Column: In search of America on a world map

In the final round of the recent Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant, Lauren Upton –-
better known as Miss TeenMap
South Carolina –- was asked this question: "Recent
polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why
do you think this is?"

Upton paused briefly, then proceeded to give a
most revealing answer, part of which sounded like this: “I personally believe
that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some … people out there
in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as
in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq everywhere like, such as and …”

I heard that “a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map,” I was
really surprised, because I didn’t realize that four-fifths CAN. I decided to
conduct my own survey to see if this was true, using a map with all the names
deleted. To make sure my survey was scientific, I questioned only randomly
selected people, both men and women, from all over Lauren Upton’s

Me: “Excuse me, mister, can you show me where America is on
this world map.”

Young man (pointing): “Yeah, of course I can. There it

Me: “Uh … actually, that’s Iraq.”

Young man: “Isn’t that
part of America?”

Me: “No, not yet.”

Young man: “But there are
lots of Americans there, so it’s sort of like America, isn’t it?”

Me: “I
suppose so. What about you, Miss? Do you know where America is?”

woman: “Sorry, I’m not good with directions. There’s a gas station down the

Me: “I don’t want directions. I just want to see if you can find
America on this map.”

Young woman: “Oh, okay then. There it

Me: “Uh … actually, that’s the Democratic Republic of

Young woman: “Was I close?”

Me: “Sort of. What about
you, sir? Can you tell me where America is?”

Elderly man: “You’re
standing on it!”

Me: “No, I mean, can you show me where it is on this

Elderly man: “I’ll try, but you have to remember that it’s been
years since I studied geography in high school.”

Me: “I don’t think
America has moved since then, sir.”

Elderly man: “I know it hasn’t
moved, but I’m sure it has gotten bigger. Isn’t Canada part of America

Me: “No, not yet.”

Elderly man: “Then why is there a team
from Canada in the NATIONAL Basketball Association.”

Me: “I don’t know,
sir. Can you point at America on the map please?”

Elderly man
(pointing): “There it is.”

Me: “Sorry, sir, that’s

Elderly man: “What d’ya mean? Georgia is in

Me: “That’s the country of Georgia. It’s next to Russia and
was part of the former Soviet Union.”

Elderly man (shouting): “Georgia belongs to America! The Soviets don’t have it!”

Me: “Okay, sir, whatever you
say. What about you, ma’am, can you tell me where America is on this

Fifty-something woman: “Sure, I can. Let me see … America is a big
country, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. There it is.”

Me: “Uh … sorry,
that’s the Atlantic Ocean.”

Fifty-something woman: “We own part of it,
don’t we?”

Me: “I suppose so. What about you, sir, can you find America
on this map?”

Thirty-something man (pointing): “There it

Me: “Congratulations! You found America on a world

Thirty-something man: “What do I win?”

Me: “Sorry, there are no prizes. This is just a survey.”

Thirty-something man:
“That’s too bad. I was hoping to send the prize to my family in Mexico.”

Me: "You’re from Mexico?"

Thirty-something man: "Yes, but I hope to become an American one day."

Me: “Do
you mind if I consider you an American for the purposes of my

Thirty-something man: “No problem.”

There you have it
then. Four out of five Americans can find America on a world map. Sort of.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Quite funny – an apt illustration of ground reality. Humorous but sad. If only the Americans (and world citizens) know a little more about their “neighbors” there will be less confrontation in this world.

  2. Lameck Mazyopa says:

    We in Zambia learn a lot about the outside world, we know the wonders of the world and locations, all the seasons in each continent and can cite Canada, and all its climate, U.S.A and all its lakes.
    Why are we made to learn all these things while most of outside world will never locate my country on world map, least of all their own country, which is a superpower. I have never been to America but I know it like the back of hand. Let the people in this country grow up and know more about their neighbours.

  3. Jerry Parrish says:

    Let me think on this a moment. We are only talking about 1/5th of the American’s can point out the USA on a map. Hum, how about math to go along with that. the “last” line says “There you have it then. Four out of five Americans can find America on a world map. Sort of.” that would be 4/5ths DO NOT know where it is.. Maybe we need to update our math studies as well.
    Most American’s under the age of 40 can’t even tell you who the VP of America is. Some think Hillary Clinton is still President. Oh wait, that was Bill that was actually elected wasn’t it.
    If the American People do NOT stand up “AGAINST” this “no child left behind” law, we are going to have the dumbest nation in the world by the year 2040. We don’t have to worry about terrorist taking over with violence, all they have to do is wait until we are so stupid we just give our nation to them.
    Right now, have a kid just graduating write you a simple sentence.
    Watch the show, “are you as smart as a 5th grader”. Need I say more? I watched one the other night and this college graduate couldn’t count how many proper nouns were in a simple sentence.
    How about we Vote ALL of the current politicians OUT of office and put NEW in and let them know, they don’t perform then THEY are out because they are suppose to be for the people NOT for THEIR pocketbooks and bank accounts. Right?

  4. Incidentally, I wrote a similar column on my blog page
    I think it is really sad to say that one fifth of Americans don’t know where America is on the map. I liked your punch “does it mean the other 4/5th of Americans know where the map is?”.
    I like reading your columns and they are really funny. Keep up your work.
    Ravi B

  5. Lameck, I’d be very surprised if more than a fifth of Americans could find Zambia on a map. As for naming the president or capital city, you might as well ask them a question in Bemba.
    Jerry, I knew the last line would be confusing. I’m giving three of them credit for coming “close.”
    Ravi, as your column notes, it wasn’t too long ago that President Bush knew as much about the rest of the world as Paris Hilton does.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    Sadly Funny, but True. I don’t know when the “dumbing-down of America” started, but it seems that the teaching of Geography, History, Civics and Physical Education are being sacrificed to make sure the children can pass government mandated tests. What a shame!! Jeffrey (Florida, USA)

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