China's Middle Class is Larger than the US', and more.
December 11, 2008 10:42 AM   Subscribe

My knowledge of the world outside the US is governed by a gallimaufry of dim suppositions and half remembered facts gleamed from talk radio and the news. What are some notable facts about foreign lands that you have found to be helpful or instructive? Yes, there is the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia, but I'm looking for info and facts that you have found to be useful or telling.

Things like South Korea has a thriving videogame subculture, or that Brazil has an impressive agriculture system. Facts pertaining to the top 20 countries would be especially appreciated.
posted by parallax7d to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: If this thread is successful I will make a mnemosyne card set out of these facts (after some fact checking) and post it up.
posted by parallax7d at 10:45 AM on December 11, 2008

"There are today just eight states on earth which have existed since 1914 and not had their form of government changed by violence since then. These are the United Kingdom, four present or former members of the Commonwealth, the United States, Sweden, and Switzerland. Of the remaining 170 or so contemporary states, some are too recently created to have known much recent turmoil, but for the greater number that have done, far the most frequent factor has been ethnic conflict." --Daniel Patrick Moynihan in Pandaemonium
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've done business in some thirty odd countries and people are fundamentally the same all over. This is true of the G-20 or Developing Nations or even politically unstable countries in the throes of a coup (Togo, 2005, very interesting).

Now your governments, however, well sir, governments are where really small differences in people that we could otherwise work out become big, big problems.
posted by Mutant at 12:07 PM on December 11, 2008

Alone in Southeast asia, Thailand has never been ruled by a foreign power.
posted by tkolar at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2008

Oh, and a fact about the U.S. you might not be aware of but is useful to know when interacting with the rest of the world: The U.S. has 700+ military bases on foreign soil. At last count, there was precisely one foreign military base, a British refueling station, on U.S. soil.

People outside the U.S. tend to be more aware of this fact than we Americans are.
posted by tkolar at 2:09 PM on December 11, 2008

This may have changed due to the new U.S. travel restrictions, but as of the 2000 election a significantly higher percentage of Japanese citizens held passports than did red state citizens.

(the Japanese are often criticized for xenophobia, and many were dumbfounded when the U.S. elected a President who had barely left the country.)
posted by tkolar at 2:15 PM on December 11, 2008

Currently New Zealand has a population of 40 million sheep and 4 million people. (source)
posted by tkolar at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2008

South Africa's vaunted violent crime rate is only a few tenths of a percent higher than New York City's crime rate throughout the late 1990s.
posted by tkolar at 2:21 PM on December 11, 2008

The labor laws in Europe make it very very difficult to let an employee go. For this reason the practice we have in the U.S. of hiring people when business is good and letting them go when things are slow is almost unheard of.
posted by tkolar at 2:25 PM on December 11, 2008

There's one vending machine for ever 15 people in Japan. (Some social scientist types theorize that they are enabling persistent social isolation, whereby even small interactions with convenience store clerks, ticket sellers, etc., are eliminated.) (Why do I never bookmark cool articles.)
posted by whatzit at 2:44 PM on December 11, 2008

The four countries with the largest numbers of Muslim residents are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, in that order.

There are more Muslims in Nigeria than in Iran, more in Serbia and (now-independent) Montenegro than in the United Arab Emirates, more in Thailand than in Lebanon, more in Russia than in Malaysia, and more in China than in Syria.

More Muslims live outside the Middle East than within it.

Islam is the second-largest religion in Europe.
posted by mdonley at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

*Sounds horn* right back at Desein:

New York's violent crime rate in 1990: 1,180.9 per 100,000 people.
South Africa's contact crime rate in 2008: 1,387 per 100,000 people.

You were, however, correct that it was the late eighties, not late nineties, that things got bad in New York.
posted by tkolar at 4:03 PM on December 11, 2008

Oh, and also if we were only going by the rape and murder numbers, it's the difference between 0.13% and 0.05%.

This proves me wrong again, it was less than a tenth of a percent.
posted by tkolar at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2008

In Eastern Europe, countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet are (traditionally primarily) Orthodox. Countries that use the Latin alphabet are (traditionally primarily) Catholic.
posted by eritain at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2008

Airfares are dirt cheap right now, and the US dollar is sky high - the price of everything in the world outside the US is at a huge discount.
Save some money, take a few weeks off, and then instead of memorizing facts, you can remember memories. Eg "In New Zealand, homelessness is nearly unheard of, and you could walk the streets without people asking you for money. Instead of beggers, there were buskers. One of them was this guy who did this absolutely amazing juggling while on a unicycle, attracting a huge crowd (and the crowd in turn attracted more and more curious people), but then another busker was this really old guy playing the violin really badly - he was really more like a beggar disguised as a busker, using the weak wavering sound of his violin to get sympathy money."

Memories beat statistics :)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:42 PM on December 11, 2008

That reminds me: Osaka, Japan has a huge homeless population living in the public parks and along the river. Look for the blue tarps.

It surprised me greatly to see that many homeless people in Japan.
posted by tkolar at 6:58 PM on December 11, 2008

It's not a source of straight-up statistics or anecdotes, but I'm constantly surprised by the world news coverage of the BBC. You can listen to their radio for free here and they've got a RSS feed (of their front page news) here.

If you're interested in continuing down that path, pick up subscriptions to the Economist and Foreign Affairs. Rather than just facts, you'll start absorbing the why too, which helps vastly more with both understanding and recall.

No kidding, you'll soon surprise yourself with your ability to hold your own in a conversation about the regional politics of, e.g. individual African countries. Happened to me.

(Or you could just pick up a few international relations classes at a local university ...)
posted by oostevo at 9:50 PM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: If you want a book full of these types of facts and figures, try "What Every American Should Know about the Rest of the World" by Melissa L. Rossi
posted by soelo at 10:19 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

But thank you for demonstrating to the OP how you can cook up bullshit statistics about any place on earth to impress gullible friends.

Another fun world fact: absolutely no country in the world clings to its self-image of being a violent, dangerous place like South Africa.
posted by tkolar at 10:38 AM on December 12, 2008

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