I was in a post office yesterday getting stamps for some postcards, and when I handed them to the woman, she split them into piles: three cards for Alemanha, two for Reino Unido, and one for Belgíca. She dealt with the postcards for Germany, then asked if Reino Unido (Portuguese for United Kingdom) was in Grã-Bretanha (Great Britain). I sniggered inwardly, and told her it was. Then she asked if Belgíca (Belgium) was also in Grã-Bretanha. A bigger snigger still went unsniggered.
But as I left and shook my head at a post office employee’s terrible geographic knowledge, I began to think of how many people I know who have commented, when looking through “Atlas, Schmatlas,” that they were surprised to see that Suriname wasn’t in Africa. Something that I used to think too, before I began researching the book. So I got off my smugly-tall horse and whispered “sorry” into the air, hoping it would in some way float its way into the post office and into her ears.
The location of Belgium is, of course, fairly easy for us Europeans. But, I think we tend to get a bit flakier the further away from home we think about. It’s normal, really: I know where all the villages are around Lincoln, but I’ve got no idea where Bolton is in relation to Manchester. I think it’s a bit north, and probably near Blackburn, but that’s about it. Why would someone in Brazil know where Belgium is? It’s a small country that does very little that gets itself in the news, (apart from the piles of murdered children, I can hear you all thinking).
So, because I am a published atlas writer – *polishes fingernails with dumb pride on his lapel* – I figured it might be interesting to look at what the multiple names for my part of the world are referring to. I don’t want to underestimate your intelligence, but several people that I’ve met on my trip have asked what the difference between the UK and Great Britain is.
The big bit down at the bottom. Invented the language. We all wear bowler hats and pinstripe suits. London is here. The Beatles are from here. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The cold bit above England. They all have ginger hair, drinking problems, and talk funny.
The bit on the west side of England, where the English keep their dragons and coal.
The top bit of the island of Ireland. Some of them want to be part of the UK, some of them want to be part of the (Republic of) Ireland. They like to fight about this.
This is the island that contains England, Scotland, and Wales.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The full name of the UK says it all, really: it’s England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Sometimes when people say Britain they mean the UK. Yes, it’s fucking confusing.
Sometimes called the Republic of Ireland even though its official name is simply Ireland. In Irish, it’s called Éire. For Americans who own a green t-shirt and have drunk a pint of Guinness, it’s called the Old Country. A separate country altogether, nothing to do with the UK any more.
The geographical term for the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and a bunch of other fairly insignificant rocks poking out of the ocean.
Oh, for the love of God, how confusing is this!? The British Islands is the UK plus the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Some rocks off the coast of France that are crown dependencies of the UK, but not part of the UK itself or, for that matter, of the European Union. The main islands are Jersey and Guernsey. Both named after cows.
Isle of Man
Where my sister lives, and a bugger to describe to Brazilians. A crown dependency like the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man is an island in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Apparently, Jeremy Clarkson lives there which is reason enough to never go.
British Overseas Territories
These are places that the UK is the boss of, even though they aren’t actually part of the UK. They are scattered all over the world, and the only time we Brits ever think about any of them is when we see Argentinian warships getting too close to the beaches. They are: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena (inc. Ascension and Tristan da Cuhna), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
You could have got all of this info on Wikipedia, but then there’d be an empty space where this blog post now lives. And, yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Atlas, Schmatlas” would make a superb Easter present for every single one of your friends, Jesus-loving or not.
Inselaffen, by the way, is what some Germans call the Brits: island monkeys.