Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympics parade of nations reveals lack of geographic knowledge

From My SA:  Olympics parade of nations reveals lack of geographic knowledge

Kiribati and Benin and Comoros, oh my!
As the athletes from more than 200 nations entered the Olympic Stadium in London last week, I couldn't help but feel my knowledge of global geography was a bit lacking. More than that, I felt like an idiot. Sure, I knew the majors. I can find Greece, Ireland and Germany on a map. China and Japan are easy. I am pretty good with North America, because I live there, and I can identify most parts of South America, thanks to Mrs. Bornstein's high school Spanish class. But as the pomp and pageantry went on, I was hard-pressed to recognize several dozen nations that, frankly, sounded made up.

Vanuatu? Tuvalu? Nauru? I was a tad embarrassed when my daughters would ask, "Where's that, Daddy?" I couldn't get to Google fast enough.

As an American, I tend to not think about other countries unless we are at war with them, fighting a war with them or they are a location featured in commercials for Sandals Resorts. I am sure I would be quite familiar with Lesotho if there was a Disney Resort there. If the Burkina Faso tourist board ran commercials on TVLand in the middle of the night, I know I would be able to find it on a map.

I often marvel at the size of the United States on the globe. You can cover it with your thumb, but basically, it is all I know. I often think of myself as well traveled because I have been in all 50 states, but watching 200-plus nations parade in with their flags was a jarring realization that I really haven't explored our world at all. Not even in books.
The combination nations (the ones with "and" in the middle) sounded like cover bands. Saint Kitts and Nevis, São Tomé and Príncipe, Antigua and Barbuda all sound surprisingly similar to Prince and the New Revolution. If you were to ask me, if I had ever heard of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, I would have sworn they used to play at Cooter Browns back in the '80s.

Some of the nation names are fun to say. From now on, whenever I am feeling down, I will yell out, "Djibouti," "Azerbaijan" or "Belarus" and smile. Some of the nations, I simply can't pronounce. Doesn't matter if Kyrgyzstan or Côte d'Ivoire are fun to say because my American tongue cannot begin to handle them. The former could use a few more vowels, while the latter simply has too many. Perhaps they could work out some sort of trade.

The beginning of any knowledge journey often begins with the realization that you don't know as much as you thought you did. Such is the case with the Olympic nations. For the duration of the games, I am going to have my laptop in front of me so that I can identify the nations of the world and pick up a fact or two about their cultures. Might even look into a visit. I wonder if there is a Club Med in Mauritania?


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