I was enjoying my DVD of The Rutles tonight (mockumentary of a Beatle-esque band, by British actor/comedian Eric Idle), and noted that he at least had some familiarity with US geography. There’s a good joke about Berkeley (University of Please-Yourself California) and a trip to New Orleans in the film.
Now I always figured that non-Americans only knew Chicago, New York, and LA (a fact they capitalize on for a laugh in Spinal Tap.) After all, we only know the capitals and major cities of most foreign countries. As an American, the only thing I have to know about England is where Old Trafford is, and a handful of sites important for Beatle-related reasons.
So, in a nutshell, my question is: how well do non-Americans understand our US geography? How many of our cities do they know, how much of our regional stereotypes are they familiar with (do they know how we make fun of Southerners like Corkers make fun of Kerrymen?)
A good 80% of my friends could not describe to me the whereabouts of Chicago. At all. No idea whether it was central/east/west.
To be honest, I suspect most people, here at least, have a good idea where New York is (somewhere on the east coast), may know that California’s on the west coast, know that Canada is to the North and Texas is somewhere down south. The rest is a bit of a grey area.
After moving to Canada from the states I’ve found that many Canadians know only the basics of U.S. geography. But I’ve also met many Americans whose knowledge of U.S. geography was just as bad. I’m going to say that Canadians know U.S. geography much much better than Americans know Canadian geography (Like the waitress who served me in Pennsylvaina last month who didn’t know what an Ontario was). I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that this holds true for most any country’s population. American media is so pervasive that people around the world are chock full of amero-centric knowledge. How long is a plane ride from Frankfurt to Berlin? Beats me, but I bet 4/5 of Germans know that L.A. is about a 5 hour flight from NYC just from watching so many American t.v. shows and movies. And this would hold true for just about anybody. Now some isolated places like Vanuatu might not have such an intimacy with American media products, but they at least know that the USA exists, which is more than the average American can say about Vanuatu.
Most Brits can give you the four “corners”… we know Seattle is northwest, LA is southwest, Orlando or Miami or both are southeast, and NYC and DC are northeastern… beyond that, most people know that Kansas is somewhere kind of in the middle, that Michigan is oop north, and that Texas is at the bottom (and where Dallas is, but probably not Houston or San Antonio).
I should say, most British schoolchildren- haven’t a clue what adults in general would know. More, I imagine.
I think I could list all the states…(jots on piece of paper) OK, I can name 45 states off the top of my head, but I did know where they all were. (If you’re interested, I forgot Pennsylvania, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska & Iowa. I only remembered Michigan because dutchboy208 mentioned it )
I could give you a huge list of US cities, but I could only tell you in which states the ones on the coast are. I don’t think I could name more than two state capitals (is Sacramento California’s and Albany New York’s?)
I’m vaguely aware that Southerners marry their cousins, or their farmyard animals. Or not as the case may be…(ducks)
I’d say most Brits actually know rather less than dutchboy and chiefgnome. Andy above probably got it about right.
As for regional stereotypes, from films and tv most brits would know southerners as trailer trash, New Yorkers as cynical, LA as either ghetto hip hop, or superficial hollywood glam types. And of course Texans as cowboys - i think Bush may have helped here a little too!
thing is, for those that don’t need to know, don’t.
take russia for example, i assume it’s a pretty big piece of land, but i haven’t been there, probably won’t, and nothing geographically interesting (to me) has happened so for me it’s just russia with moscow somewhere in it…
Hopefully not off-topic, but I recently saw a movie Last Orders with a fantastic cast including Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, and several others of note, in which a reasonable sense of the southern areas of England are travelled to and discussed. Helped me a lot in getting a sense of that area.
I’d like to support the notion that “geographical sense” isn’t limited to any one country or continent. Many Americans of the USA persuasion can’t tell you how to get to the next town and have no clue (much less interest) in anything as far away as the next state. OTOH there are many world travellers who not only know, but have been to, every continent, most countries, and many smaller towns in them.
It’s disgusting to see college kids not knowing the capital of the country! But understandable, since geography as a concept is usually an elementary school subject with little follow-up in later grades. You have to care to learn the stuff.
And whenever I watch the National Geographic program focusing on a “spelling bee” type of geographical trivia, I’m blown away with how much those kids know and how little I do. And I try to reduce my ignorance by studying globes and maps and such.
I keep an atlas on hand when things like the Iraq situation come up, and try to gauge for myself where things are and in what relation they are to other places. But I consider myself well outside the normal range in this respect.
I recently was in Canada for 2 weeks, and was startled at how little geography they knew. It’s reasonable (I guess) to not know US geography… but hell, I got equally blank looks when I said “I’m from Michigan” as when I said “I live 3 hours west of Sault Ste. Marie Ontario!” Hell, I guess I was at least expecting “Ontario” to ring some bells!
For what it’s worth, I know more Canadian geography than most of the Canadians I met knew American geography. But then, I’m just naturally a smartie.
In my own unique limited personal experience, the folks in GB and Eurpope tend to have a difficult time wrapping their heads around two things:
The US of A is BIG - it’s number three in size and population, for goodness sake, not roughly twice the size of France.
It is full of people who weren’t born here. California alone attracts something like a quarter of a million immigrants annually. (Londoners, for instance, people seem to think I’ll be amazed by all the non-white people running around, eating spicy foods!)
But maybe I just work with and hang outwith people who are prone to that type of error…
My knowledge of US geography has improved immensely since I got onto the Net and started making friends in the States. I got myself a huge, detailed wallmap of the USA and marked where they all lived, and would spend time vacantly staring at it whilst “thinking”. Then I realised a lot of it had sunk in!
It seems universal that knowledge of another countries geography is lacking all over the globe. And this is with adults.
I wonder why it is then that in the U.S. I occasionally hear news stories about how “shocked and dismayed” educators are that children don’t know world geography. Are they pushing thier agenda or something? Sure it may be somewhat important that kids learn the stuff but they act like it’s a national crisis.
From my (admitted brief) trips to America, I got the distinct feeling that *none[/] of them know where Ireland was. One guy even asked my if I drove to the States !! Yeah - in my amazing underwater paddy-wagon…
My knowledge is similar to that dutchboy describes. I couldn’t list 100% of the US states, but I’d recognise the names of each written down. I understand many of the US state abbreviations (CA, ON, FL, OK, WV, NY, TX, etc.)
Now, if an American do locate my home state on a map (hint: it’s three times as big as Texas), I’d be impressed.
How does trying to justify your own ignorange of Russian geography relate to the OP?
Doesn’t that suggest that they expected you to be unaware of the ethnic variety of London rather than any ignorance they had of the ethnic diversity of the USA? I’m confident that most British people are fully aware that people living in the USA weren’t necessarily born there.
I agree with xash that this thread is unsuited to GQ. A list of personal anecdotes about how much or how little those of us who don’t come from the USA know about its geography hardly constitutes a factual answer to a factual question. I know plenty of details personally, but I have know way of measuring how typical that is.