I find myself continually surprised and annoyed with people in Germany for their amazing lack of geographical education. Or perhaps I am only being arrogant. The fact remains, however, that no one in Germany seems to know where Michigan is (excluding those who have actually been to Michigan. This is not so exceedingly rare due to the car industry in this area having connections with Detroit.) When most people ask me where I come from, I usually say I am from America before I say I am from Michigan. But this is only because I am trying to distinguish myself from other English speaking countries, such as England and Australia, that I choose to name my nation rather than my state. I still assume most people know where Michigan is, and as I am coming to realize, most of them do not.
Now, I would not expect most people to know where Oregon is, or Utah, or Virginia, or most other states. There are, after all, not a lot of sates distinguishable at a glance when one looks at a map of America. Most people do know where Florida, Texas, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and New York are. But you will note that these are all coastal states, very easy to pick out on a globe, even with out the state boundaries marked. (The exception is New York, but I include it because most people know where New York City is.) Actually, one of the most surprising things I noticed when I first came to Europe was that on their world maps, America is one gigantic mass of color, similar to Canada on our American maps. Never before had I seen a map of America that did not have each state set apart as its own geographical region. This surprised me very much, although I am not sure how much it should have. After all, I still have to look up the spelling for Baden-Würtemburg (although I almost have it down) and the only other German state I know well is the one neighboring me in the south: Bayern (or Bavaria, to all of you back home.) But I had always figured that the states of Germany were never marked clearly on global maps because they were more unified, more connected with Germany as a country than the American states back home (which historically began as a group of people more strongly attached in loyalty toward their state than their nation.) I had assumed that a country known as “The United States” would be viewed by the world as a collection of States… United (albeit very strongly.)
Again I find myself confused by my own train of thought, for I have never thought of putting my citizenship of Michigan above that of America. Even now I still think of myself more as an American than I do as a Michigander, although I feel my ties to my home state grow stronger the more I have to explain her location to the baffled Germans. I feel I am not expressing myself clearly, which may show exactly how confused I am when Germans ask me where in America I come from, and respond to my response with the question “Oh, is that near Florida?” It seriously baffles me. I keep wanting to burst into praise of the wonders and glories of Michigan as a state, just as worthy of visiting and admiring as Florida. We have the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mackinac Island, the Tahquamenon Falls, and the third longest suspension bridge in the world, and that’s just to get started. He have Petoskey stones, Yoopers, Trolls, the best pasties outside of the UK, and freaking wolverines. Heck, we even have Wolverines! (Although sadly not Wolverine.)
But most importantly, we have the Great Lakes. This is what really bothers me about non-Americans not knowing where my home state is. It isn’t that I expect them to know about all the attractions ever state has. I’m sure even Ohio has a couple. But anyone with any education in world geography ought to know where the Great Lakes are. People in Germany talk about the Bodensee as if it’s amazing, and I’m sure it is. I’m sure that, for most people, it’s even pretty big. But it’s hardly distinguishable on a map of Europe, let alone the world. America without the Great Lakes (and I mean the continent, not just the US of A) would be like a face lacking its nose. Or maybe more appropriately, its hand. Combined, they compose 22% of the world’s fresh surface water, are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, and have enough water volume to cover the continental United States (excluding Alaska) with nine and a half feet of water (according to Wikipedia.) But most importantly, you can see them from space, and man, that’s just cool.
So this is where the question stands. I know the locations of the world’s major mountain chains, the world’s major rivers, the world’s major bodies of water, and the world’s major deserts. I used to be able to name every country and its capitol in the world. Well, almost, but I certainly had Europe down sharp. Is it too much to expect them to know the Great Lakes just as well as the Grand Canyon?
Or perhaps I am only being arrogant?