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Yesterday while working here at the hostel, I overheard a conversation between an Australian guest and an American guest.
Aussie guy: "So where are you from?"
American girl: "I live in Michigan right next to Lake Michigan."
Aussie guy: "I know of Michigan, but where is Lake Michigan?"
American: "It's a pretty big lake to the east, it's as long as the state. It's one of the five Great Lakes."
Aussie: "I'm sorry for my ignorance of geography, but I've never heard of it."
I just laughed. Here is a guy from another continent apologizing for never having heard of a lake in the United States. Granted, it's a huge lake, but why would someone from Australia really care to learn about them? I certainly don't know of any lakes in Australia.
The girl almost seemed surprised when he said he'd never heard of it.
"Like, really...? It's a huge lake!" She didn't actually say that, but her look did.
Should people be surprised?
When I worked at a Hilton hotel last year, I had two guests come in and hand me their passports for check-in. They were from Bulgaria. I was excited and told them I had never met anyone from Bulgaria before. They looked at me wide-eyed.
"You know where Bulgaria is?!"
"None of the Americans we met on the way here knew where it was, so we were just ready to assume most Americans wouldn't know."
That's just sad.
Six weeks ago I took a cab to the airport. My cab driver had a very thick accent, so I asked him where he was from. He told me he had moved to Nashville from Ethiopia last year. I told him that's a huge move and asked him a little about it. He then asked me, "You've heard of Ethiopia?"
There was also the pizza delivery guy. It was always the same guy delivering me pizzas because I always ordered from the same place. He also had a very thick accent. One day I finally asked him where he was from, he told me to guess. I honestly have no damn clue how I guessed it, but I said, "Uzbekistan?" Totally random, right?! I don't even know why I guessed that. He just looked at me in shock, "Who told you? Wow, most people don't even know that's a country!"
But my question is: why are people so surprised? Are they shocked an American has heard of their country, or are they shocked anyone outside of the bordering countries has heard of it?
The 'Potato State' - You know it by that name, right?
I grew up in Idaho. Since traveling around the U.S. for the last 17 years I keep getting the same annoying question from fellow Americans, and I know other Idahoans have had the same frustration...
Annoying American: "Where are you from?"
Me: "No, Idaho."
Me: "I.D.A.H.O. It's a state. In your country."
How well do Americans know geography?
Since working at the hostel I've met so many people from out of the country, and a surprising majority of them know exactly where Idaho is.
Why is that?
Yes, there's a bias. I work at a hostel; therefore, the people I meet are travelers who already have a broader knowledge of other countries.
One of my favorite and most depressing youtube videos is of Jay Leno going out in the streets and testing the geography knowledge of American high school students. Let me share it with you.
Warning: you might do a lot of facepalms. Here's that video.
I cringe every time I watch it. Why is it that, in general, Americans seem to be much less knowledgeable of world geography compared to people of other countries?
I can't stand it. I just want to grab some people and shake them silly. "No! Africa is NOT a country!"
Want to test your geography IQ? Sporcle.com has LOTS of games on geography on cities, states, countries, and continents. Here's the link! The more you play, the more you learn! I was on this site practically every day through college.
My co-worker also showed me two new Google Maps games. One is called GeoGuessr and the other Smarty Pins.
GeoGuessr: How it works is you'll be given a picture of a landscape somewhere in the world. It's on Google Maps so you'll be able to move around, zoom in and out, and take a stroll through the street wherever you are. You then drop a pin on the world map of where you think it is. Google will tell you how many miles you were off. The closer you are to the correct answer, the more points you get.
Just Google 'Geo Guessr'.
Smarty Pins: Combining trivia and geography. You'll be asked random trivia questions concerning geography. Drop the pin on the correct location. Just google 'Smarty Pins'.
Try it out! I'm addicted.
Happy Sunday, and happy travels!
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz