Is Australia part of Europe?

with 4 comments

Phnom Penh street sceneOne day, our Cambodian driver asked us, whether Australia was part of Europe. At first, I thought I’d misunderstood him and answered that Austria was, but Australia wasn’t.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s a shame. Then I got that one wrong on my test.”

It seemed he’d written a geography test at his university, in which he had to list European countries.

Next he wanted to know whether France and England were in Europe. “Yes,” I said. He was glad that he got these two right.

“And how about the United States?” Surely they were part of Europe?

I was stunned by the question.

“No, sorry,” I said, “the U.S. isn’t part of Europe.”

“But then what about Egypt? That’s part of Europe, right?”

“No, sorry.”

Our driver was heartbroken that he’d made so many mistakes on his geography test.

Looking at it from his point of view…

At first, I was mildly shocked by our driver’s concept of Europe and the rest of the world. But then I remembered, that not everyone knows how to read a map. Certainly not everyone in Cambodia.

Since I had the good fortune of growing up in the West, map-reading is a skill that I learned in geography class and from my parents.

Cambodian village sceneBut if you grow up in some remote Cambodian village, you’re pretty far removed from globes, maps and learning about other parts of the world.

And looking at it from our Cambodian driver’s point of view, most foreigners must look alike. What difference does it make to him if one of them is from the U.S. and another says he’s from Italy, Germany, France – or Australia.

All those places are so far removed from the daily lives of the average Cambodian.  His (or her) life in the Cambodian backwaters circles largely around the family, the village, and maybe the province.

He (or she) will never have a chance to visit far-away countries.

So who cares whether those foreign countries are east or west, north or south of Cambodia.

Or whether they’re part of Europe or not.


Written by Thorsten

October 21, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Posted in asia, observations

Tagged with , , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. When I visited Cambodia last year, a Cambodian guy found it hard to believe that I was neither Cambodian nor Chinese. Most likely he hasn’t even heard of the Philippines, even though our countries both belong to an EU-like organization (the ASEAN).


    October 24, 2009 at 4:16 am

  2. I enjoyed reading this but curious why are Cambodians deprived of reading globes and maps ?

    Shyam Rai

    December 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    • I don’t think “deprived” is the right word here.

      Let’s just say that not ALL Cambodians have access to such learning tools.

      The problem is uneven development. It seems to be a problem in most, if not all, developing countries like Cambodia and my very own, the Philippines.

      I mean, in our countries, some people get quality education, some don’t.


      December 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

      • Yes, thank you for your clarification. I think you understood what I was trying to say.


        December 30, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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