Recently I hired an amiable local kid to help me move some boxes, explaining that my husband was in Saudi Arabia. My teen helper’s brow puckered for a moment before he inquired, “Is that near Fresno?”
At some point, it seems that geography ceased to be taught in the U.S.
When Olof and I were relocated to Scandinavia for two years in 2005 by his company, I stopped by a La Jolla shipping office and queried the sweet young thing at the counter about shipping rates to Sweden.
“Is that like a country?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s very much like a country.”
There must have been a least some minimal geography instruction at one point as my older son remembers being taught the mnemonic Not So Fast at Bird Rock Elementary to help remember the order of Norway, Sweden and Finland on a map.
By pure luck, my younger son was blessed with two years of concentrated geography courtesy of a third and fourth grade teacher who began each day with a student giving a presentation, with maps, of a city, country, or region of their choosing anywhere in the world. By his second year, Henri, then nine, wanted to come up with something really different.
“How about Abu Dhabi?” I said, since Olof had just been there.
“Mom,” said Henri with barely disguised annoyance, “Abu Dhabi has been done THREE TIMES.”
Inspired by this teacher, I had acquired a Map of the World shower curtain for the kids’ bathroom. They might never look at a globe but they had to take a bath.
Several years later, Henri and I were watching a quiz show and the clue was “island nation in the Indian Ocean beginning with “M”. Mom had to ponder that, but without missing a beat, Henri said, “Madagascar, Mauritius, or Maldives.”
“You actually remember that from fourth grade?” I said.
“No,” he said, “I remember that from yesterday from the shower curtain.”
We are now on at least the 10th
successor of that first one. As an atlas, it tends to run at least a few years behind, but the manufacturer has gradually updated it: Bombay has morphed into Mumbai, and all the “stans” are duly indicated. We have long embraced Geography Through Shower Curtains.
At one point, a decorator grumbled that the curtain was unforgivably tacky and why had I bothered to remodel the bathroom if I were going to keep it?
We’re keeping it because at my British nephew’s wedding to a young lady from Tucson, the groom’s exasperated uncle ditched his prepared toast for a lecture on “Where is England?” to a bewildered-looking group of the bride’s guests.
We’re keeping it because when I went to a last-minute medical appointment before leaving for Sweden, the physician’s assistant departed the room with a cheery, “Well, enjoy the Alps!”
We’re keeping it because a younger friend asked me to bring her back a box of those great chocolates. Even when I suggested she might be confusing Sweden with Switzerland, it was followed by a look of, “There’s a difference?” And then: “So you’ll bring the chocolates?”
But getting back to the kid who asked about Arabia’s proximity to Fresno:
“Actually,” I said, “it’s closer to Omaha.”
Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life every other week in The La Jolla Light.
Reach her at email@example.com