The historic Trump – Kim Summit cost Singapore an estimated $20 million to host. Given the price tag, many Singaporeans hoped this event would provide positive exposure for Singapore, putting our island city-state on the world map. Given the high expectations and preparations that went into the summit, many netizens were understandably upset when the US State Department mistakenly put Singapore as part of Malaysia, despite being independent since 1965.
The mistake was spotted in a transcript of a briefing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave on Monday. It gave the venue as “JW Marriott, Singapore, Malaysia”. The error was subsequently rectified, but not without receiving considerable backlash on social media. As embarrassing as this blunder was, it was far from being the only incident of poor knowledge of geography. In the lead up to the summit, google searches for “where is Singapore?” surged among Americans.
But for Singaporeans who are upset that Singapore remains largely unknown to the world, there is one silver lining – it’s not just Singapore. Americans are terrible at geography in general.
Nearly 75 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in geography on the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress – almost exactly the same result as in 1994. Most US states do not require geography courses in middle or high school. As of 2013, only 17 states required a geography course in middle school and 10 states required a geography course for students to graduate from high school.
Unsurprisingly, Americans have become the butt of jokes when it comes to correctly pointing at a map, the location of a specific country, whether it’s North Korea, European countries or African countries.
And it’s not just knowledge of the world, a surprisingly high proportion of Americans lack basic knowledge even in local geography. A 2015 survey conducted by Intrepid Travel turned up some hilarious results.
- 57% of Americans didn’t know the Grand Canyon was in Arizona.
- 13% of Americans thought Alcatraz was in New York. 11% didn’t know where it was. 2% thought the island was stormed by Sean Connery in the mid 90s (that last one isn’t true).
- 9% thought the USA was the biggest country in the world.
- 3% of Americans don’t know where the White House is.
So while we may understandably feel upset that Singapore isn’t getting the international recognition it deserves, we can be somewhat comforted by the fact that there are other countries out there that are just as unknown to Americans, if not more.