How many European countries can you name?
How many can you indicate on a blank map of the continent?
How many of those can you give the capital for?
These are questions I sometimes ask of my students when I’m teaching English in Austria, a country that itself borders eight countries.
Sound a bit dull? Let’s do it as a quiz then, in groups, with the first group to get thirty countries written down calling out ‘stop’ and then we tally up the results. There may even be an edible prize for the winning group.
(That’s usually enough to motivate my teenage students.)
Ready, set and…go!
How many did you get?
My students typically get between 20 and 35 countries correctly named, and correctly spelt in English.
At first, I found this quite impressive, especially of 12, 13 or 14 year olds, as I’m quite sure British teenagers of similar educational levels as many of my students wouldn’t be able to get that many right, even in their first language.
Perhaps because Austria is right in the middle of Europe, and travel to other countries from there is so very easy (just get in your car or hop on a train; no need to cross a body of water first), Austrian teenagers are much more aware of their European neighbours than British ones.
A few years ago I tried filling in this map with an British friend my age, who pointed to Italy and asked “is that Spain?” Am I being a snob for thinking that that was a stupid question?
I’m not sure how many of these I could’ve done as a teenager, but as an adult interested in travel, it’s now very easy for me.
I used to work in a travel book and map shop in London, and needed to know where pretty much every country in the world was (or at least on which continent) in order to be able to direct customers to the appropriate part of the shop for what they were looking for.
“I’m looking for a guide book to Asmara,” I remember being asked once.
Where the hell is Asmara? I thought. I hazarded a guess and sent them to the Africa section. Turned out I was right. (It’s the capital of Eritrea: a fact I will now never forget.)
What surprises me most, though, is when people who’ve travelled somewhere can’t tell you where it was.
“What do you mean, you don’t know which part of France you went to?” I remember saying this (perhaps occasionally just in my head) more than once to school friends after school summer holidays when I was a teenager.
It seemed to me that, France, as one of Britain’s closest neighbours, and a very popular holiday destination for many British people would be an easy one to answer about. Apparently not.
Is this important? Does it matter whether or not you know where every country in the world is or not? What about countries you've been to yourself? Is it unreasonable to expect someone who grew up relatively close to Spain to know where it is?
How many countries did you get right on the map again? (Answers are below)
Note about the map: five very small countries are not numbered, though you can see their borders marked. One officially recognised country and two disputed countries are not marked as the map is a little outdated. Extra bonus points if you can name these extra seven countries and their capitals.
1. Iceland – Reykjavík, 2. Ireland – Dublin, 3. United Kingdom – London, 4. Portugal – Lisbon, 5. Spain – Madrid, 6. France – Paris, 7. Belgium – Brussels, 8. Netherlands – Amsterdam, 9. Denmark – Copenhagen, 10. Germany – Berlin, 11. Switzerland – Bern, 12. Italy – Rome, 13. Slovenia – Ljubljana, 14. Austria – Vienna, 15. Czech Republic – Prague, 16. Poland – Warsaw, 17. Lithuania – Vilnius, 18. Latvia – Riga, 19. Estonia – Tallinn, 20. Russia – Moscow, 21. Belarus – Minsk, 22. Ukraine – Kiev, 23. Moldvoa – Chisinau, 24. Slovakia – Bratislava, 25. Hungary – Budapest, 26. Romania – Bucharest, 27. Croatia – Zagreb, 28. Bosnia and Herzegovina – Sarajevo, 29. Serbia – Belgrade, 30. Albania – Tirana, 31. Macedonia – Skopje, 32. Bulgaria – Sofia, 33. Greece – Athens, 34. Turkey – Ankara, 35. Cyprus – Nicosia, 36. Georgia – Tblisi, 37. Finland – Helsinki, 38. Sweden – Stockholm, 39. Norway – Oslo. Micro-nations not numbered, from west to east: Andorra, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Vatican City, San Marino. Missing country: Montenegro (coastal region of Serbia). Disputed countries: Kosovo (southern Serbia) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.