. Try ordering "pizza" in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, New York. Entirely different things.


(rolls eyes)

Theoretically yes, but due to the overwhelming prevalence of chain restaurants in most places you can find both LA-style and New York-style pizza in a lot of major cities. Now whether they're as good as they'd be in LA or NYC is another question...

But where I'm going with this: while the US is certainly not culturally homogenous the differences between U.S. states are not as sharp as those between European countries at all. I mean, come on. Texas to Oklahoma; Spain to France. What you have in the U.S. in terms of geographic cultural shifts are broad, fairly subtle cultural changes across regions - which have been increasingly diluted by large-scale "strip mall" culture - punctuated by country vs. city differences (which also exist in Europe of course) and small cultural enclaves, where the culture is typically heavily influenced by immigrants from some other country. (By this I mean, say, the Amish, or Chinatown, or small towns where German is still heavily spoken; Latin-American immigrants are far too large a group to be referred to as "enclaves" of course.) And...that's it! Yes, there is a range of culture in the U.S. such that you have maybe six or seven large, distinct American "cultures" whch aren't geographically specific. However, the fact that Chicago and New Orleans each have signature dishes do not make their differences equivalent to Italy vs. the Czech Republic. Jeez.

And since when did European countries not have subcultures? (What talos said.)
posted by furiousthought at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2002


Summer: Americans can try and explain the results away all they like, but it has nothing to do with a country's position, world view, borders, history or pattern of immigration.

Foolish... of course it has SOMETHING to do with it.

AND

it has to do with education.

...no doubt.

But I guarantee, assuming you're not from the states, that I will kick your ass in a U.S. geography quiz.
posted by Witty at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2002


Woah, sorry about this, but there's no getting round the fact that the richest, most powerful nation on earth is also one of the most ignorant and ill educated.

Any guesses as to how well the president of the United States would do on this test?
posted by tripitaka at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2002


Foolish... of course it has SOMETHING to do with it.

Very little, considering the age range.

But I guarantee, assuming you're not from the states, that I will kick your ass in a U.S. geography quiz.

Yes? So?
posted by Summer at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2002


tripitaka: What miserable hole in the ground are you from?
posted by Witty at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2002


Summer: Yes, so it has very much to do with other aspects beyond education. I'm more familiar with this land mass than you are due to my exposure and experience with it. It makes perfect sense that a European would have an easier time pointing out Hungary on a map than an American would. That same American could point out Nebraska while the European would flounder for the answer.

I learned the Periodic Table of Elements in school too... I could practically fill in a blank one at the time. But now, since I've had very little experience with the thing, I would expect to grade far worse than say... a CHEMIST.

Can you name all the planets in order from closest to the sun and out (not that it's difficult)? I mean what's the point? I bet a Nigerian could clean up on an African geography quiz... far better than I could. My friend Ken, who lived all over the world while in his school years, would beat the pants off all of us on a geography quiz. Why? Education and EXPERIENCE.
posted by Witty at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2002


Pseudoephedrine: Great points, which by the way have not been refuted. You've said everything I wanted to say, but in a cogent, thoughtful way instead of my sarcastic, off-the-cuff way.

The fact that some of the people are referring to an "average" American at all belies the fallacy of their thinking. In California a person can take their exam for a diver's license in THIRTY different languages. According to the 1990 Census, 329 different languages are spoken in the United States today including English. How many languages are spoken with that frequency in Sweden? Can you imagine how expensive and difficult this makes things, but we do it anyway because we appreciate the diversity! There is no such thing as an average American - our standard deviation is much, much wider than ANY European country.

And for all of you condemning America's military spending, don't you admit that some of that has to do with he propensity of some European countries to incessantly try to extinguish other countries from the planet, and the European's apparent willingness to let America do their police work for them? Sure we don't spend as much on education as other countries, but doesn't some of that have to do with the fact the we do so much of the world's heavy lifting? And are they grateful - it sure seems not.
posted by trigfunctions at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2002


It makes perfect sense that a European would have an easier time pointing out Hungary on a map than an American would. That same American could point out Nebraska while the European would flounder for the answer.

Right, for a start the comparison is ridiculous. Sweden and Hungary are two separate countries. In terms of geographical distance they may not be as far apart as some states in the US, but they're not part of the same bloody country. Swedes don't read about Hungary in their press, they don't regularly see weather maps that include Hungary, they don't watch TV programmes set in Hungary, they don't know celebrities that come from Hungary, they don't learn Hungarian history in school (unless they're doing WWI), they don't speak Hungarian. Hungary wasn't even part of the quiz.

The countries mentioned in the quiz were:

America
Japan
Mexico
Italy
Sweden
Afghanistan
Israel
Argentina

A Swede would have the advantage over an American how?
posted by Summer at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2002


Because it takes about an afternoon to learn all there is to know about the geography of Sweden, before moving on to something new, compared to that of the U.S.

My point is, you can't just chalk it all up to education, which you did earlier. I'm not trying to defend our educational system. It's flawed and deficient for sure. But using this 300 person geography quiz to blanket-ly bash American education is foolish and naive.
posted by Witty at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2002


I assume the map used in this quiz was a plain ol' world map like some of us had on our walls as kids. One that labels the countries. Making this quiz perhaps more a test of literacy than geographical knowledge. I mean, even if you know little about geography, how hard is it really to find the spot with IRAQ written across it?
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2002


Kindall, if you take the test, you'll see that the countries are numbered.

I fail to see what racial diversity has to do with these results.
posted by dydecker at 10:30 AM on November 21, 2002


Woo Hoo! 19/20. In your face ignorant Americans!

oops. I'm from the US.

I don't know how people are to understand a society's history, culture, or people without understanding the physical location and constraints of a country. It is easier to grasp why Kashmir is being contested if you understand it is situated between non-democratic Islamic Pakistan and India, a country of a billion people with perhaps dozens of languages, several belief systems, and a democratic national government with regional political issues.

Who cares why people score well or poorly? One should strive to learn if one wants to be more tolerant or at least understanding when it comes to other cultures. But I doubt I shall ever see that in the farce that is the US public school system.
posted by infowar at 10:40 AM on November 21, 2002


Hilarious thread ;-) Thanks to all for participating. I love the way a survey by a US publisher (get those subscriptions in 4 Xmas!), discussed on a mainly US forum has turned into another US v Europe debate.

My personal view, as a GB resident, of GB's poor showing is that we're too insular, too immersed in pop/tabloid culture and our education isn't up to par. No excuses here.

As for knowing about the world & the like, here's an anecdote...

I work for a small GB-based publishing co. 65% of our readers & advertisers are in the US. We have a number of fax-back pages in our titles so that readers can subscribe, get more info & so forth.

We used to print our fax number in the internationally-recognised format '+44 1273 etc [where '44' is the UK country code & '+' means use your international access code]. We recently had to add a line underneath which said 'From the US fax 011 44 1273 etc' because we kept getting calls from US-based secretaries saying that they didn't have a '+' key on their fax. And don't get me started on folks not realising that the UK is *gasp* in a time zone at least 5 hours ahead...

Anyway, I use the story not to illustrate that USians are thickies (they're not) but to show that a little global education may help...world economy 'n' all that.

Finally, if anyone is still here, Comparing the US to Europe is stoopid. Try comparing two continents of similar poulations...say...Europe & The Americas.

Somebody get the lights on the way out...
posted by i_cola at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2002


I found it interesting that Germany scored the highest in locating Israel.

I got 19/20 (damn those Christians! I didn't know there were so many of them!). Luckily for me on this test you didn't really need to precisely where a country was, just a general idea of location.
posted by witchstone at 11:35 AM on November 21, 2002


dydecker: I think you missed kindall's point. If I understand it correctly, most maps used on a daily basis by "average Americans and Swedes" are those in which the country is labeled by name... making the point of identifying a country based on it's shape rather silly.

I was able to locate Sweden in the quiz because I know where Scandinavia is. None of the other answers were located in that region. So I got it right. But I always confuse the order of Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

As far as what racial diversity has to do with it... again I think the point is it's darn near impossible to get an accurate "average American" answer by polling 300 people. That may be enough in a country like Sweden or Japan, where populations a bit more homogenous.

Racial diversity comes up all the time (in the U.S.) when it comes to test taking (the SATs especially). Whites score better in some areas while blacks do better in others. Whether that's the case with geography, who knows.
posted by Witty at 11:49 AM on November 21, 2002


Because it takes about an afternoon to learn all there is to know about the geography of Sweden, before moving on to something new, compared to that of the U.S.

You're making a different argument now, but it's still stupid. People don't start scouring atlases because they've run out of places to look at in their own country. It's perfectly possible to be a small country with a small population and still be insular. By your reasoning, people in cities would be more inward looking than people in villages. That isn't the case, is it?

My point is, you can't just chalk it all up to education, which you did earlier.

The reason I think education is the major factor is because France and Germany scored so much better than the UK. They're countries of similar sizes, with similarish enough cultures and histories. So why the difference?
posted by Summer at 12:19 PM on November 21, 2002


I think there are larger issues in foreign policy than the ability to locate a country on a map, which tells you precisely NOT A SINGLE DAMN THING about their culture or government...

And the fact of the matter is that a lot of countries get to spend their money on health care or giving thousands of dollars to people for breeding or whatever because we're going to be the ones defending them. That America has such a large military is precisely what allows a lot of countries not to, so I wouldn't be complaining if I were you.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:35 PM on November 21, 2002


Witty: yes I do miss that point. A test with the names of all the countries written on the map--only in America I guess.
posted by dydecker at 12:44 PM on November 21, 2002


dydecker: All your sarcasm aside, the fact remains that a geography test proves very little. I didn't suggest that the test be administered via a map with the names printed on it. Can you identify the island of Montserrat? If not, TRY LOOKING AT A MAP!

Summer: I think education is the major factor as well. but I don't think it's the ONLY factor... which is the only reason I chose to take issue with you in the first place. You said it was.
posted by Witty at 1:54 PM on November 21, 2002


so I wouldn't be complaining if I were you.

Who are you talking to?
posted by Summer at 2:02 PM on November 21, 2002


Witty?

You aren't.
posted by riviera at 2:30 PM on November 21, 2002


Oddly enough 87% of Americans bathe and brush their teeth on a regular basis, while their European brothers and sisters fail to cleanse themselves more than once every 3 to 4 days... damn dirty apes. Also, shaving is a GOOD thing.

Any evidence for this? My 'brothers and sisters' and yes, I do live in Europe, seem to be pretty clean. Also, roughly 95% of them are clean shaven.

Where do you come up with this crap? I'm starting to miss the whole point of this thread. If Americans needed a passport to travel from one state to the next, you'd see many more Americans with passports.

In the EU you can cross borders without passports, by road at least, (not 100% sure if passport is only needed as ID for air transport). Many Europeans have never and may not want to ever leave the EU, so are passports a great indicator of geographical awareness? I think not.

I live in Northern Ireland, that's a country/state/province to the west of England, which is to the west of France. Even though this island is reasonably preoccupied with its own troubles, I would imagine that most of the people here would have a reasonable knowledge of the world map. If only so they knew where the arms shipments were coming from.
posted by knapah at 2:50 PM on November 21, 2002


Witty: the test is valid. It is simply a test of pure factual knowledge - the locations of countries on a map of the world.

Now whether this knowledge is valuable is a different question. I think it is. Others would disagree. But when I hear about a volcano destroying half of Monserrat, I not only don't have to worry about the safety of my sister-in-law in the south of France, I also don't have to look at a map to be sure. I can also work out all by myself why they have the worst national soccer team in the world (the country is tiny and half of it is dry lava).

Knowledge is useful to let you think outside your own experience.
posted by dydecker at 2:51 PM on November 21, 2002


Summer...

Question 18: 58% of Swedes knew where the Pacific Ocean was. 71% of Americans did.

Sure, Swedes may have a style of Geography education that teaches them more using the map, but I don't think it's that simple. The fact is, Europeans do see things like Hungary and Israel on the map more than the US. Many Americans don't really care about where the other countries. I got a 20 out of 20, but I'm working in International business. I have to know this stuff. I don't, on the other hand, know what the Atomic Weight of Lead is. It's all trivia unless you need it.

Joe American (or Jan Swede) doesn't need to know about the I/P issue. It's basically irrelevant. If the survey showed U.S. diplomats unknowledgable of facts concerning I/P or Kashmir, I would worry. But I think it's entirely irrelevant that Joe American working at the factory doesn't know where Argentina is on a map.
posted by Kevs at 2:56 PM on November 21, 2002


Some more stunners:
El Nino: 48% Americans knew it, 32% Swedes, 15% French

Largest oil exporter: 81% US, 70% Germans

Find US on map: 89%US, 88% Germans& Italians, 79% Brits

Find Mexico: 80% US, 71% French & Germans, 72% Italians, 51% Brits

Find Pacific: 71% US, 59% Swedes, 60% French, 52% Brits

See - we Americans are not the only idiots in the world! This average American got 19 of 20 - I really thought there were fewer Christians.
posted by trigfunctions at 3:56 PM on November 21, 2002


As Howard Stern said today: "I don't know where Iraq is on a map either... but why should I-- we're getting rid of it in 2 months anyway"
posted by cell divide at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2002


you'll see that the countries are numbered.

Ah. Well that's not really a fair test, then. "Iraq is in the middle east" is basically all you need to know. Should you ever need to know its exact coordinates, say because you were planning to launch an ICBM at it, that knowledge plus a map would let you find it in short order.

I'd give credit to anyone who got in the right general area. Expecting people who don't live in a place to be able to recognize its exact shape well enough to pick it out on a map is just silly and a test of nothing useful. The whole reason we have maps is so we don't have to keep information like that in our heads.
posted by kindall at 5:52 PM on November 21, 2002


National Geographic has a lot of money behind geographic products and is financially well served to paint a picture of poor geographic skills in the USA as it will result in increased sales of its products.
posted by stbalbach at 7:04 PM on November 21, 2002


The whole reason we have maps is so we don't have to keep information like that in our heads.

Let's not forget making our walls look less bare.
posted by Hildago at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2002


Expecting people who don't live in a place to be able to recognize its exact shape well enough to pick it out on a map is just silly and a test of nothing useful.

We'll have to differ on that one, kindall. One person's silly is another person's test of basic intellectual fitness.

But that's been done to death in this thread already, so I'll stop.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:46 PM on November 21, 2002


Kevs, trig. Why don't we take the 'neutral' places, such as Afghanistan, Israel, Japan and Argentina? France, Germany and Sweden outperform all other nations, including the US, the UK and Canada. I think instead of people from the latter nations making up stupid excuses about the racial diversity, size and outlook of their nations, they should just teach their kids some facts.
posted by Summer at 2:02 AM on November 22, 2002


I think instead of people from the latter nations making up stupid excuses about the racial diversity, size and outlook of their nations, they should just teach their kids some facts.

I can't speak for the UK and Canada, but in the U.S. we do teach kids facts. In fact, we also teach many thousands of graduate students from other countries facts about computer science, engineering, medicine, etc. We have the greatest advanced educational system that has ever existed on the planet. We don't teach all of our people equally, that's true and not good, but our country is so much more diverse than any other country that generalizations are meaningless. Would I like the level of general education in this country to rise - certainly.
posted by trigfunctions at 10:58 AM on November 22, 2002


FWIW, as someone based in the UK, I got 58/87 in the test notsnot linked to (those pesky former USSR states got me confused).

Several people have repeated the point about America being "more cultually diverse" as if this is an explanation. The trouble is, geography is pretty much standard all over the world. Take the English versions of names off a politcal map - as NG appear to have done - and it could be a product of any of the cultures who took part in the test.

3 in 10 Americans tested couldn't find an ocean which forms one of the borders of their own country. Somehow, roughly 5 in 10 Britains failing to find an ocean which is on the other side of the globe doesn't suggest the same lack of knowledge. If 3/10 Britains had failed to spot the Atlantic ocean, maybe you could draw parallels...

(and let's not forget Japan and Canada, who also has a Pacific seaboard, scored 84% and 85% respectively).
posted by anyanka at 5:43 PM on November 22, 2002


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