This scene is from a Japanese manga.
Brother I'll leg drop your ass back to Beijing! Kim Jong-Il:
Beijing is in China
, you blond asshole!
For some reason, TV producers seem to consider geography to be the most basic form of human knowledgenote
. 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 now known as Zimbabwe) 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 Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. 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 republicsnote
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 Belarusnote
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.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou is very ignorant about topics like geography and history, which the other characters find really annoying. He tries to use the excuse that he's a Japanese student and shouldn't be expected to be knowledgeable about countries like Denmark, but none of the other Japanese characters have this problem.
- In the Jojolion arc of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Hato Higashikata is revealed to have ruined a family vacation to Hawaii because she didn't realize Hawaii wasn't part of Japan (and, thus, never bothered to get a passport).
- 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 in Disney's 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 Penguins of Madagascar, the penguins mistake Shanghai, China for Dublin, Ireland.
Skipper: "We gotta blend in. River dance."
- 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 Why We Took The Car, Maik at first refuses to believe that Wallachia exists.
Cordelia: Oh, yesterday your cousin called, with one of those names from your part of England.
Doyle: ... My part of England? note
- The Chaser's War on Everything had a journalist checking out general knowledge about Americans. During that skit, one section had random people point out Iraq and North Korea on the map. While they did find those countries, the map was mislabeled, and thus they put the pin in the middle of Australia. One person also commented that North Korea had a large land mass compared to South Korea (mislabeled from Tasmania). And finally, if the USA needed to attack the country in the bottom-right corner of the map, they would have to attack from the West (cause the East just has the edge of the map.)
- There was another skit that involved promoting Australia's tourism. Random Americans were shown pictures of famous landmarks, which the Chasers then claimed were actually in Australia. Notable examples include the Leaning Tower of Perth, Big Ben in Adelaide, The Eiffel Tower in Melbourne and the Taj Mahal in the Simpson Desert.
Woman (after being shown a picture of the Sydney Opera House):
That was in Nemo
. I have no idea what it's called though.
- Happened frequently with Ali G on Da Ali G Show.
- In one episode he visited the United Nations building, was surprised to find that Africa wasn't represented as a country, and refused to believe the guide's explanation that many African countries were represented.
- In a mock appeal, he shows a map of the world with pretty much everything mislabeled - such as Africa being labeled Jamaica and South America as South Central.
- Joey was fond of this one too. Notable exchange when Chandler is trying to compete with Joey for the attentions of a Dutch girl.
Chandler: Joey, where do you think Dutch people come from?
Joey: Um.... Pennsylvania Dutch come from Pennsylvania.
Chandler: But original Dutch people? Would you say they come from somewhere like the Netherlands?
- Joey also spent an episode trying to find somewhere he could change US dollars into "Vermont money".
- And then there was the Thanksgiving Episode "name the states" game, in which he named 56 (including New England and South Oregon), and then chided Ross for making up a state (Utah) that was actually real.
- When Chandler is pretending to emigrate to Yemen to escape Janice: "That almost sounds like a real place!"
- Averted in a second season episode, where Chandler and his new roommate are talking about ex-girlfriends. Chandler mentions how he broke up with a girl because she thought the capital of Cambodia was Sean Penn, when "everybody knows the capital of Cambodia is... not Sean Penn." (This isn't actually as foolish as it seems since Sean Penn sounds similar to Phnom Penh.)
- Scrubs had geography as one of J.D.'s weaknesses. He claimed New Zealand was close to "Old Zealand" and pointed out China on the Janitor's globe when he was looking for Iraq.
Janitor: That's China.
Janitor:...That's an outrageous accusation.
- In the pilot episode of Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk tries, and fails pathetically, in an attempt to name all the US states in 15 seconds. Thereafter, David Cross explains that Bob missed the first day of school, believes there are only five states, and thinks one of them is called "Chim-Cham".
- In a Running Gag, Gob and Maeby in Arrested Development believe Portugal is a Spanish-speaking country in South America. The pilot also features Buster mistaking the blue parts of a map for the land (to make it even sillier, he was described a scene or two earlier as having taken graduate-level classes in cartography). Another one involves Gob's plan to hire "Mexicans from Colombia", where Michael points out that they are called "Colombians".
- In one episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Drew Carey called Africa a great country. Greg Proops responds "It's also a continent if you're a geographer!" The contestants turned it into a Running Gag for the rest of the episode.
- In Malcolm in the Middle, on his journey to Alaska Francis was conned into changing his US currency for 'Alaskan dollars'.
- In an episode of the "Trash Talk Show" parody Night Stand, host Dick Dietrick (played by Timothy Stack) responds to a Vietnamese guest's question, "You've heard of Vietnam, Dick?" with "Oh yes, we fought against each other in The Korean War."
- Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation:
April: I'm sorry, I was in Venezuela.
Andy: Oh, really? Wow, across the pond.
- And in another episode:
Andy: "Hey it's me, Justin. Take my coat, but please be careful I got it from the King of Africa when we were walking on the Berlin Wall together." Really, Justin, what instruments do you play? [pause] Actually he's a pretty sick keyboardist.
- Andy choosing a country for a model U.N.
: Andy, will you be Iceland? Andy
: The bad guys from Mighty Ducks 2
? Don’t think so. Leslie
: How about Japan? Andy
: The bad guys from Karate Kid 2
? Even worse. How about Germany? They’ve never been the bad guys.
- A Freeze-Frame Bonus in the episode, "Win, Lose, or Draw". On Andy's list of all the places he and April could live, "U.S.S.R." is listed, but crossed out with "Russia" written in next to it. Presumably, Andy ignorantly wrote down "U.S.S.R." and April corrected him.
- After driving for many hours to visit the Grand Canyon with April, he asked, "So where are the faces of the presidents?"
- In a deleted scene from that same episode, April takes advantage of her husband's global ignorance by taking him to a random patch of land and claiming that it is Four Corners (where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet), presumably to avoid having to drive out of their way to the actual place. Andy happily jumps back and forth across the imaginary state boundaries, excitedly shouting that he's in states like Arizona and Nebraska, that don't even border each other in real life.
- In one episode, Tom's girlfriend from Doctors Without Borders was going to Rwanda. He complains that, "if I know anything about Rwanda — and I don't — I bet it's full of rich guys who will buy her whatever she wants."
- In one episode of Boy Meets World Shawn thinks that you can get to Europe on a bus. He even buys a bus ticket to Paris, Texas thinking it will take him to Paris, France.
- Seems to be a common trait among the 'Beauties' in Beauty And The Geek.
- The Amazing Race being a travel show and all, and not all of the contestants have exactly been geniuses. Occasionally the producers make a task based on it.
- Despite being constantly reminded that they were going to Chile, Season 16's Jordan (the female one) proceeded to request tickets to Santiago, China.
- Season 12:
Nate: Taiwan? We're going to Taiwan? Huh.... I don't know much about Taiwan... but Thai food's pretty good.
- Season 17:
Phil: Nick & Vicki, what's the name of this country?
Vicki: We're in London, right?
Phil: That's right, the country of London.
- Also in Season 17: The teams were visiting a school in Ghana and tasked with identifying Ghana on a map. It went about as well as you would expect.
- When Frank, Dee, and Mac tried to play "50 States" in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mac and Dee continually name states like "West Dakota". Much to Frank's amusement.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Chimera", Carter remarks to her boyfriend Pete Shanahan that there's no zoo in Colorado Springs, apparently completely unaware of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Writer Joseph Mallozi said that this was done on purpose to indicate that she spends so much time working she's completely unfamiliar with the city she lives in.
- "Moldavian wedding massacre" was a major plotline of the soap series Dynasty Apparently, the show's producers and writers were unaware that Moldavia was a real region and a historical country (although, at that time, a Soviet Republic and not an independent country).
- There was a somewhat infamous episode of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? where American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler showed up. "I thought Europe was a country..."
- A Saturday Night Live sketch featured guest host Jerry Seinfeld playing a High School history teacher. After all his students fail a test, he decides to adopt an interactive approach and opens a discussion about the Battle of Britain. However, the students turn out to be too ignorant for the approach to work, as they don't even know who Britain was fighting. You can see it here.
: How many of you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark
? [all hands go up] Student
: I have it on tape. I could bring it. Teacher
: No, thank you. Now, who in the movie was Indiana Jones
fighting... [hand goes up]
...besides the snakes? [hand goes back down]
- This happens often on game shows like Family Feud when given a question of a country as an example.
- In Derren Brown's The Gathering special, he randomly selects an audience member and asks her to think of a country. She does. Her country? Africa. Not only does Derren not call her out on her obvious mistake (Note: there are over 50 countries in Africa) but has her reach under her seat and find a note he left there with the description of the woman in question and her choice of country. That's right, even Derren is guilty of that.
- Two WWE wrestlers, Matt and Jeff Hardy, were arguing which of them was the smarter. The first challenged the second to name the capitol of Brussels.
- Flight of the Conchords: People being unaware of New Zealand's existence (or just plain ignorant about New Zealand) is a Running Gag.
- Bret and Jemaine's friend, Dave is always confusing them for Brits, Australians, etc. He later refers to New Zealand as someplace nobody's heard of.
- A racist greengrocer won't serve food to Bret and Jemaine because they are from New Zealand. It's reveled that he confused New Zealand for Australia. So they bond over their hatred of Australians.
- Murray wants to get the American President to met up with the Prime Minster of New Zealand. The President asks if New Zealand's even a real place.
- Referenced in an episode of How I Met Your Mother when Ted learns that Robin had been to Argentina and met a boyfriend there.
Ted: Why is this the first I hear of Argentina?
Robin: Because American schools suck at geography?
- 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.
- Lesbians are Greek. Everyone knows that.
- Conservative outlets made a mountain out of a molehill when then-candidate Barack Obama made a harmless slip of the tongue and referred to have visited 57 states when it were 47.
- On the other side of the spectrum, media outlets had a field day with his rival Mitt Romney persistently referring to the "Soviet Union" instead of the Russian Federation. A more severe example, as it showed he was trapped in old Cold War thinking and made the electorate wonder if he had ever noticed the former country dissolving long ago.
- According to Americans, New Mexico is not part of the United States.
- Some people still refer to Beijing as "Peking"; there used to be, in Britain, a group of people who willfully refused to make the changeover. "Beijing" isn't any more difficult to spell or pronounce than "Peking", although most Chinese Britons, and indeed many of the Chinese diaspora worldwide, are of Cantonese-speaking descent, and those hanzi are pronounced "bak-ging" in Cantonese, which is much closer to "Peking" than to (Mandarin) "Beijing".
- 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" means the same thing as Beijing, "northern capital." It's just an older transliteration of Chinese.
- "Beijing" is the Mandarin reading for the Hanzi characters "northern capital". "Peking" is the local dialect reading. Both are correct. I say to-mah-to, you say toh-may-to...
- Even in areas where it is widely known as "Beijing" (the UK, for example), Chinese restaurants retain the name "Peking Duck" as the name of the dish rather than changing it to "Beijing Duck". The reason for this is probably because the dish has been known for decades as "Peking Duck". Similarly, dishes from Sichuan Province often remain known as "Szechuan" due to familiarity.
- 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".
- People will occasionally refer to Myanmar as its older colonial name, Burma. However, this is an unusual use of the trope, as generally these people are aware of Myanmar's "official" name but refuse to use it because it was developed by the hated military junta that ruled the country until 2010 (and still has a very big say in how the country is run), and thus consider it wasn't decided by the country's legitimate government and people. There's a reason the TV Tropes Useful Notes page for it is called "That South East Asian Country" and if you search for "Myanmar" on The Other Wiki it takes you to the "Burma" page.
- It's a running gag amongst Brits that some foreigners (chiefly Americans) think that Scotland and Ireland are located where Ireland is, that England is the island to the right, and that Wales doesn't exist, and that this whole area comprises Britain. Some Americans will describe themselves as Scots-Irish (instead of Celtic, which would be accurate), and Americans of Welsh descent seem to be quite rare. If nothing else, Americans will always take the time to proudly list all the countries they are descended from without showing any knowledge of those countries beyond stereotypes. This manifests itself most obviously in St. Patrick's Day celebrations, which bear little resemblance to how it's actually celebrated in Ireland.
- Canadians, many of whom are descended from Scots, tend to know far more about Scotland and often preserve links with it, likely due to moving more recently.
- In Bleak Expectations the protagonist tries to catch the antagonist in this troupe but just ends up proving he too fits it.
Pip Bin: If you truly are American, then you will be able to name all the states of your fair nation'''
Harlan J. Trashcan (AKA Mr. Gently Benevolent): Of course. There's Virginia, West Virginia, and, um... North Virginia, South Virginia, East Virginia, South-east Virginia, mid-Virginia... the Virginia Monologues, Like-A-Virgin-ia, Virginia-Virginia and Vermont.
Pip Bin: Damn. Spot on.
- 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." Of course, some US expats living in the UK and vice versa would probably argue that Wally actually has a point...