Thursday 13: Geography Edition

April 29, 2010

I’m currently hooked on playing a Facebook game called Last Letter — it’s a word game, but you have to have some knowledge of Geography in order to play.  It’s a little slice of geek heaven for me!

In honor of that game, here are thirteen obscure places you may not have heard of before … and some interesting factoids to go along with them (where possible).

  1. Eritrea — a former African colony of Italy.  Who knew Italy ever had colonies?  I first heard of Eritrea from a cab driver in DC who told me I wasn’t much of an International Affairs major if I didn’t know where Eritrea was.  (It was his homeland and I think my ignorance insulted him.)
  2. Djibouti — No trivia.  I just like saying this one.
  3. Suriname — A South American country where Dutch is the official language.
  4. Rhodesia — the name used by an unrecognized state that later became Zimbabwe.  (You can’t use Rhodesia in Last Letter.  I found that out the hard way.)
  5. Svalbard — Polar bears are one of the main tourist attractions here.  Anyone leaving a settlement is required to carry a rifle to protect themselves in the event of a polar bear attack.
  6. Guernsey — a British island that was occupied by the Germans during World War II.  (I first learned of Guernsey when I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.)
  7. Andorra — a principality stuck in the mountains between France and Spain.  Legend has it that it was granted a charter by Charlemagne in return for helping fight against the Moors.
  8. Macau — This was both the first and last European colony in China.  People in Macau have the highest life expectancy in the world (84).
  9. Liechtenstein —   the smallest German-speaking country in the world.
  10. Saint Kitts & Nevis — There is an interesting story about how Nevis got its name:  The current name “Nevis” is derived from a Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves by a process of abbreviation and anglicization. This Spanish name means Our Lady of the Snows. It is a reference to the story of a 4th century Catholic miracle: a snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Presumably the white clouds which usually wreathe the top of Nevis Peak reminded someone of the story of a miraculous snowfall in a hot climate.
  11. New Caledonia — so named by Captain Cook because it reminded him of Caledonia (Scotland).
  12. Swaziland — this land has been continuously inhabited since prehistory (ca 25,000 BC).  Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world (32).
  13. Mayotte — They had the chance to become independent in 1974 and decided not to… retaining their status as a French territory instead.


  1. How ’bout some help in sounding out #2?

    • I *think* it’s pronounced Jib-booty.

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