Your geographical misconceptions

Including general knowledge gaps that you feel you shouldn’t have had (e.g. “wait, there’s been a country there this entire time?”)

Young child:

  • I thought Berlin was right on the full FRG/GDR border, and that the Berlin Wall ran along the entire border and through Berlin.
  • You’re flying to Chicago? Cool. That’s one of those “four corners” states, isn’t it? Can you bring me back some sand from the desert? You say I’m wrong? Well, if you do encounter any desert on your trip, I’d like a sand sample.

High school:

  • The existence of Malta surprised me one day.
  • I one day noticed that China has a giant island (Hainan) off its coast.


  • My mental map of Canada is skewed. I forget how far west Ontario goes, and in my mind, Calgary is due north of Denver. Despite having been to both cities and knowing this isn’t true.

Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash speak perfect English! What do you mean they’re from a different country?

I had to mail a package to Sri Lanka, realized I had no effing clue where it was, hoped USPS knew more than I did.

First time I sent something to Singapore, the post office clerk insisted it was a city what was the country? (20+ yrs ago) we went back and forth, ‘yes, but it’s a country, too!’ Until another clerk suggested the first look under ‘Republic of‘, which is exactly where it is.

I’ve long had this mental picture of the continental USA being divided roughly into four “quadrants,” and being from the Northeast, have long imagined much of the central/western USA to be farther west and farther north than it actually is. Even now, looking at a map, it surprises me how centrally located, say, Denver, CO is. I keep imagining Denver and Salt Lake City to be farther northwest than they actually are, San Francisco to be farther north than it actually is, etc. I keep thinking such places are right smack dab in the middle of the northwestern “quadrant” of the USA.

I didn’t think enough about the geography of Canada to have those particular misconceptions, but as for myself I didn’t realize Canada went so South and that the farthest north I’ve been in North America in fact has been somewhere in Oregon rather than Ontario or Quebec.

My own: Rome, Hamburg, London, and Antwerp, were all at one time capitals of great naval powers or were naval trading cities, so they must have a great naval port right on the ocean, right?

I’ll admit that when I was young, I thought everyone in Canada spoke French. In my defense, I grew up in northern New York along the Quebec border, so I had encountered a lot of Canadians and they all spoke French. Plus it seemed to make historical sense to me; I figured Spain had settled Mexico, England had settled America, and France had settled Canada.

At one point I was visiting some Yoopers (MI Tech and thereabouts) and realized I was farther north than anywhere I’d been in Ontario. I later found some website listing population by latitude and figured out what percentage of Canadians I was farther north than. But I don’t remember the number.

Strange to think that there are probably over a million Canadians who live south of me.

I’d always had a skewed notion of how big Antarctica and Greenland are and how relatively small Africa looks (due to skewed Mercator Projection) - when in fact Africa is utterly enormous and Greenland and Antarctica are relatively small.

How far north San Fransisco is. I always think of it as maybe an hour from LA.

I’m always surprised how far south the equator is (or I guess more accurately, how many countries are north of it). It seems like all of Africa should be south of the equator, and India should be straddling it. But New Delhi is north of Miami and Orlando.

To be fair, three of them have a nice wide estuary which lets oceangoing ships dock inside their environs.

For several years I labored under the misconception that Concord is due north of where I live. It is not. Not even remotely.

And yet San Francisco is farther south than Washington D.C.

I’m always amazed at the fact that much of South America is farther east than Florida.

I believe that 27 US states have at least some portion more north than the southernmost point of Canada. And 2 NBA teams play in US cities more north than the “We The North” Toronto Raptors.

Korea is in the wrong place. It should be somewhere between Hong Kong and SE Asia. Which, it turns out, is where Hainan is. I think I must have had them confused all this time.

Michigan: What’s up with that?

I though Ireland was east of England. Even though I know it’s not that image with Ireland in the North Sea still haunts my mind.

According to China, they have two.