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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 feature.

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.[1]

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.


Examples of Global Ignorance include:


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 North 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.


Comic Books

  • 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.
  • Tabby in Nextwave. She thinks Europe is a country and is shocked to learn that the French are in Canada.


Film

 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.

 Buffy: Well, excuse me for not knowing about El Salvador! Like I'm ever going to Spain, anyway!

    • Understandable, since what is now El Salvador was part of Spain for about three centuries. (Of course, Buffy probably didn't know that.)
      • But it is still named in Spanish, so its not that bad of a guess.
  • 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."
  • This may be more a case of Culinary Ignorance, but I recall that in one of the Shrek films, 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.)
  • In the Disney The Three Musketeers 1993, Porthos claims to have been given a gift from the "King of America." This is also a mistake on the filmmakers' part, since at the time the story takes place, the various American colonies were still under the authority of European kingdoms.
    • In the live-action version, it's a gift from the "Queen of America" instead.
      • This is a Running Gag, with other references including the "Czarina of Tokyo".
  • 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.
  • Inverted on a local level in the classic Holiday Inn, when Ted Hanover asks the maitre d' of a Manhattan club for directions:

François: The second time he came from his dressing room he asked which way is Connecticut.

Danny Reed: Connecticut?

François: Connecticut. He said he had a friend there who knows about women too.

Danny Reed: Why didn't you stop him?

François: How can I stop him sir when I don't know which way is Connecticut!

Literature

  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • 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 from Friends 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: Haha, you can't fool me. See the Netherlands is a made-up place where Peter Pan lives.

      • For some reason, Chandler doesn't point out that Pennsylvania Dutch are actually German. The word "deutsch" degraded into "dutch" because it's easier to say. It took to the 19th century for it to be firmly established that in English, Dutch referred to people from one of the Low Countries, and not to the Deutsch.
    • 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."
      • Which 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.

 J.D.: You're China.

  • In the pilot episode of Mr. Show With Bob and David, 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 (which is even sillier, since he was described a scene or two earlier as having taken 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.

 Leslie: 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.

  • 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.

      • Which is kinda a cheap shot, but still.
    • 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.
      • Could you find Ghana on a map ?
  • 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 Cop 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 Fifth Grader? where American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler showed up. "I thought Europe was a country..."

Newspaper Comics

  • 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.


Other

  • This trope is standard fodder for the Capitol Steps parody/political satire group. Their 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 seeing Russia from her house next door.
    • Lesbians are Greek. Everyone knows that.
    • Although in fairness, while you can't genuinely see Russia from Alaska, its not exactly a huge stretch to say 'You can practically see Russia across the Bering Straight'. It's only about 50 miles from western Alaska to eastern Russia. Sarah Palin may not be the sharpest knife in the draw, but she's not actually psychotic.
  • Conservative humorists had a field day when then-candidate Barack Obama mentioned visiting 57 states.
  • According to Americans, New Mexico is not part of the United States.


Webcomics


Web Original

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons. When Marge became the substitute teacher for Bart during the teacher's strike, at dinner, she describes her day as "Exhausting. It took the kids 40 minutes to find Canada on the map." To which Homer responds by also invoking this trope, commenting about how small and tucked away Canada is.
    • Homer and Bart get whacked by this trope again in "Bart Vs. Australia". Bart mistakes a "Rand McNally" logo on his globe for a country, causing Lisa to mock him: "In fact, in Rand McNally, they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!" Later, Homer looks at the globe, spots Uruguay, and laughs "Look at this country! 'You Are Gay'!.
    • Both Homer and Mr. Burns (in different episodes) are astounded at the discovery of a New Mexico, though Mr. Burns at least has the excuse of old age.
    • In The Movie, Homer says, "We have a great life here in Alaska, and we are never going back to America again!"
    • Homer as a high school student skipping English class in 1974 in "The Way We Was": "English? Who needs it? I'm never going to England! C'mon, let's go smoke!"
    • Taken Up to Eleven in "G.I. D'oh" when Homer asks "We're China, right?"
    • In the episode introducing Mona Simpson, Mister Burns is seen in the post office trying to send a letter to "the Prussian consulate in Siam", exasperated as the clerk cannot find any mention of Prussia or Siam in his geographical index. This isn't a joke about ignorance so much as part of the Running Gag about how outdated Burns is - Siam became Thailand in 1939[2], and Prussia broke up into several different countries between the World Wars[3], and had not been a sovereign state since joining the German Empire in 1871.
    • Two linked moments from Bart:

 Bart: Some say the ducks went to Canada. Others say, Toronto.

 Gretchen: I'm leaving in ten minutes. My Dad's shooting a movie in Toronto.

Bart: You're going to Spain?!

  • In The Penguins of Madagascar Alice, the zookeeper, thinks koala and kangaroo will get along well, because they're both from Austria.

 Repairman: You mean Australia?

Alice: There is a difference?

    • Also King Julian, while living in the Central Park Zoo, believes he is in France.
  • In South Park, Randy tries warning Arnold Schwarzenegger that California would be New Jersey's next victim after Colorado is taken over, only to be informed that Utah and Nevada lie between them.
    • And he is a Geologist.

Notes

  1. These studies also have an explanation: America is roughly the size of Europe. It has one country where some thirty could exist if there was any meaningful basis for it. Much like the stereotype about Americans not knowing foreign languages, this is based on simple path of least resistance--a European needs to know where things are, because they are very likely to run into someone who cares deeply about geography, and similarly needs a second language to communicate with neighbors. Most Americans live nowhere near a border, and many of those who do live close to English Canada.
  2. though it changed back to Siam in 1945, but only for four years, and had always been known as "Muang Thai" domestically
  3. It was nominally dissolved in 1932, but officially dissolved in 1947 and was effectively just part of Germany for decades before that
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