Bulgaria on the map?

30.11.2013 § Leave a comment

thumbSo this is a thing that happened. Americans were asked to label the countries on a map of Europe. As could be expected, most were able to identify large tourist destinations like the UK, France and Spain, but very few knew anything about Central or Eastern Europe.

Now, this is not necessarily surprising. Central and Eastern Europe have long been plagued by stereotypes and few Americans have ever gone there. They see no reason to, since they can get all their vacationing done in places familiar from popular culture and ones they perceive as safer, not to mention closer to the States.

What I found unusual and quite disturbing is the amount of knowledge people had about Bulgaria specifically.

Oh, don’t act surprised. You knew the title of the blog, and you knew my selective vision would zoom right in on that! Let me put up a reference map, just so you don’t get embarrassed:

There’s Bulgaria, in red. The full map of Europe is here. Now, let’s look at some examples (click on each map to enlarge).

americans-place-european-countries-on-map-5

Let’s start with this one. This is a college-educated (and proud of it) person who failed to identify the largest country in Europe. No hope they’ll know where or what Bulgaria is.

americans-place-european-countries-on-map-27

This one is more stereotype-y. Let’s overlook the four Polands, upgrading Austria to four times its size, and once again missing Russia. This person firmly believes that the Balkans are the hotbed of current or recent conflict. It is regrettably true that the Yugoslav wars are barely 20 years old, and that they are the most recent border-altering conflict in European history. This also explains why even Europeans have trouble identifying and correctly placing the five (!!) successor states to Yugoslavia, since they are recently added, regarded as unstable, and not drastically culturally different, at least at first glance.

The problem with this stereotype is that it’s not even true of those states anymore, let alone countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have not experienced territorial conflict since the end of WWII. War and instability is no excuse not to know where those countries are.

americans-place-european-countries-on-map-4

Here’s where I start to get annoyed. This person’s geography is quite good, most of Western Europe is labelled correctly, and Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Greece and Turkey are all correctly labelled. B&H also appears. But the name Bulgaria (which has been around since 632 CE and has not budged since 1878), is absent.

americans-place-european-countries-on-map-29

The same thing happens here. Lots of Balkan countries are labelled, many correctly. Absent are only Slovenia and, once again, Bulgaria. Is it too small to be known for good things and too peaceful to have been remembered from news reports?

americans-place-european-countries-on-map-12

Finally! Someone labelled Bulgaria correctly…oh. Because their mom’s from there.

This is partly why this blog exists, folks. For some reason, Bulgaria seems not to make it onto anyone’s list. Not enough drama, not enough oil, and not enough promotion and self-promotion in the West.

Well, at least now you’ll be able to identify Bulgaria on a map. Right?

P.S. This is not necessarily a post about American ignorance. When Britons were asked to label US states, they fared abysmally on the whole, and I admit that despite living in North America for the past 14 years and having visited 7 states personally, I  also had a terrible time. The important thing to consider is that people who do not have a personal association with a country or know something about it are unlikely to know it, and if they don’t know it, they’re never going to visit or get curious.

 

 

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