A question for all U.S. citizens

Konrad Valentin   Saturday, June 19, 2004, 18:02 GMT
Would you say that most U.S. citizens know the difference between Britain/British and England/English or not?
Clark   Saturday, June 19, 2004, 19:21 GMT
This question is kind of hard to answer because some Americans know that England is different from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but think of "England" as being Britain (in a political sense. For example, "England is our best ally" when they mean Britain, whether they know it or not).

Some Americans know the difference and refer to Britain as being the political unit, and then they know that there are seperate countries that make up Britain.

Some Americans have never heard of Wales before, and have probably heard of Scotland and Ireland because many Americans have Sottish and Irish ancestors, but have no clue that "England" is not Britain.

I have a history professor who always refered to Britain as "England." I asked him one day, "do you mean England, or Britain?" And of course, he meant Britain, but I was sick and tired of hearing the wrong usage.

And there are so many other scenarios that I have heard, that it would take all day to write them down :-P

Bottom line, if you were ever in America and asked this question, you should not be too surprised at the answers you get.
mjd   Saturday, June 19, 2004, 21:38 GMT
Naturally this all depends on the level of education/awareness of the person to whom you're speaking. We know that England is a country on the island of Great Britain, but sometimes we just say "England" when we mean "Great Britain" etc. Why is this?...well I'd say it's because England has far more exposure here in the States than Scotland, Wales, etc. In addition, it seems to us like England runs the show in the United Kingdom so they're the first that come to mind.

This is not to say, however, that we can't tell the difference between a Scottish accent and an English one (yes...I know there are many different English accents).

I don't think this is a subject that many Americans spend their time thinking about.
Anonymous American   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 00:42 GMT
Sadly, I think there are all too many Americans who think of _Europe_ thusly...

"Well, England. They're our good allies you know. And France. We're on the same side, but they're snobs."

and if you prod them a little more,

"Oh yeah. And Germany of course. We beat them up in WWII."

They might mention Ireland if they're of Irish decent, or Scotland. Maybe even Spain if they studied Spanish in high school.

A few years ago, while I was in college, I asked 5 people a simple question out of morbid curiosity:
"What is the capital of Belgium?"

1. Art Student 1 - 'Dunno. Belgia?'
2. Art Student 2 - 'That's in Africa?'
3. Engineering - 'No freaking clue'
4. Business Management - 'Easy. Lisbon.'
5. History - 'Brussels, right?'

Another good excercise is to ask them where Paris is on an unlabeled map. :-)
Not everyone is so clueless, but it scares the crap out of me that so many are.
anony mouse   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 02:41 GMT
Don't worry the same goes for Europeans. Most couldn't tell Burundi from Burma or San Diego from Sao Paulo.
Jordi   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 06:35 GMT
I would say that Europeans mostly know the geography of countries where they migrated in huge numbers in the past few centuries. That includes North, Central and South America and, for many, Australia and New Zealand.
What I mean to say is that we mostly know the countries that a have a "European" label added to them. Obviously the Spaniards and Portuguese know better their old Empires and the British the same. Since Italians have spread all over the place without having an Empire they tend to know more than the rest. I would say the Dutch and Scandinavians are quite intelligent nations as well. As far as the German speaking peoples they have probably studied a lot of geography as well. They were never powerful until the 20th century and the better days of European Imperialism were by then by-gone.
I would agree that Europeans know very little about Asia and slightly more about Africa. The countries we know more about are the countries where the European influence and the European descendants are in greater numbers (South Africa, perhaps India, Philippines...)
I'm speaking, of course, of the average Europeans who are mostly interested in European style cultures or cultures with a European touch. As far as far-eastern countries without European migration go, we seem to know a bit more about Japan than the rest because advanced "rich" societies have a greater influence in the planet than the rest. Not that that makes me happy but that could be part of the explanation.
What is harder to understand, for many Europeans, is how US society seems to evolve very much around its own navel. It happens everywhere in the world but the US would be paradigmatic. We all know that it is the most powerful country in the world (general revenues not generalised quality of life). Still, European societies have never been really like that and have tended to show much more interest about the rest of the world than US American society. Already, one has the feeling that Canada is different and more "European" if you would please forgive me the use of the the term. Perhaps the feeling of a "promised land" is so rooted in the hearts of most Americans that they feel the rest of the planet is little less than an area from which one gets some extra supplies (very few) and sells most of its surpluses (quite a lot). The rest of the planet becomes a big Terra incognita (in Latin) with weird names and languages. Except good ol' England, of course. The most important worldwide known American author, William Shakespeare, was born there!
There is, of course, a line of fine illustrated Americans that break the topic but the average American and the average European, both in their poor average ignorance and their poor average education, are not quite the same.
Konrad Valentin   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 07:42 GMT
Thank you for those very interesting comments. I must admit that my own knowledge of the geography of Africa is a little hazy - probably because the names of countries seem to keep changing. Most people in England appear to have a better knowledge of U.S. states than they they do of English counties. I wonder why.
Damian   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 08:07 GMT
Hey, tell me - is Albuquerque really a place or some horrrible skin disease? LOL Only joking!

Oh, Jordi...I so love your postings...you are so erudite and perceptive. I love your humour as well.....Will Shakespeare..that famous American! You know...I would like to bet that SOME Americans believe he WAS American. An American student at uni asked me: "Does England celebrate Thanksgiving?" I have also had the feeling that Canada is a lot more "European" than their big neighbour to the south of them. Maybe it's because it is in the Commonwealth (British) or because of French Quebec and Montreal, etc.

It is true that Europe at least (including the UK), fairly or unfairly I'm not sure, regard Americans as very ignorant of anywhere outside their borders. Anonymous American really hit the nail on the head with what he/she said. In its USA editions, the TV program "The Weakest Link"... (still currently being shown on BBC2 here in the UK)... with contestants from all over the USA, was such an eye opener. American "ignorance" of the rest of the world was so obvious. A lot of them were pretty vague about their own country as well, and the strange thing was that they were mostly professional people of all kinds. I found that astonishing. The difference between the British editions and the American was amazing. The Brits were asked questions covering all topics and subjects, but a large proportion of the questions put to the Americans were about films, tv, tv jingles, American pop culture, commercial advertising (like the names of breakfast cereals) and all that kind of stuff. Every now and again a question on world geography or anything really not American in anyway, produced some hilarious answers. I taped the Weakest Link programs so I could watch them when I had time, and I especially enjoyed the USA versions because of the fun of the answers. A large proportoion of them had absolutely no idea. But what else could you expect really, when their President had difficulty locating the British Isles on the world map and who referred to Spain as a Republic on an official occasion, and another leading American tried to locate Spain somewhere on the map of Latin America.

I don't intend to knock the USA, but what I say is basically true. Just read Anonymous American's post. OK, we Europeans may not know all that much about Middle America or wouldn't have a clue where or what Burkina Faso is, but what Jordi says is fact.....the Americans by and large are not overly (American expression?) concerned about anywhere that is not Stateside ...and from my observation...a goodly proportion don't know all that much about Stateside either!
Damian   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 08:12 GMT
Konrad: maybe because the names of English counties have changed as well. Is there still a place called Avon? Is it true that Herefordshire and Worcstershire have been divorced? Where has Cumberland gone?
Julian   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 09:18 GMT
"the Americans by and large are not overly (American expression?) concerned about anywhere that is not Stateside ..."

Sadly, 'tis true. Before leaving for Australia last month, I had dinner with my roommate's family and told them that I was going to Australia. They were aghast and asked, "Why in heaven's name would you want to go there?" I replied that a) I wanted to visit friends and family in Sydney, and b) every once in awhile I get an itch to travel to other parts of the world -- since I'd already toured through Europe, Mexico, and parts of Asia, Australia was the next place I'd like to see. They looked puzzled and told me that they had no desire whatsoever to travel outside of the U.S.! (Hell, a lot of us don't even want to travel outside our neighborhood!) I'm afraid that quite a few Americans feel this way, esp. in this day and age. To many Americans the world beyond our borders is a crazy and dangerous place. My theory is that because we are told (brainwashed?) from day one that the U.S is the "best country in the world", no other country can compare and therefore, we have no desire to concern ourselves with the outside world. Of course, not all Americans feel this way, but a great many of us are very insular in our thinking.
Globetrotting Wilbury   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 10:01 GMT
The US is ginormous with many, many places to visit and learn all about before even having to consider somewhere distant. Remember not everyone has the opportunity or money to travel. So the thinking is why spend my travel money overseas when I can do that here since I haven't seen 99% of my country. If you can put that into perspective, well the AVERAGE American will tell you geography is like butterfly collecting. Can you identify this butterfly or that butterfly species? Huh who cares? Thusly geography gets the same importance as butterfly collecting.
Clark   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 11:44 GMT
My own observation/opinion is that Americans have different views and cannot be lumped into even a general category. I have friends my age who want to travel the world, and who are perfectly fine living in the same town for the rest of their life. Just I have have met people of all ages who fall into these two groups.

However, I would say that anyone who knows stuff like the capitals of American states, European countries, African and Asian countries, as well as knowing Thanksgiving is an American holiday (traditionally) knows about world history is above average in whatever country, or continent, you are in. I would be impressed if someone from England could tell me where Bangladesh is, just as I would be if an American told me.

I guess I am just rambling...

One last thing though. This goes to the person who made the "Americans think American is the greatest country" statement. Yes, Americans think that America is the best country in the world. I think so...but I think so because it is the place where I can do best and feel most comfortable.

Now, let's say I am from France.

I think France is the best country in the world because it is the place where I can do best and feel most comfortable.

I would say that most people feel their own country is the best country. For me, America is the best country, and England and Canada come in second with France being a close third.
Clark   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 11:49 GMT
Um, "Americans think America is the greatest country."
Damian   Sunday, June 20, 2004, 19:31 GMT
Hi Clark:

To be brutally honest, if I had to give a cash prize to who would give the exact location of Bangladesh...the average American or the average Brit.....I know to to which one I would donate my hard-to-come-by money ...with confidence. I am also confident that my money would stay this side of the Atlantic.

You are right....I suppose people are content to be where they feel comfortable. America is a huge country and there is a lot to see in such a vast territory so I guess Americans stay in their own country and as a result the rest of the rest of the world hardly exists. Fewer than 20% have a passport anyway. So there's the answer more or less....next to no knowledge of anywhere outside of the USA or even Little Rock, Arkansas or wherever.

Europe is small in comparison and made up of a large number of greatly different countries each with separate languages and Europeans travel widely within Europe (and increasingly further afield) so I guess we are more used to seeing other cultures than the Americans. Some of my friends who went straight into jobs from school now go to places like Thailand, Egypt, Mexico and Africa etc for their holidays. Unfortunately I haven't yet done that because of being at uni.

However I hope to go to the USA later this year, all being well and I can earn more money.....there is no shortage of jobs in the UK or summer jobs in the Meditaranean area of Europe where I went last year (Spain). Greek islands are fave this year.

My stepdad is a local councillor back home in Edinburgh and each year they have a civic service to install a new mayor and stuff. I went last year (forced to by him mainly). Most of the males were in kilts including me..I don't wear mine very often. During the church service they had a party of Appalachian clog dancers. They were all local (Scottish men and women) who do all this Appalachian dancing all over Scotland (sometimes down into England) and they are fantastic. I love that kind of dancing complete with fiddlers. I'd go anywhere to see them. Makes a change from the Highland fling.
Clark   Monday, June 21, 2004, 00:33 GMT
Intersting; Appalachian dancers? After this conversation about Americans knowing fewer things than Europeans, I feel a bit stupid wondering about this. The only Appalachians I have heard of are the Appalachian Mountain Range on the East Coast of America. They run from New York to South Carolina, and are home to a distinct "American culture."

I would be interested to learn more about the Appalchians you are talking about.