This scene is from a Japanese manga.
For some reason, TV producers seem to consider geography to be the most basic form of human knowledge. When they want to show that a person is an idiot, they almost inevitably show some geographic mistake, such as mistaking a continent for a country, or inability to find a given location on a map.
This can be done with a character, to demonstrate his or her status as The Ditz
, or with real people as part of a Selective Stupidity
Alternatively, it can be used to depict a character as being a short-sighted nationalist, usually a resident of The God-Blessed United States of America
. Europeans frequently use this trope as shorthand for stupid Americans
who knows nothing of the world beyond the continental forty-eight states. It's not without its merits, though: a variety of studies have found that American students are among the least geographically literate in the world
In another variation, a character who insists on using the old names for countries that have reformed or gained independence, such as Rhodesia
(a former British territory in Southern Africa) or Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In this case, the character is oblivious to the changing political climes, and has no interest in staying current. If he knows the modern names, but refuses to acknowledge them
, he's probably a Quintessential British Gentleman
who wants to harken back to the glory days of the empire.
A third possible use is to show a character as being out of touch rather than stupid by using the old names for countries that no longer exist but did exist in their life time, like Burma or Yugoslavia. Unlike the above example, these characters are unlikely to be making a statement and are simply old or otherwise haven't had any reason to check a map in the past decade.
Of course there are greater and lesser degrees of this trope, and it can be used in subtly different ways. Not knowing the name of the capital of the country a character is currently in almost certainly is showing how the character is genuinely stupid, while being unable to name all of the former Yugoslavian republics is unlikely to be saying a character is dumb unless its being asked by The Smart Guy
to demean a character. However this can back-fire as the 'genius' character demands another name the capital of Belarus and ends up stumping themselves.
Often a character who isn't characterized as being either The Smart Guy
or The Ditz
will make understandable but amusing slips along these lines to cement their position in the intellectual hierarchy particularly if they have been being a bit too smart recently. A good example would be thinking Thai people are from Taiwan which is wrong, but not completely stupid either.
Can overlap with Eskimos Aren't Real
, if the character refuses to believe that a country actually exists.
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Anime and Manga
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, when Makie reveals how much she's learned much about the history and geography of Mundas Magicus in a few weeks, Yuna is surprised, given that normally she can't find Germany, Italy or France on a map, and thinks that Switzerland is near England and that Australia is around Europe.
- Pictured: Alfred/America in Axis Powers Hetalia asks where Japan is on a map... of the United States of America.
- In the English dub of the anime, the narrator begins a discussion of a part of Polish history, stops herself - "Right, anime fans." - and backs up to begin a dumbed-down version of the same information. Then she stops herself again: "Right, American fans. Poland is a country. In Europe!" Ow.
- Used as a plot point in Gundam 0080. Bernie, posing as a Federation soldier, claims to be from Australia while making small talk and mentions how he used to love playing in the snow around Christmastime. Several minutes later, the man he was talking to realizes that the Southern Hemisphere has warm weather in December; this is the mistake that blows the team's cover and gets everyone but Bernie killed. Not to mention that Sydney was wiped out by The Colony Drop and no longer exists at that time, anyone from Sydney should not be talking like that about it.
- In a SBS manga column for One Piece, a fan asked Eiichiro Oda which real world countries would each of the Straw Hats come from. He answers by saying that Luffy would be Brazilian, Zoro is Japanese, Nami's Swedish, Sanji's French, Chopper's Canadian, Robin's Russian, Franky's American, Brook's Austrian... and Usopp? Oda says that he's African, because everyone knows Africa is a country and definitely not a continent. Unfortunately, that's not too far off, because several people believe it's a country already.
- Dave from Knights Of The Dinner Table is convinced that Canada is a Communist country and behind the Iron Curtain. He also thinks the language of Israel is Orkish.
- And Weird Pete doesn't realise that Papua New Guinea is a real country.
- Tabby in Nextwave. She thinks Europe is a country and is shocked to learn that the French are in Canada.
- Dumb Blonde Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:
Lorelei: Excuse me, but what is the way to Europe, France?
Dorothy: Honey, France is in Europe.
Lorelei: Well, who said it wasn't?
Dorothy: Well... you wouldn't say you wanted to go to North America, Mexico.
Lorelei: If that's where I wanted to go, I would.
- From the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie:
Buffy: Well, excuse me for not knowing about El Salvador! Like I'm ever going to Spain, anyway!
- In Die Hard, a psychiatrist interviewed on the news brings up his book on "Helsinki Syndrome", as he calls it (presumably Stockholm has copyrighted itself and wouldn't give the rights). The newsreader cuts into clarify that Helsinki is in Sweden, and is quickly corrected - "Finland."
- In a Shrek film, Donkey is served a platter of food by a chef who says "Bon appétit" (which is a French expression) and Donkey remarks: "Oh, boy! Mexican food!" (Of course, the fact that a four-legged animal can speak in the first place is pretty impressive on its own.)
- Invoked inn the Disney The Three Musketeers (1993), Porthos claims to have been given gifts from various royals who don't exist, including the Queen of America and the Czarina of Tokyo. He smirks whenever he says one, waiting to see if anyone catches onto his bullshit.
- In Snow Dogs, the character played by Nichelle Nichols apologizes to an Alaskan cab driver because she only has "American money" with which to pay him.
- Earth Girls Are Easy - an alien asks Valerie if they're in Finland (just having seen a sexy travel commercial) - she cheerfully replies "No, you're in the Valley - Finland is the capital of Norway!"
- In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda's song in the beginning says, "She fell from the sky/ She fell very far/ And Kansas she says/ Is the name of the star" implying that Oz is on another world that now thinks Earth is Only Kansas.
- In The Great Gatsby, Nick asks Gatsby what part of the Midwest he is from. Gatsby responds, "San Fransisco." This is the first sign that Gatsby isn't who he claims to be.
- In a FoxTrot arc, Paige's friend Nicole was once asked to locate Iraq on a world map without country names. However, it comes to light that Nicole not only can't locate Iraq on the map, she can't even locate the U.S. Eventually Paige locates Iraq on her first try... but only because it was the only place Nicole didn't point.
Nicole: Okay, so if this is America... then this must be Iraq!
Teacher: Let's go back to that 'if', Nicole.
Nicole: (pointing at Antartica) Okay, so if this is America...
- This arc took place shortly after a real-life study came out showing that an embarrassingly high percentage of American high schoolers could not identify their own country on a map.
- This trope is standard fodder for political satire. Various humorists' caricatures of Sarah Palin have had her, among other things, refer to West Korea, say that Delaware was in the Middle East, and think that lesbians are Lebanese, along with the famous "I can see Russia from my house" from SNL.
- Conservative humorists had a field day when then-candidate Barack Obama mentioned visiting 57 states. He actually visited 47, so this was probably just a slip of the tongue.
- According to Americans, New Mexico is not part of the United States.
- A rather worrying number of people still refer to Russia as "the Soviet Union". The policies of Mr. Vladimir Putin are not helping the confusion.
- Some people still refer to Beijing as "Peking"; there used to be, in Britain, a group of people who wilfully refused to make the changeover. Honestly, it isn't as if "Beijing" is any more difficult to spell or pronounce than "Peking"; and when one considers that "Beijing" means "northern capital", whilst "Peking" is meaningless gibberish left over from colonial times and thus best forgotten, it's hard to see any reason for the refusal.
- In Russia, it's still called Pekin. It's highly unlikely that they will bother to change the way they say or write it.
- "Peking" still means "northern capital." It's just an older transliteration of Chinese.
- The Danish school system has a subject called "geography", but it's based much more around physical geography than human geography. Meaning that many Danish students will be able to tell you exactly what terrain and ecosystems that make up Brazil, but not where Brazil is (at least, they may not be truly sure except for "somewhere in South America"). Facts such as a country's location, its population number, its capital and the sorts are facts you'll have to find out yourself or be taught by someone else than your geography teacher. However, living in a very small country that is not as self-contained as the U.S., and being among the nationalities that love travelling the most, has helped to make most Danes not that global ignorant.
- Following the announcement that the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing were Chechens, so many Twitter users thought Chechens were from the Czech Republic that the Czech ambassador put out a statement which basically said, "we're not Chechnya".
- Walky from It's Walky! suffers from the same misconceptions about Canada as Dave from Knights Of The Dinner Table.
- In an Arthur, King of Time and Space strip, Arthur tells Gawaine that while he had the advantage of being taught by Merlin, there are a lot of factors holding back education in this hemisphere. Gawaine responds "Hemisphere?"
- Subverted in xkcd with the strip titled "The World According to a Group of Americans" who turned out to be unexpectedly good at geography, derailing our attempt to demonstrate their country's attitude toward the rest of the world."
- Gabe from Penny Arcade, all the time. In one comic he thinks that the language spoken in Holland is Hollish.
- Which is actually a double mistake; "Holland" is a province, not a country. Referring to the Netherlands as "Holland" is like saying "London" when you mean England.
- Actually, it's more like England when you mean the United Kingdom. And both are done regularly.
- One Batman And Sons strip has Barry Allen remarking that Wally doesn't want to go to England and have to learn a new language. Bruce points out "They speak English there", and Barry (with the perfect expression of frustration on his face) responds "I know."
- Moviebob referred to Africa as "a beautiful country" in an episode of The Game Overthinker discussing racism. To his credit, he apologised for that error in a later video.
- During the Hulk Hogan vs. Kim Jong-Il Epic Rap Battles Of History, Hogan threatens to kick Kim's ass "back to Beijing". Kim's first line in his rebuttal verse: "Beijing is in China, you blonde asshole!"
- There are countless stories on Not Always Right about people who never seem to have heard of New Mexico, Canada, or Delaware.