The Great Lake they Called Gitche Gumee

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?

12 thoughts on “The Great Lake they Called Gitche Gumee

  1. I wouldn’t be too harsh on the Germans, Lo. People from other U.S. states, though they can find it on a map, don’t seem to know much about Michigan either. In France, people who asked where I was from seemed surprised to learn of the existence of a U.S. state that was not called New York or California. Perhaps if more of the pop culture we export to the world came from here, rather than just American cars and Vernors (which no one else drinks), people would know about us. I guess what I’m saying is that I would guess people know about the Great Lakes (even if they can’t name them all), but have little or no knowledge of that peninsula which they surround, whatever it may be called.


  2. Considering that you’re far better at geography than the average person, don’t be surprised when people don’t know as much about your country as you know about theirs.I have to confess that, as an American, I really don’t know where Berlin lies in Germany; this, for sure, is a far greater failure than for a German not to know the location of Michigan. I’m not an uneducated person; it’s just that my schooling concentrated on my own country, not on others. For Europe, I expect their schooling to be far more rigorous with countries closer to them, and less so with farther regions (like the US). Close places are relatively more important, so it makes perfect sense.


  3. Oddly enough, I was just going on a rant about how great Vernors was the other day. Ze Germans don’t get what is so wonderful about a drink that gives you coughing fits if you so much as inhale with in six inches of the glass.That being said, you both raised good points. I know where a lot of large lakes, rivers, desserts, etc. are globally, but not necessarily the countries surrounding them (although usually I have a good idea.) Also, to my great chagrin, I did not know the specific location of Berlin within Germany until I actually went there. (Although I did sort of know it was more north than south, and more east than west.) For your enlightenment, J: can see Baden-wurtemberg and its neighboring province, Bayern composing the southern German border. To the north and east, we see Brandenburg, with Berlin making up the island in the center.Here’s a map of Germany before the wall came down, so you can see the east and west sides: will note that whichever CNN lackey created this map, he apparently could not tell east from west. When you stop laughing, you will notice Berlin located completely in the middle of what used to be East Germany. The Berlin Wall ran through the heart of Berlin, cutting it in half at the Brandenburger Tor, and was guarded at each ends by two extra-fortified towers (I believe.) I also did not realize this until I went to Berlin. I thought that the Wall completely enclosed part of Berlin. In any case, West Berlin was cut off from East Berlin by the Wall, and from East Germany by a heavily-guarded “death strip” complete with automatic motion-sensing machine guns, guard dogs, and regular patrols.


  4. There, I thought Michigan was known for Dutch Calvinists and their bookshops and publishing companies.I only recently found out, while re-reading Irma Kurtz’s “Great American Bus Ride”, that it has a large “Upper Peninsula” that is completely detached from the rest. Rachel (an American who has actually been to Michigan) didn’t know that either.Are German states or US states more detached? Are EU countries still more detached than US states? And for how long? But yeah, we (British people) do perceive USA as one big country and can’t understand things like sales taxes (how can you go in a dollar store and be asked to pay more than a dollar?), different marriage ages, etc.


  5. “Perhaps if more of the pop culture we export to the world came from here, rather than just American cars and Vernors (which no one else drinks), people would know about us.”D.cous, this comment implies that1) the movie Tucker has less international appeal than Star Wars and2) everyone in Europe won’t be watching Jumper whenever it hits their shores.In other words, even if people forgot that Tucker was in Ypsilanti, they’ll be well reminded once they see Anakin Skywalker Jumper-ing around Ann Arbor (or rather, Gallup Park).


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  7. PeterinScotland: There’s a bit of a rivalry between the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan. We (of the lower peninsula) call them yoopers (Upper Peninsual = U.P. = UP-ers), and like to make fun of their accent (eh?). The Yoopers, more cleverly, call us Trolls, because we live under the bridge. (It’s the little things like that which make me love it so much.)The EU countries are definitely more separate than the American states, and I have the impression that German ones are a lot more unified. I think the EU countries would have to adopt a common language before thier Union ties become stronger than the ties to their native country (In America the states viewed themselves more as a group of individual countries at first, and didn’t start putting their national identity above their state identity until after the American Civil War.) Also, even I don’t understand sales tax. Why do they not just factor it into the sticker price like sensible people? I haven’t a clue…Robert: Jumper? Wha….?Crescenet: Goodbye. Your comment was indecipherable, and your grammar incorrect, snide comment 😦 I will delete if continue 😡 . When time gives break read book, learn better English, I hope you enjoy. Please no spam. Evasive action.


  8. Just a movie, Lo, just a movie. With Hayden Christensen. Part of which was filmed in Gallup Park. Because there are some people who are capable of Jumping anywhere at anytime… they are called… Jumpers?!


  9. I did indeed go look up a map of Germany after posting that. ^_^ I thank you for your information about Berlin, and for that beautifully botched map from CNN. So, if I read what you said correctly, West Berlin was completely encompassed by East Germany?


  10. That is correct! Which explains the whole deal about having to airlift supplies into West Berlin when East Germany tried to cut them off. (That really used to confuse me.)


  11. Wasn’t Berlin divided into 4 zones after the war – um – guessing – American, British, French, and Russian?Since writing above I looked at < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Wikipedia<> “Officially, the city of Berlin was not part of either state and continued to be under Allied occupation until the reunification of Germany in October 1990. For administrative purposes, the three western sectors of Berlin were merged into the entity of West Berlin, while the Soviet sector became known as East Berlin. And while not technically a part of East Germany, East Berlin functioned as the capital of the GDR (Hauptstadt der DDR).”While studying my Open University course in the summer (which I passed, yippee!) I read on the net about the ghost underground railway stations, where trains from one side passed through the other side’s (closed) station, and one station where [some people, can’t remember circumstances] were allowed to transfer from one side to the other.


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