The amazing truth about the United States of America

A TEACHER at school once asked us in a geography lesson which was further east, Edinburgh or Liverpool, and those of us who could tell east from west, and knew which side of Britain which city was on, had no hesitation in shooting our hands up and saying that Edinburgh was further east.

I still remember the shock which greeted the teacher's smiling announcement that we were wrong. Edinburgh is to the west of Liverpool. When we didn't believe him we went and looked it up in the atlas, and blow me down, he was perfectly right. Britain leans over quite a lot from right to left, just enough for Edinburgh on the east coast (and a bit inland) to be west of Liverpool. I have never forgotten that fact, and a fat lot of good it has done me.

And last week I garnered another paradox to go along with it. We were having dinner with friends called Tim and Liz, and Tim's brother Richard was over from the States, and suddenly for no reason at all Richard said, "By the way, can you guys tell me which are the most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly of the American states? That's all. Farthest north, south, east and west."

We sat thinking for a while. In fact, Richard got a bit bored and left the room, during which time we discussed it communally it, or, to put it another way, shared our ignorance. Indeed, Liz went and got an an atlas, but the rest of us sat on it so she couldn't use it. It's at times like this that I wish desperately I knew more about American history and geography. It's not that I wasn't paying attention in school. It's just that no school I went to ever taught us anything about America.

"Furthest south must be California or New Mexico," said my wife.

"Unless it's some part of Louisiana," I offered. "Of course, it would probably have been Puerto Rico if Puerto Rico hadn't voted not to become a state."

We fell silent for a moment in awe and gratitude to any part of the world that refuses to be American.

"Bit like Greenland being the only part of the world to leave the European Union," said my wife. "I admire them for that."

"How could Greenland leave Europe?" said Liz. "It's not in Europe."

"It was part of Denmark then, I think," I said. "But I don't think it is now."

"Maybe it's part of America now!" said my wife. "Maybe Greenland is the most easterly bit of the USA!"

"Can't be," I said. "Canada, perhaps. Not the USA."

Do you have well-informed intellectual conversations like this at your dinners? No? Aren't you jealous?

"What about the most westerly bit?" said Liz. "British Columbia?"

I had a sudden inspiration, based on the idea of Puerto Rico.

"Got it!" I said. "Hawaii!"

As soon as I said it, we knew it must be true. Which other state is way out in the Pacific, west of everywhere else? Well, then.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't the most southerly too," I said. "It's pretty tropical, isn't it? Well, if it's more tropical than California, there you are!"

"Alaska," said Liz with another surge of brain power. "Alaska's got to be the northerly one."

Of course. The bit they stole from Canada. It had to be Alaska. Which left just the easternmost state. We were juggling Rhode Island and Connecticut and Maine in the bliss of sheer ignorance when Richard came back.

"How are you doing?" he said.

"Well, Alaska for north," we said, "and Hawaii for west."

"Good."

"And Hawaii for south, too," I said, gambling.

Richard's eyes widened.

"Very good!" he said. "Hawaii is the most southerly and westerly. But what about the most easterly?"

We tried all the possibles in New England but he wouldn't have any of them.

"Sorry," he said. "The answer is Alaska again."

There was a stunned silence, not unlike the stunned silence which, all those years ago, greeted the news that Liverpool is east of Edinburgh.

"Hold on," I said. "Are you saying that Alaska stretches all the way across the top of Canada and overlaps the eastern states?"

"No," said Richard. "I'm saying that the furthest, `westernmost' tip of Alaska is actually just across the 180th meridian, in the eastern hemisphere. Therefore it isn't very far west - it's actually very far east!"

Of course, I had to look up the atlas before I could believe him - but he's absolutely right. The easternmost point of the United States, at the farthest extremity of the farflung Aleutian archipelago, is a little group of islands called, naturally enough, the Near Islands - at longitude 173E.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen