10 Hilarious High-Profile Geography Fails
The world is a big, big place. So big that you’d be forgiven for not knowing everything about it. With roughly 196 countries (“roughly,” depending on whether you count places like Taiwan, Somaliland, and Kosovo), innumerable cities, and constantly shifting borders, keeping up on your geography can be difficult for sure.
But there’s failing to keep up and then there’s displaying hilarious levels of ignorance. Time and again, people in high-profile situations seemingly go out of their way to mess up geography. We’re not talking little mistakes either. We’re talking stuff that even a fourth grader should know. Stuff like . . .
10The Twitter Users Who Confused Chechnya With The Czech Republic
On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring over 250. It quickly emerged that the suspects were both from Chechnya, a troubled province in the Russian Federation famous for its wars, terrorists, and dictator-like leader. Understandably angry, thousands of Americans took to Twitter to vent their rage . . . against the completely unrelated nation of the Czech Republic.
The largest part of the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic today is a stable EU country with a pro-US president, excellent beer, and a decent ice hockey team. It’s situated over 3,200 kilometers (2,000 mi) from Chechnya—slightly over the distance from NYC to Puerto Rico. That didn’t stop Twitter users from calling on the US government to start bombing the Czech Republic and tweeting abuse at prominent Czechs.
This idiocy wasn’t just limited to people on social media. CNN and a former CIA analyst publicly named the Czech Republic as the country responsible for the bombings. Things got so out of hand that the Czech ambassador to the US had to make a public plea to Americans to stop blaming his country for the tragedy.
9The Scientist Whose Loose Grasp Of UK Geography Cost His Family £2 Million
For outsiders, the UK can be a slightly confusing concept. Rather than a single country or island, it is made up of three countries forming Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) plus Northern Ireland. Americans and Europeans frequently get this wrong, but you’d expect that. What you wouldn’t expect is for one of the finest minds in the country to accidentally screw up the concept, triggering a £2 million lawsuit.
In 2012, Welsh scientist Michael Crowley-Milling—who helped invent the touchscreen—died, leaving millions. His will specifically stated that all his wealth “within the UK” would be left to the Royal Society. Unfortunately, all his wealth just happened to reside in the British Isles of Jersey and the Isle of Man. Despite the professor’s intentions, neither of those islands is actually part of the United Kingdom.
Although part of the British Isles and protected by the UK, Jersey and the Isle of Mann are Crown dependencies. Since even many people from the UK don’t know this, Crowley-Milling’s slipup was forgivable. The legal battle it launched was less so. The professor’s family and the Royal Society were forced to duke it out in court to the tune of £2 million. After many months and hundreds of thousands in legal fees, the courts sided with the Royal Society.
8Westboro Baptist Protests The Wrong Country
The Westboro Baptist Church are well known for their bigotry, insane stunts, and picketing of military funerals. Carrying signs saying stuff like “fag enabler,” they protest America and other gay-tolerant countries in the most obnoxious way possible.
So when Ireland passed its historic same-sex marriage bill in 2015, it’s no surprise the church decided to target the country. Barely had the ink dried on the new law before Westboro members released a video of themselves dancing on and desecrating Irish flags. The only problem? They accidentally used the wrong flag.
Ireland’s flag looks remarkably similar to the Ivory Coast’s. Reverse the colors and you can’t tell them apart, which is exactly what happened here. Westboro Baptist accidentally acquired Ivory Coast flags and desecrated them instead. The hate group later tried to row backward and claim they’d deliberately used the wrong flag to prove Ireland was a “nation in distress.” We’re thinking all they really proved is their own overwhelming idiocy.
7Dick Cheney Hands Venezuela To The Peruvian People
Right up until his death in 2013, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez was one of the GOP’s favorite boogeymen. An anti-US leftist who blamed everything from bad weather to his own cancer on Washington, Chavez was especially unpopular with the Bush White House. In 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney even made a speech about the Venezuelan president . . . in which he accidentally promoted Chavez to ruler of Peru.
While criticizing Chavez, Cheney made a point of saying “the people of Peru deserve better.” He then claimed only the people of Peru could remove Chavez from office, which was either a hilarious gaffe or a veiled invitation for Lima to declare war on Caracas.
Peru is over 800 kilometers (500 mi) from Venezuela, with Colombia and Ecuador lying between them. If you started in Paris, you could drive through the whole of Belgium and the Netherlands and nearly into Denmark before you covered such a distance. The worst part was that Cheney made his remarks as a guest speaker for the World Affairs Council, a group whose mission statement is to educate US citizens on geography and international affairs.
6Obama Moves The Falkland Islands To Asia
A tiny archipelago off the coast of South America, the Falklands have long been a flashpoint between Britain and Argentina. A British Overseas Territory, the islands are officially administered by the UK, in the same way that, say, Guam is by the US.
Argentina disputes this. In Buenos Aires, the Falklands are known as Las Malvinas and considered part of Argentina. The two countries fought a war over the issue in June 1982, a war in which the US made itself officially neutral. That has been the American position ever since, recognizing the islands as both the Falklands and Malvinas. Unless, that is, you’re President Obama, who decided Las Malvinas was old hat and promptly renamed them the Maldives.
This doubtless came as news to Falkland Islanders but also to residents of the Maldives themselves. A collection of islands in South Asia, the Maldives are so far from the Falklands that it’s hardly worth putting a figure on it. You could go from Canada to the very tip of South America and still not have covered the distance involved. The gaffe was so vast that the British press claimed it made Obama look more accident-prone than George W, Bush.
5CNN Moves Ukraine To Pakistan
Quick: What are the similarities between Ukraine and Pakistan? If you responded with: “They’re both dealing with a complex insurgency exacerbated by regional powers,” then, wow, have you considered a job at CNN? You’d do a damn sight better than whoever’s in charge at the moment. Seemingly faced with that same question in 2014, the news channel came up with an impressively original answer: They claimed both nations existed within Pakistan’s borders.
During a report on the war brewing in Ukraine’s Donbass region, CNN deployed a handy map to help any confused viewers. Unfortunately, the map immediately swung away from Europe and round to Pakistan, before helpfully labeling the war-torn Muslim nation as “Ukraine.” This wasn’t the first time CNN had screwed up its graphics so badly. The same year, they’d produced a map locating London in the wrong part of Britain, and in 2013, one placed Hong Kong in South America.
On the other hand, CNN may just be reflecting the public at large. A study published in the Washington Post prior to the CNN mistake asked Americans to place Ukraine on a map. Most opted to place it—you guessed it—somewhere right near to Pakistan.
4The Sporting World’s Many National Anthem Fails
It must be tough coming from a second-tier country. Not only does nobody know where you are on a map—they frequently confuse you with other places entirely. Nowhere is this more apparent than at sporting contests. Whereas the idea that organizers would mess up the US or UK or Canadian national anthems seems laughable, for smaller countries, it’s sadly an insult that keeps getting repeated.
At the 2015 National Athletics Championship in China, for instance, Ukrainian athlete Oleg Verniaiev was forced to accept his gold medal while listening to the national anthem of Uzbekistan—a country about as far from his own as Texas is from Nicaragua. In 2015, an athlete from Azerbaijan competing in the youth championships in Serbia was honored with the Armenian national anthem. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at war for roughly two decades.
But at least these are real countries getting confused, here. The same can’t be said for Kazakhstan. Ever since spoof movie Borat was released in 2006, medal ceremonies have repeatedly honored Kazakh athletes by playing the fake national anthem from the film. Since the fake anthem in question contains references to Kazakhstan’s awesome prostitutes and claims “all other countries run by little girls,” you’d think someone would have realized by now.
3Rick Perry Annexes A Mexican City, Makes Up A Country
Not so long ago, Juarez was the murder capital of the world. Between 2010 and 2012, it saw 3,057 murders in a population of 1.3 million and around eight kidnappings a day. Cartels ran everything. Drugs washed through the city. With all that in mind, what country do you think Juarez belongs to? If you’re Rick Perry, the answer is apparently “the United States of America.”
In 2011, Perry identified this Mexican city as “the most dangerous city in America.” Juarez is certainly close to the States—it runs directly along the border with El Paso—but it’s no more part of Texas than, say, Detroit is part of Canada. In the aftermath of his statement, people joked that Perry was planning to expand the Texas border farther, annexing Juarez.
Although the Juarez gaffe is plenty dumb, it has nothing on Perry’s greatest geography fail. Later the same year, the Texas governor magically created a whole new country. Halfway through a speech, he lambasted the government for sending millions in dollars to “the country Solyndra.” Before you check your atlas, no country called Solyndra exists or has ever existed. Instead, it’s the name of a solar panel company that went under after accepting millions in federal money. It was an issue worth bringing up but definitely not the geopolitical powder keg Perry made it sound like.
2Nicaragua Accidentally Invades Costa Rica
It’s one thing making a gigantic geography gaffe that makes you look foolish. It’s another entirely to make a gaffe that makes you look like a territorial aggressor. In 2010, Nicaraguan military commander Eden Pastora was out doing patrols near the Costa Rican border. Noticing a Costa Rican flag flying on the wrong side, his patrol marched over, defiantly tore it down, and raised a Nicaraguan one instead. There was only one problem. That Costa Rican flag had been flying on the Costa Rican side of the border.
Thanks to their poor geographical awareness, Pastora and his troops had accidentally invaded a neighboring country—a neighboring country Nicaragua just happens to have extremely bad relations with. Costa Rica responded with defiance, posting police reinforcements to the border. Nicaragua sent even more troops. To stop the situation from escalating into a full-on war, the Organization of American States and UN Security Council were both required to hastily step in and mediate a compromise.
The following diplomatic spat lasted five full years. Things were only resolved in 2015, when the International Court of Justice ruled that the area of land Pastora had marched on definitely belonged to Costa Rica.
1Nearly Everyone On Earth Gets Slovenia Wrong
In June 1991, the tiny province of Slovenia split from Yugoslavia in a bruising 10-day war. Two years later, Slovakia peacefully separated from the Czech Republic, thereby dissolving Czechoslovakia. Ever since, no one on Earth has apparently been able to tell these two independent nations apart.
The trouble goes beyond similar names. Both countries are in Eastern Europe, both were ruled over by communists, and both are small (Slovenia is about the size of New Jersey; Slovakia is about twice that size). Both have flags that are made of three horizontal stripes in red, white, and blue, decorated with a shield on their left. And both are forever getting confused with the other.
George W. Bush once told the Prime Minister of Slovenia how excited he was to discuss Slovakia with him. Silvio Berlusconi—whose country borders Slovenia—introduced the Slovenian Prime Minister as his Slovakian counterpart. The executive arm of the EU, the European Commission, has repeatedly sent memos for Slovenia to Slovakia, and vice versa. In foreign countries, staff from the Slovakian and Slovenian embassies frequently meet up to exchange mail sent to the wrong address by mistake. Even the two countries’ official tourist sites have pages tetchily informing visitors that Slovenia and Slovakia are different places.
At one point in 2004, Slovenia got so fed up that its parliament was seriously considering a flag redesign and possibly a name change. Still, it could be worse. If they were the Croatian region of Slavonia, they’d have to put up with people mistaking them for both Slovenia and Slovakia, and they wouldn’t even get to be a real country. Sometimes geography can be a cruel mistress.