Americans, or rather, people from the US, are often seen as ignorant about Europe’s history and geography, and consequently ignorant in general. I consider this unfair. Ay, they know little – but so do we. We tend to forget that for them, Europe isn’t of primary interest. There is no reason why it should be. If an American has Bulgaria and Romania mixed up, it’s no worse than a European mixing up Missouri and Mississippi – or either of them mixing up Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
I remember one time at the Tech, at a boring lecture, somebody came up with the idea of a game: he sent a paper around and everybody was expected to add one name of a US state until we got them all. I no longer remember which one we missed, but I do remember that among the thirty or forty of us present we couldn’t recollect the last one even putting our heads together after the lecture.
That is not exactly true. In fact we had one too many – but that’s including, unless I’m much mistaken, Haiti and Puerto Rico. We only got it sorted out when we consulted some reference book. I also admit that seeing on that list, presumably for the first time, the word Delaware, I asked, ‘What’s that?’
Neither is it just the Americans. We Europeans ourselves often make such blunders. A Westerner mistaking Budapest for Bucharest is almost proverbial in Eastern Europe. Once upon a time, when the two states still existed, a friend of mine got a hitch in England and upon revealing he was from Czechoslovakia the man behind the wheel began telling him he and his wife had enjoyed a holiday of theirs there pretty much. Until said lady informed him that what he was talking about was Yugoslavia. Incidentally, that same friend later travelled to La Paz – and only found out there were more of them after landing in one in a wrong country.
And so forth.
After all, how can we expect common people like you and me not making such blunders, when we are presented them? Last year I wrote here about a certain Englishwoman’s lecture on Scotland. The other day I found among my old papers a ’97 article from a Czech newspaper’s supplement, mostly about Edinburgh. Mind you, I’m not talking some title like The Sun, more like The Times or The Guardian.
I was amazed to learn that Scottish and English crowns were united in 1602 in the person of James II. That visiting the Castle, you enter the Lower Ward going through “Portcullis’s” Gate. (They didn’t say who this Portcullis was.) That along the Royal Mile you can find a building with a name apparently using both Czech and English spelling, as they gave it as a Kamera Obscura. That in 1329 the Pope ‘allowed’ Scottish coronation. (Which didn’t take place in Dunnetar Castle, though.)
It was one of the first paragraphs that was priceless. So I’m translating it here in full:
This place [Edinburgh] has entered history at the twilight of the Celts. According to a legend, in the year 600 groups of small riders were gradually gathering on a vast rocky promontory Din Eidyn to accompany their king Mynydhog on a desperate campaign against intrusive Anglo-Saxons. Their future was as dark as the future of their whole race. They fell at their king’s side somewhere in today’s English Yorkshire.
I rest my case.