Allow me to get this out of the way right off the bat: I am not a cartographer. Sure, I may have a particular affection for the “Geography” section of Sporcle. And yes, I can spell Kyrgyzstan and know that Toronto isn’t the capital of Canada (even though it obviously should be). And I may have even drawn a map of the world from memory (along with everyone else in my class) as an end-of-year project in 7th grade. But those days are long past, and I have something significantly more important to tell you about: the bathroom users of this country are getting puzzling and inaccurate geographic information from one of the most popular shower curtains on the novelty shower curtain scene.
I am referring to the curtain available here which is well known enough that I had already seen it once or twice before picking it up last year. It even featured in a few episodes of the US version of Shameless alongside Emmy Rossum’s boobs (no, that link isn’t to her boobs, pervert). If they ever reboot Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiago? as some kind of edgy, morally-ambiguous, heist drama on AMC it’ll be in their bathroom as well.¹
Unlike Amazon reviewer “E. Foster” whose primary complaint was “Really Smelly!” most of my criticisms are based on the bounty of geographical oddities contained upon its rubber surface. Sure, it’s just a shower curtain, but it is one of the most massively influential shower curtains on the market right now! Here are some of the things that are strange about it:
- The Mercator Projection. Widely considered the wrongest of all preposterously wrong map projections. It’s a wild distortion of the relative sizes of various parts of the world that says to your typical mid-17th century colonialist “Why OF COURSE it would make sense for Norway to rule over the southern half of Africa.”
- Bizarre Political Editorializing. There is no escaping the fact that any map is going to make choices about the outlines, recognitions, or non-recognitions of certain countries that anger someone. List of disputed or occupied territories is a 6,500 word article on Wikipedia, and that is just the list. Even so, they made some quite odd choices as far as that goes. They separately label “Western Sahara (Occupied by Morocco)” which is fine, as basically everyone else at least labels that part of the map as being disputed. It is at least good that they have shown that its status is contested. Considering this, it’s odd that they label Northern Cyprus as what looks like a country, with no commentary. Only Turkey recognizes this state—because they are the ones who invaded and occupied it in the ’70s, to the nearly-universal denunciation of the international community. No one else considers this a country…except this map.
So considering these two choices to recognize disputed areas, the way in which they ignored even more disputed parts of the map is puzzling. I dread to mention it on a blog that traffics primarily in things that are not soul-crushingly bitter or unfunny, but there are many other places or borders with more widespread partial recognition. Without actually weighing in on the legitimacy of these supposed “countries”: Palestine, Tibet, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Abkhazia, are all places that say they are “countries.” (But aren’t, really. I mean, get serious, Transnistria). Even so, most have more support than Northern Cyprus. Kosovo, not listed there, is definitely a country (apologies to whichever of the people from the former Yugoslavia hate Kosovo), but that could be timing, they only declared independence in 2008 and the map still has Serbia & Montenegro, which got divorced in 2006.
- Recognition based on position, not importance. This seems to be the cause of the previous issue. Around the equator, and in other dense areas, map-makers didn’t bother to put labels for anything. And in northern or depopulated areas, there was plenty of empty space,. So instead of Sydney, and Melbourne, we get just the (way smaller) Australian Capital, and then places like Tennant Creek and Alice Springs which have populations of ~3000(?) and ~”who gives a fuck, mate.” This is also a big issue in Russia and Canada. Canada features a ton of tiny isolated hamlets, names almost every arctic island, and leaves off Toronto.
- Leaving Some Countries Out Entirely. The idea that they totally ignore sovereign (but hilarious) nations like Liechtenstein, San Marino, St Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis, Kiribati, Nauru, Seychelles, and the Maldives, despite having plenty of non-countries in the Caribbean and South Pacific, is ridiculous and insulting to these autonomous tax-havens.
- Not Distinguishing Between Countries and Non-Countries. Marshall Islands, Caroline Islands, Fed. States of Micronesia, Gilbert Islands, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia. Any indication which of those are countries and which aren’t? Who knows? Based on their labeling they all appear to have the same status. The Angolan enclave of Cabinda is given the same typeface as the countries over there, and isn’t even the same color as the country it’s part of. It’s like they started putting in all the countries and colors, got distracted by a squirrel outside, forget where they were, and just left everything as it was.
- Not consistently labeling territories. While the obscure island of South Orkney has a “(U.K.)” after its name and Easter Island has a “(Chile)”, others, like the Falklands, or New Caledonia aren’t categorized as territories. It’s roughly 50/50 whether they are going to ascribe these places to the right country. If they are going to do it at all, what is the point of doing it so inconsistently?
- Weird Coloring. Different parts of the same countries are not always colored the same. Denmark/Greenland, France/French Guiana, Greece/Crete, Australia/Tasmania, Sweden/Gotland, etc etc. Based on what I’ve seen already though, I’m not sure the map-makers were aware those places are the same countries. Sometimes they manage to screw up the colors totally inexplicably, like reversing Chile and Argentina’s parts of Tierra del Fuego, and coloring the European part of Turkey differently from the rest of it. Rhode Island is the only state that has no color at all, the border is so thick it takes up the entire state.
Was that pedantic enough for you? No? You want some more excruciating details about the mistakes on some map you’ve never seen before? Well, if you’re sure…
- The Aral Sea is drawn at its former size, the way it looked before the USSR tried drilling to center of the Earth nearby, and most of the sea’s water drained into the hole.
- Stars are supposed to indicate national capitals, yet they are used for a number of cities that are just regional capitals, like Godthåb in Greenland (which is part of Denmark, and has actually been named ‘Nuuk’ since 1979), or Stanley in the Falklands, or, most confusingly, Gibraltar.
- The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad is on the map, but it isn’t titled in any way.
- The US is divided into states, and only indicates the city of Washington DC. I assume this is because it would get crowded with the state name as well as the cities. But then in Alaska, cities are shown. But in Hawaii, where they would have plenty of space, they aren’t.
- Canada is also similarly divided into provinces, but with towns for some reason.
- Although they have the Canadian provinces, they entirely miss Prince Edward Island. It’s there, but untitled and colored like New Brunswick. Sure, numerous uninhabited islands in the Canadian Arctic are carefully labeled, but they couldn’t be bothered with it. Even more bizarrely, they did manage to include the tiny, uninhabited, South African Prince Edward Islands but titled as “Prince Edward Isaland.” And though there is a P.E.I. in the pair of South African islands, it is the smaller of the two, so it seems like someone had just heard of there being a P.E.I. somewhere and assumed this must have been it.
- Unbelievably, I’m not done with Atlantic Canada yet. One of the most baffling oddities is the fact that Labrador, the mainland part of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador is labeled “New Foundland,” a strange misspelling of the name of the island, and Newfoundland itself is unlabelled entirely.
- Samoa is titled “Samoa Island”
- Trinidad and Tobago are labelled separately for some reason.
- For some reason the two cities recognized in the UK are London and…Sunderland? Nothing against Sunderland, but even when you consider that they had some space in northern Britain that they wanted to put a city in, nearby cities like Newcastle, Leeds, and Glasgow are bigger. Edinburgh is not only bigger, but it’s the capital of Scotland.
- Countries of the same color occasionally border each other.
- East Timor isn’t called Timor-Leste but the Ivory Coast is called Cote d’Ivoire. Do we use the foreign-language names of countries or don’t we?²
- They spell Addis Ababa as “Addis Abbaba.”
OK, I think I have effectively torn this map a new curtain-ring-hole.
Obviously, by now you have stopped reading. I am really just putting this up here so that someday, years from now, whoever drew this thing will find this and tell me what the hell is up with all this stuff.
¹ One season-long story-arc would definitely feature two of the Rockapella singers carrying on an tawdry secret relationship behind the backs of the rest of the group
² While I’m at it, it annoys me that Ivory Coast insists on us using their French name. Germany doesn’t bug us to call them Deutschland. It isn’t even like it’s an indigenous name for that name or something, it’s just the French version of what we already call them.