Archive for the ‘Country Overview’ Category

With a gentic makeup rivaling that of the Saiyans, history has shown that when wounded Germans are provided time to heal, they only reappear stronger than ever.  Alternatively beaten by and beating back threats from within and without across the centuries, Germany is today firmly on the crest of its sinusoidal historical wave.  The German economy is by far the most robust in Europe, and at 5th overall in the world, Germans have ample reason to be proud: Their country is the largest exporter of goods in the world, German is the most common first language in Europe, and just to really shove everyone’s faces in it, they even recycle more than almost anyone else.  The rapid ascent of Germany is all the more remarkable since the unified nation of Germany has only existed since 1990, following the successful political fusion dance of Cold War East and West.

With the rise of modern Germany in the late 19th century and its rapid military victories over France, a hopelessly antagonistic philosopher riding a historical crest and later an imprisoned young art student most decidedly in the trough both looked around at all of the history they were seeing and decided to sit down, count to ten, and write about how it made them feel.  Rather than discarding these scraps of internal monologue faster than you can say “anger management,” they chose instead to publish their work and change the entire world.  Each in their own way came to believe in the notion of a super race, which, since we’re talking myths here, might as well be absurdly powerful with blonde hair and blue eyes.

 

A typical German family portrait.

 

One of the pitfalls of this gated community of Übermensch was the inherent exclusivity of it; as is the case with treehouse clubs, the CIA, and the Troll Book Club, not everyone could be a member.  The result was the most destructive war humanity has ever waged on itself, part and parcel a pattern of streamlined, mechanized genocide.  In the post-War era, Germans have taken great strides toward promoting peace, refusing to mire themselves in a past that most everyone would rather forget.  The Nuremburg Trials held Nazi officers accountable for war crimes; the Nazi flag and party remain illegal.  When terrorists stormed the Israeli athletes’ rooms during the 1972 Munich Olympics, high-ranking German ministers reportedly offered their own lives to exchange places with the Israeli athletes.  Even the previously unthinkable has happened: a friendship and friendly rivalry has blossomed with France, now Germany’s largest trading partner.  Germany has moved on strongly.  Today, the average German citizen has a power level well over 9000.

 

A German (left) and a Frenchman (right) battle to a stalemate. They would later become unlikely friends.

 

Local Name: Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany)

Language: German

Capital: Berlin (Bonn was the capital of West Germany)

Population: 81,305,856 (all of whom can recite the lyrics to any David Hasselhoff song from memory)

Area: 357,022 km2

Government: Federal republic; elected Chancellor rules and secretly engineers the Clone Wars

Currency: Euro; symbol EUR; €1 = US$1.31 (March 2012)

Economy: World’s 5th largest; Europe’s largest; vehicles; chemicals; international trade; machinery; highly skilled workforce

Notable International Enemies: Ghosts of their past.

 

Featuring the national colors of Germany, the current flag was adopted in 1919 during the Weimar Republic.

 

Famous For: Guzzling beer (2nd largest consumers after the Irish); several famous philosphers and composers; the Autobahn; the Holy Roman Empire; its on-again-off-again brush with European dominance throughout history

Not Famous For: Being the first country to adopt Daylight Savings Time (during WWI); producing some 35% of the world’s wind energy; publishing the first Bible and later jumpstarting the Reformation; being the world’s largest exporter of goods

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Brandenburg Gate; Munich; the Black Forest; Cologne Dome

What US$20 Can Get You: Several plates of currywurst, a sausage/curry hybrid dish; two nights in a hostel

Quick History Recap: Thwarting Roman efforts of annexation in 9 AD, the region east of the Rhine remained a collection of loosely affiliated districts until 1871, when the modern nation-state of Germany was established under Prussian Otto von Bismarck.  Germany’s economy soared, quickly matching that of the industrialized Western European nations, allowing for rampant expansion.  Decades later, the expense of forced war reparations, the unstable Weimar government, and the Great Depression created a fertile political atmosphere for the national socialist party and its young leader, an unsuccessful painter named Adolf Hitler.  The Second World War crippled Germany once again, literally dividing the country for half a century by the Allies and USSR.  Performing a successful fusion dance in 1990, Germany has since become one of the largest economies in the entire world, with a collective power level of just over 3.28 trillion.

 

From little Dutch boys plugging their fingers into dikes to lonely Dutchmen putting their fingers into dykes, the Dutch have always been asking for great deluges.  Literally wrested from the ocean itself, 25% of the Netherlands is under sea level, and a full 50% lies less than one meter above that.  In fact, Nederland means “Low Country,” a direct translation of an often deadly geographic quirk that is also serves as the basis for the country’s name in virtually every major Western European language.  A nation known by more names than Sean Combs, the Netherlands/Holland/the Low Countries know that a tulip by any other name will smell just as sweet.

Tulips became popular luxury items in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, a period in which the nation was blossoming into a Golden Age of commerce.  The tulip was considered unique in Europe when it was first imported from Turkey, its distinctive flower a robust saturation of color which in comparison made every other native species look like it had been plucked in Pleasantville.  It was planted in the gardens of the aristocracy, as the flower happened to be well-adapted to the climate of the Low Countries.  In the winter of 1636-37, in active defiance of all logic, the price of tulips skyrocketed.  Typical of this bull market were contracts with exchanges such as 40 tulip bulbs for 100,000 florins; a skilled laborer might earn 150 florins in an entire year.  Buyers purchased futures contracts, intending to re-sell the flowers at profit later, a massive Ponzi scheme that hung precariously upon the notion that a greater fool would ultimately pay the ever-increasing price.  It is worth noting that no actual flowers exchanged hands; these unenforceable contracts were to be fulfilled when the tulips bloomed in the coming spring.  The speculative bubble–the world’s first in a nation that has also provided the world with several other outlets to temporary insanity–eventually became unsustainable, collapsing upon itself by February 1637.

 

“Wagon of Fools” (1637).  The goddess Flora leads entranced Dutch weavers–who had abandoned their looms and invested heavily in the bulbs–to an impoverished burial at sea.  Note: everyone in this painting is also high.

 

Today, with one of the most liberal slate of laws in the entire world, major cities like Amsterdam attract millions of foreign tourists annually, their conservative shackles jangling in the streets long into the night.  While hard drugs are outlawed, softer drugs like wet mushrooms and marijuana are only technically illegal, the legislative loophole of a half-assed Dutch attempt to skirt around international treaties.  To wit: prostitution has been tolerated since the 1200s.  Gay marriage has been legal since 2001.  Euthanasia was legalized in the following year.  Currently, the most divisive and hotly debated social issue in the Dutch Parliament is legistlation that would grant the right to euthanize one’s gay prostitute spouse.  It is expected to pass by general consensus, the norm in Dutch politics.

 

You could probably goad a Dutchman into taking out a second mortage on his windmill to buy a few of these flowers.

 

Amsterdam’s red light district, the world’s crossroads of prostitution and soft drugs, has suffered from a rash of criminal activity that absolutely no one could have been able to predict, ever.  Patrons communicate with the hookers through their windows, the idea being to make the whole ordeal as awkward as a drive-thru fast food experience.

 

Local Name: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (Kingdom of the Netherlands)

Language: Dutch, Frisian; English spoken by most

Capital: Amsterdam; the actual seat of government is at the Hague

Population: 16,731,712 (1180 are windmills, and the rest are thought to be hallucinations)

Area: 41,543 km2

Government: Constitutional monarchy; Queen Beatrix reigns and appoints a Prime Minister following elections 

Currency: Euro; symbol EUR; €1 = US$1.31 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: World’s 16th largest; transportation hub; international finance; international trade (port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest); world’s 3rd biggest agricultural exporter

Notable International Enemies: Don Quixote; France briefly ruled the Netherlands during the Napoleonic wars; founding member of NATO and the EU

 

The upper red band was originally orange, favorite color of William of Orange (of the House of Orange; hair color decidedly gray).  The orange dye peeled rapidly and was difficult to resolve in hazy seafaring conditions.  The current flag was officially adopted by royal decree in 1937.

 

Famous For: Windmills; red light district; liberal drug policy; a bike ownership rate double that of automobiles; Dutch chocolate; canals; flat landscape; natives Rembrandt and Van Gogh

Not Famous For: Growing the tallest people in the world; the Dutch company Philips, which invented the audio tape, the video tape, the compact disc, and the CD-ROM; having the world’s happiest citizens; engineering the world’s first orange carrots and gin, which was sold as the medicine Jenever in the 16th century;  KLM airlines, the world’s longest-operating commercial airline since 1919; hosting the world’s first full-time stock exchange; discovering Australia and New Zealand; shrewdly trading the nutmeg of Suriname for the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, today known as New York City

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Amsterdam; red light district; a coffee shop; Haarlem; Anne Frank’s secret annex

What US$20 Can Get You: High. Then, about five minutes in the red light district.

Quick History Recap: A major colonial power in the early modern era, the Netherlands colonized much of the world hand-in-hand with rival Western European nations.  Trading approximately US$1000 for the island of Manhattan in 1626, the Dutch patted themselves on the back and thought themselves shrewd businessmen, but not even a decade later, these were the guys taking out loans to buy tulips.  New Amsterdam had been established partly to protect Dutch interests in the beaver trade.  This industry was not just limited to pelts, as another hot commodity was beaver castoreum, a secretion of anal glands that is used by North American beavers to mark territory and by clever Dutch businessmen as a medicine.  After on-and-off wars with England, the Dutch ceded New Amsterdam to the English in return for legal recognition of other Dutch territories that were rich in nutmeg; smart money says it’s because nutmeg can also lead to a hallucinogenic high.  Following a century or two of relative neutrality, the Netherlands has evolved into a highly developed economy and became founding members of both NATO and the EU in the 20th century, a record that’s not too bad for a people who once chugged beaver urine to cure headaches.

 

The international lightning rod of negative stereotypes, the French would smugly like to remind the world that they are not exclusively homosexual cowards.  France’s history of kicking and/or getting ass may well begin 30,000 years ago, when the newly nationalized Frenchmen, Homo sapiens, either engaged in a genocidal rampage or simply outsexed the resident Neanderthal population, eventually leading to the complete eradication of Homo neanderthalensis.  Whether it was bloodlust or regularlust is a moot point; both possibilities remain distinctly French.  Advancing to 15,000 years B.C.E., a shamanistic tribe in Lascaux (southwestern France) spearheaded the French artistic tradition with a series of cave paintings chronicling all the megafauna they were killing.  These warrior-shamans appear to have crawled into the darkest, most inacessible corners of the caves, where their minds likely dipped into the reverie of a sensory-deprived trance state.

 

 

How a battle between megafauna and a Frenchman in trance might have looked.

 

Within a few thousand years, all of the Meganimals were extinct.  Like the Neanderthals who fell before them, these beasts could have been either hunted or inbred into an increasingly sexually deviant French gene pool.  No one knows for sure, but the hypothesis that modern France descended from an erotic ménage à trois between Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and giant cave bears is oddly compelling.  And speaking of modern France, in 1915, Rudyard Kipling wrote that “their business is war, and they do their business.”  Today they boast the third-largest military budget in the entire world, and that’s not even including the 300 nuclear missiles reserved for after they get around to cloning some wooly mammoths.  Since 367 B.C.E., France has dabbled in 169 major wars and battles.  They outright won 110, were left to wallow in existential self-pity 49 times, and fought to a bitter stalemate on 10 occasions.  On the other hand, throughout his entire boxing career, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali only managed a win-by-KO percentage of 60.66%.  France was so testosterone-fueled that it overran England in 1066, and the English came so close to the fate of the cave bears that everybody there spoke French for 300 years.  Just because everyone eventually forgot about that, one of their diminutive generals later decided to conquer Europe, and for good measure, they established colonies on all seven continents.  Overcompensating much?  In summary, France is like that insecure jock at the frat party who, when called gay, responds “fuck you, bro!” and is later seen dragging his girlfriend out by the arm, demanding to have sex immediately. 

 

This is not French culture.

This is not a pipe.

 

Local Name: Republique francaise (French Republic)

Language: French

Capital: Paris

Population: 62,814,223 (when viewed up close, they’re actually made out of small dots)

Area: 551,500 km2

Government: Constitutional republic; President elected for a 5-year-term; President appoints a Prime Minister

Currency: Euro; symbol EUR; €1 = US$1.31 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: World’s 5th largest; post-industrial; services; nuclear power; tourism; aircraft; wine; finances

Notable International Enemies: THEY TAKE NO QUARTER

 

The Tricouleur flag.  Blue and Red were long colors of Paris, with White added after the Napoleonic Revolution.

 

Famous For: The Eiffel Tower; the Tour de France; Notre Dame; food; wine; berets; croissants; the Lourve; mimes

Not Famous For: Owning the planet repeatedly; being the most popular tourist destination in the world; having more sex than any other nationality per year; nicotine is named after native Jean Nicot, who introduced tobacco to France in 1559

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Paris; the Eiffel Tower; Versailles; Notre Dame; the Lourve; the Catacombs

What US$20 Can Get You: A fantastic meal served with wine or, alternatively, ~five royales with cheese

Quick History Recap: The Louis dynasty.  Descartes.  Voltaire.  The Seven Years War.  The French Revolution.  Napoleon.  Impressionism.  Existentialism.  The World Wars.  These should all sound familiar, because your exposure to French history is probably second only to that of your own country.  That’s the extent of France’s overwhelming influence in global affairs, fueled by their hybrid Neanderthal/cave bear genome. 

 

 

There was a time when the sun was said to never go down on the British Empire; today, it is due to set at approximately 5:10 PM.  A shadow of its former imperial glory, London however remains a world financial capital with a population more than that of Scotland and Wales combined–excluding sheep. The economic and cultural juggernaut of Great Britain, England is home to 84% of the citizens of the entire United Kingdom.  Infamous for its unpredicatable weather, King Charles II argued that the English summer is actually very consistent, marked by “three fine days and a thunderstorm.”   

An island nation with no point more than 120km from the coast, England was reliant on its powerful navy throughout much of its history.  In 1994, England was linked to Continental Europe via the 50.4km underwater Channel Tunnel yet remains distinctly independent of the European Union.  As England and the United Kingdom evolved from a naval power to an imperial power to a financial powerhouse, chivalrous English tenacity has evolved as well, from the timeless literary contributions of Chaucer and Shakespeare, to the scientific theories of Darwin and Newton, to the strategic alcoholic combativeness of Winston Churchill and Oliver Reed.

 

Early English tenacity.

 

Modern English tenacity.

 

Local Name:  England (United Kingdom)

Language: English

Capital: London; most of the country’s population centers in this southwestern region

Population: 67,446,000 (remarkably, 16,000,000 are sheep)

Area: 129,720 km2

Government: Constitutional monarchy; England has had no government specifically of its own since 1707, as the Parliament in London administrates for the entire U.K.

Currency: British Pound; symbol GBP. 1 GBP = US$1.60 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: Post-industrial; exports music bands; services; tourism; finance; pharmaceuticals; luxury cars

Notable International Enemies:  Roughly the entire world at one point or another has either been subjugated by, adverse to, or actively at war with England; recently, the Falkland Islands dispute has ruffled Argentina

 

St. George’s red cross on a white background, an emblem first used during the Middle Ages.

 

Famous For: Shakespeare; the Royal Family; consuming moe tea per capita than anyone else in the world (2.5 times as much as the Japanese); fish and chips; unwieldy British Imperial units of measurement; natives Sir Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, the Beatles, and the Spice Girls 

Not Famous For: Being the home of the mousetrap and rubber band; speaking French from 1066 to 1362; having the highest obesity rate in the European Union (~23%); building the Lincoln Cathedral in 1280, the first building larger than the Pyramid of Giza; losing a war; high cuisine

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Monuments near Stonehenge; Big Ben; Buckingham Palace; a pub

What US$20 Can Get You: A few pints in a pub; ~3 meals of fish and chips; ~8 subway rides on the London Underground if using the Oyster Card

Quick History Recap: England initiated a drawn-out process of colonial catch-up in 1587, having granted a hundred-year headstart to the rest of Europe in a display of typical English chivalry.  As England evolved into a unified United Kingdom, the Industrial Revolution took root here and its colonies began throwing off yokes, but being proper fair-playing Englishmen themselves, calmly explained themselves to everyone first.  The British army, ever keen on leveling the playing field, adopted bright red uniforms for use in the wintry, woodland skirmishes that characterized much of the Revolutionary War in the eastern United States.  A century and a half later, fair Britain would provide Adolf Hitler ample time to establish a Fortress Europe prior to military engagement.  Despite Winston Churchill’s best efforts to single-handedly buttress the British wartime economy by buying and consuming more alcohol than any other Englishman living before him or since, by 1945, with its economy raved by World War II, Great Britain would begin a slow decline in international prominence, its own imperial sun eclipsed by the rising stars of the USA and USSR.

 

Grazed by double (!) the number of sheep as Scotland in only one-fourth of the area, Wales was herded into England in 1282 upon the conquest of King Edward I.  Always shoved in the precarious position of being on the outside looking out, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Wales has always just kind of been there, though the large number of castles dotting the landscape betrays a more badass streak of struggling against outward influences.  Today, only 21% of the population speaks the native Welsh language, and even the country’s name originates in the Anglo-Saxon word for “foreigner,” Waelisc.

When you’re a stranger in your own homeland, you might expect the Welsh to produce a large body of existentialist writing or nostalgic poetry.  Wrong again; they took an entirely different route when choosing how to invest their stock of national pride: sheep!  Boasting 12,000,000 sheep, there are nearly as many jokes about Welsh shagging their sheep as there are actual sheep to be shagged in Wales.  Seriously, click that link and explore.  Not even the Scots can compare in terms of sheep fanatacism, with their paltry 1.2:1 sheep-to-human ratio; Wales weighs in at a slightly unsettling 4:1.  In other words, if there were ever a competitive sporting event organized around two rival teams of sheep from Scotland and Wales, you can bet that the Welsh fans would be the ones to show up drunk wearing body paint and sheep costumes, kidnap the Scottish team mascot, and shave it with shears.

 

“Your team is so BAAAAAAAAAAAAD, you should just go BAAAAAAAAAAAACK home.”

 

A traditional Welsh living room.

 

Local Name: Cymru (United Kingdom)

Language:English,” Welsh

Capital: Cardiff; also written Caerdydd

Population: 15,006,430 (12,000,000 are sheep)

Area: 20,779 km2

Government: Constitutional monarchy; local devolved government headed by a First Minister

Currency: British Pound; symbol GBP. 1 GBP = US$1.60 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP; post-industrialial; services; tourism; some heavy industry

Notable International Enemies:  Romans (who were actually beaten back by the impregnable Welsh); England (who have impregnated Wales since 1282); any sheep-related atrocities would also surely rile up passions

 

Holy damn, a dragon.  White and Green were colors of the Welsh Tudor dynasty.  You might remember them from everything you learned about English history.

 

Famous For:  King Arthur legends; the red dragon flag (only Wales and Bhutan still believe in dragons); more castles per km2 than anywhere else; natives Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Roald Dahl; sheep

Not Famous For:  Robert Recorde, a Welshman, invented the “equal to” = symbol; Mt. Everest, named after Welsh surveyor Sir George Everest; radio technology was first demonstrated in Wales by Marconi in 1897; the world’s longest place name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch, meaning “the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave.”

Obligatory Tourist Detours:  Cardiff, the national capital; Swansea; assorted castles

What US$20 Can Get You:  Ten minutes with a sheep, no questions asked

Quick History Recap:  Beating back the Romans but falling to the English in 1282, Wales had a long-standing streak of being a badass before being ruled as an English principality.  To this day, the Prince of Wales is the title conferred upon the heir apparent of the British throne.  Evolving from its agricultural roots to an industrial and, now, post-industrial service-based economy, Wales relented on heavy mining but simply could not concede on the point of sheep, which continue to quietly graze in the mountainous Welsh countryside. 

 

Home to nearly seven million sheep and one very elusive sea monster, Scotland officially combined with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1707 to form the political Megazord of Western Europe, the United Kingdom.  An oft-stereotyped cultural island lying on the northern end of the actual British islands, it should go without saying that there is much more to Scotland than kilts, red hair, and bagpipes.  Regardless, this does not deter the millions of Americans who proudly trace their vestigial 1/128 Scotish ancestry through several generations.  Upon arriving for a vacation in Scotland, or rather, “the home country,” these overzealous armchair geneologists are keen on asking local waiters questions like, “Who is your clan leader?” and, “How many battleaxes do you have in your personal collection?”  Weary of being mistaken for dwarves larping outside a World of Warcraft server, the Scots have adapted their sense of dark humor into a suitable response for these American tourists:

 

Don’t get them started on Braveheart.

A Scotsman (Willie McDougal) teaching a traditional Scottish greeting to students in Springfield, USA.

Local Name: Scotland (United Kingdom)

Language:English,” Scots, Scottish Gaelic

Capital: Edinburgh; pronounced EH-DIN-BRAH

Population: 12,022,100 (6,800,000 are sheep)

Area: 78,782 km2

Government: Constitutional monarchy; local devolved government headed by a First Minister

Currency: British Pound; symbol GBP. 1 GBP = US$1.60 (Feb. 2012)

Economy: Highly diversified in manufacturing, fisheries, shipbuilding, oil and natural resources, services, and whisky

Notable International Enemies: Bart Simpson; the English rugby team

 

 The White cross of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scottish golf courses, surrounded by Blue: the lesser ideals of justice, truth, and the perseverance.

Famous For: Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster; kilts; bagpipes; haggis; Auld Lang Syne; Sean Connery

Not Famous For: The world’s shortest scheduled commerical flight (1 min 14 sec); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; ferrying the Enlightment on the shoulders of natives Adam Smith, James Watt, and logarithms

Obligatory Tourist Detours: Edinburgh, the national capital; Glasgow; the Highlands

What US$20 Can Get You: Around 3-4 pints of ale; ~15 cans of Irn-Bru; admission to a handful of castles

Quick History Recap: After King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England (and not the other way around) in 1603, the two countries were united under a single crown and innumerable walk-into-a-bar jokes.  In 1995, Groundskeeper Willie referred to the nation of France as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”  Even the English thought that was a pretty good one.