Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I now live in Europe – but I used to live in The Americas….

That’s right.  I said the Americas.

I was at the end of year holiday party for my ‘Parle Francais’ classes.  In this venue, they combined all levels of the classes and had a friendly gathering, including treats and a giant board game.  Parts of the game included: guessing the meaning of French idioms, naming various cities, naming fruits or vegetables starting with a certain letter and, by looking at a photo on the board, identifying continents by name.

Looking around the room, I idly wondered if there was a representative from all the continents there.  Well, no Antarctica, right? Also lacking was Australia and South America…. so really we weren’t all that global a crowd.  I was hastily corrected and found, to my amazement, that all 5 continents indeed were represented in the room!

Umm…. 5?  Are you ready for this??

They are:

L’Europe (that’s Europe - same idea as us)

L’Afrique (that’s Africa - same idea as us)

L’Asie (that’s Asia - almost same idea as us)

The Americas (that would include North and South America)

l’Océanie (that would sort of equate to our Australia – but includes other Pacific islands – read more here

I don’t really know why – but this particular shock was, well, extra shocking!  5 continents???? What about Antarctica????  I ended up researching this a bit further and found that there is a lot to learn about continents.  It seems that we first started out with 2 – Europe and Asia back in 400 or 500 BC.  Then by 300BC Africa was in there.  That was pretty much it until 1492 and the discovery of the Americas – so then 4 was the popular number for a few hundred years.  Australia was lumped in with Asia until the early 1700’s.  Then we had 5 – and that persisted for another hundred or so.  In fact, if you were ever wondering why there are 5 Olympic rings, I have your answer.  One for each continent!!  “As can be read in the Olympic Charter, the Olympic symbol represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. However, no continent is represented by any specific ring.” Later Antarctica was discovered, and people started thinking of separating North and South America – it gets very confusing at this point….

There are also the continents defined by geology – the tectonic plates – and that is a whole ‘nother can of worms.  I don’t want to go into it – except to say – there is also a lot of debate there as well – and I’m glad I never had to learn it.  Some people do, though. In Russia kids learn about continents (geological) and parts of the world (more political/traditional).

In modern times, the number of continents controversy rages on.  In case you started to worry about if we Americans are the only fools that think there are 7 continents these days – take heart.   Antarctica has some big backers – and lots of people are taught it is also a continent these days. This article as well as others I found claims that Europeans are taught 6 continents – but having asked around here in France – not true in this corner of the world. I did find another very interesting discussion group talking about this and an Austrian claimed they learn 6 there.  Wikipedia claims that Americans and Chinese (I knew they were smart) learn 7. They give a nice history of the whole thing, if you are interested.  Some folks separate North and South America but lump together Europe and Asia (since they are one lump of land) – resulting in a continent known as Eureasia.   There are even places that say there are 4 continents – combining Africa, Europe and Asia and resulting in (drumroll please) Afroeureasia.  Hmm…. I wonder how the French feel about them apples?  Lumping them all in with China and Africa? Quel horreur!  I think it might be a bit how I felt when I found out that us North Americans are lumped in with the South Americans. 

I mean, some things just aren’t right.

Maybe we should just go back to Pangea.  Not much to argue about there, right? Any of you Afro-Euro-Asie-Americ-Anartic-Austral-Oceanies up for a salty swim in the Panthalassa? (I’m afraid to ask how many oceans they think there are)

I plan on trying to enjoy life on my continent – just haven’t decided yet what I want to call it.  Maybe Fred.

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