There are some areas of the world that have been covered so extensively by pop culture that we think we’ve got a crystal-clear picture of them. Why go to New Zealand when you can watch The Hobbit? Why visit California when you can listen to a Red Hot Chili Peppers album? Why bother with the majesty of outer space when Gravity and Return Of The Jedi nailed the science for us?
On the other hand, there are places that have seldom been given an accurate treatment in movies or TV. So you might be shocked to learn that …
#7. Nordic Countries Have A Shitload Of Guns And Rednecks
The Nordic nations are renowned for being socialist utopias with more left lean than a NASCAR track. If Bernie Sanders were Scandinavian, he’d run as a moderate. Meanwhile, back in the USA, like a procrastinating Jesus, the South has long vowed to rise again. Guess what? The Old South is alive and well in the place you’d least expect: Northern Europe. The embodiment of the gun-crazy, Confederate-flag-swinging redneck stereotype isn’t from Houston; he’s from Helsinki.
Let’s hit the gun thing first. Switzerland may not be Nordic, but they have the third or fourth highest rate of gun ownership per 100 citizens in the world, depending on whom you ask. In Switzerland, gun control isn’t about restrictions and background checks — it’s about learning to control your government-issued weapon. Kids as young as 11 are encouraged to pick up the ol’ rifle and compete in shooting festivals like it’s no big thing. So why doesn’t Switzerland have an American-sized gun problem? Experts think it’s because the weapons are issued for sport and national defense, not personal defense. Swiss gun owners don’t fantasize about gunning down bad guys with a gun at a school — they fantasize about gunning down an entire army of invaders at the border. Keep dreaming, Switzerland. Everyone is afraid of you.
Pictured: Switzerland, not Texas.
Finland is also gun-crazy, but not because they’re scared of invaders. They’re just scared of carbs. Up until the 20th Century, Finns were still relying on hunting as their major source of sustenance. But you can’t simply walk into a sporting goods store and buy a hunting rifle — all of those hunters have to pass written quizzes about animals and gun legislation, a shooting range test, and a background check. Then they have to specify which types of game they’ll be hunting and how many they’re planning to shoot during the season before anyone gives them a license. Norway is in the same boat, gun-wise.
“No, we use the gun boat for fishing.”
So now that you’ve got a picture of gun-wielding pale blonds chilling in North Europe, let’s add another layer to the image. Like White (supremacist) Walkers, all the worst stereotypes of the South have risen again in the Lands of Always Winter.
Varying Confederate States of Drunkenness.
The images above are all from a Swedish subculture called “Raggare” — people who have really fallen for American Southern charm. Technically, these guys just love American cars, fashion, and music from the 1950s. There’s only one problem. See if you can catch it.
Hint: It’s a lot closer to the 1850s than the 1950s.
Even with access to the internet, Raggare folks remain willfully ignorant of what the Stars and Bars represents in America. Which is fair, since a good chunk of Americans are on the same page. Picture yourself vacationing in Sweden and stumbling on what appears to be a 1950s rockabilly gang draped in the flag of the Confederacy. Then imagine that they’re all packing heat because everyone is on their way to a gun range. Then remind yourself that this is modern-day Sweden, so you don’t lose your freaking mind right there in front of a bunch of strangers who are weirdly obsessed with your country. Congratulations! You’ve now imagined Sweden correctly.
#6. There Are Thriving Jewish Communities In China
A quick three-second glance at world history reveals that Jewish people have chosen their homes in the world out of pure necessity for as long as they’ve existed. When everyone from ancient pharaohs to Hitler himself is out to get you, you tend to get good at propping your feet up and relaxing wherever you land. And it turns out that China is one of the places where Jewish people have landed on multiple occasions. This probably comes as a surprise, considering there are zero Jewish people in Rush Hour 2. Also, China is over 90 percent homogeneous and Jews make up less than 1 percent of the world’s population, so this is remarkable for a number of reasons.
Before Europeans officially set foot on American shores, Marco Polo reported hanging out with Jewish people in China. When the first Catholic missionary arrived in China in 1582, he was shocked to meet a Chinese Jewish man who specifically sought him out as a fellow monotheist. And it turned out, he represented a whole community of Jewish worshipers in Kaifeng.
The missionary’s new friend wasn’t aware of Christianity; he was just excited to meet a fellow one-god guy. Seriously.
In fact, every time a nation’s government has pushed against its Jewish people, a small pocket of them ended up in China. Which was how 18,000 Nazi-fleeing Jews ended up there during the 1940s. When the war was over and Israel became a thing, most of the community left. But one synagogue, Ohel Moshe, stood firm, even when the whole “god” thing wasn’t kosher in Communist China, first by playing the part of a school, and then by being a museum when former World War Ii refugees began trickling back to get a gander at their old stomping grounds.
“Good times … except for, you know …”
What’s different today is that Jewish people are immigrating to China not to escape persecution, but to thrive. Shanghai is now home to 2,000 Jewish residents who are meshing Jewish culture with Chinese customs. And Ohel Moshe is one of three Sino-gogues that serve Shanghai. Get it? Sino-gogues?
#5. There’s A Part Of India That’s More Baptist Than Mississippi
When you picture people going to church in India, you’re probably picturing Hindus, Muslims, and a couple of Buddhists thrown in for good measure. (We can’t know what’s going on in that crazy head of yours.) And that would be fair. Hindus are definitely the Pac-Man of the pie chart of Indian religions.
Those Power Pellets were laced with soma all along.
However, in the sprawling subcontinent, there is more range of worship than you might expect. There are some areas that have more in common with Memphis than Mumbai, religion-wise.
Nagaland: the Christian-ist place in India.
As of the 2001 census, Hinduism was the dominant religion of India with, 80.5 percent of the country being adherents. And 2.3 percent identified as Christian. But India is huge, so that 2.3 percent equates to 24 million people. These Christians are concentrated in a few northeastern states, primarily Nagaland, which has a higher proportion of Baptists than Mississippi. In the early 20th Century, missionaries from Wales and America arrived to get a piece of the proselytizing action. The rush of conversion has been astounding; Nagaland went from 20 percent Christian in 1947 to 85 percent in 2005.
Before they converted, the tribes of Nagaland practiced animism, and there are some elderly men who still remember the days when they would murder and decapitate members of opposing tribes. This ended when they converted to Christianity, which prefers to morally shame members of other tribes instead of killing them.
“So they live … but feel a crippling, aching sense of guilt and worthlessness that
grows worse every day until they die alone and afraid? That’s … way meaner than what we do.”
#4. Boy, Are We All Wrong About Utah
The state of Utah has a huge Mormon community, and its capital of Salt Lake City has one of the highest LGBT populations in the country. Gay-friendly San Francisco has the highest percentage of LGBT residents among major metro areas, with 6.2 percent, while ultra-conservative Salt Lake City comes in seventh, at 4.7 percent. Plot twist!
“They’re here, they’re queer, we’re used to it.”
The mayor has hoisted the rainbow flag at the City-County building, and there is an annual Pride parade. This isn’t a community isolated from Utah’s religious roots, either — the LGBT demographic is still linked with the prominent religious communities. LDS members mix with gay or transgender co-workers and family members, and many who identify as LGBT grew up in such families. It’s not quite an oasis (Salt Lakes don’t really quench that desert thirst), but in a deeply conservative state, Salt Lake City has been described as an “island of liberalism.”
“Don’t venture out to sea, for there be dragons. And worse, Orrin Hatch.”
Raising eyebrows even further is that New York City didn’t make the list of cities which skew toward LGBT people the most, while places like Salt Lake City and Louisville did. On a per capita basis, the NYC LGBT community is at a fairly standard level, despite a large total population. The New York Times suggests that a major factor is that Salt Lake City is a kind of “regional capital” for LGBT people, attracting them to a central area where they can live with more support while not having to move far from home. (It’s also the location of our new spec script, Sex And The Salt Lake City, which is actually kinda low on the sex and high on the “people being really polite to each other.”)
#3. There’s A Buddhist Republic In The Middle Of Nowhere, Russia
Russia is often characterized as a fiercely nationalistic country, but in a bad way (as opposed to a fiercely patriotic nation like America, which is a totally different and positive thing). If one only looks as far as its leader, Vladimir Putin, a man so Russian he could slide seamlessly into any villainous role of any ’80s action film, that characterization might ring true. But that means you’re ignoring the Russian-but-Buddhist Republic of Kalymykia. Try to picture a Buddhist country coexisting with Ivan Drago’s Soviet Union in the Rocky IV universe. It’s impossible.
“If he dies, he dies … then gets reincarnated.”
The people of Kalmykia trace their lineage back to Mongol herdsman (like a horde, but friendly) who settled on the Volga River in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Once they had pledged their allegiance to the Tsar, they were free to go on with their ways as long as they guarded Russia’s eastern frontier. The Kalmyk did a pretty awful job, as they clearly let Asia creep in from the East and right into the center of the country.
It’s like Genghis Khan, only harmonious with nature instead of burning every tree to the ground and fucking the stumps.
These days, Kalmykia has been in the news because of its former president, who believes he was abducted by aliens and that said aliens invented chess … which may have something to do with why he blew a shit-ton of money building a lavish chess arena smack dab in the bleak-ass Russian steppe. (We’ve typed weirder sentences, but not by much.)
#2. The Most Diverse City In America Is … Anchorage, Alaska
If we were to ask you to name the most ethnically diverse area in the United States, you’d probably say something like New York or LA or Ethnictown, USA, because no doy. And you’d be wrong. The award for the most multiethnic place in the nation goes to a city that sounds excruciatingly white: Anchorage, Alaska.
One expert examined neighborhoods across the country, and concluded that THREE DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOODS in Anchorage qualified as the most “diverse” areas in America, which might come as a shock to anyone who only has Northern Exposure reruns as a reference point for Alaska. Sociologist Chad Farrell, who analyzed the census data, explained a few key reasons behind Anchorage’s incredible score of 96.3 out of a possible 100. First, the white population hasn’t decreased as other groups moved in. And having white people in the neighborhood is a key part of keeping an area “diverse.” Alongside the white folks are native Alaskans who didn’t budge when their land became a part of America. Finally, Anchorage is a military town which happens to be on the coast, which means Americans and new immigrants alike end up in the city every day. Add it up, and you’ve got a town that is all over the map racially.
Melting pots work best when freezing, apparently.
If you visit a school in Mountain View, the community listed as number one in diversity, you’ll hear a whole lot of languages you can’t understand (besides algebra). One in five students in the district come from a home where English is not the first language spoken.
You can hear “school sucks” in 100 different tongues.
In fact, 10,000 kids in Anchorage have been, or are currently, a part of the English Language Learner’s program. Spanish, Samoan, Filipino, and Hmong are the most prevalent other languages, and a team of dedicated educators help kids in the nation’s most diverse community learn to communicate in English. But just because there are a ton of languages in the community doesn’t mean there is a great divide among them — all the children, whether they’re speaking Swahili or Samoan, continually report that adults don’t understand them, man.
#1. Hawaii Might Have A Lot Of Beaches, But The Sunbathers Are Probably On Meth
It’s hard to fathom how Hawaii has any kind of major infrastructure still standing on that sand, considering the entire place is one gigantic beach, according to Hollywood:
All these couples end up having sandy beach sex.
The state is synonymous with the ocean and relaxation, with dodgy shirts and even dodgier dorks chasing the girls of their dreams. And sure, Hawaii does have many lovely beachside areas. But for the most part, there’s a lot less chasing after women and a lot more chasing the dragon. The state has more than its fair share of impoverished areas.
The Honolulu Advertiser, reporting on the unadvertised parts of Honolulu.
Hawaii also has a problem not often associated with the hot and tropical Pacific: ice. Methamphetamine use is increasing dramatically among residents over the age of 50. It has the highest rate of meth users in the nation, with Hawaiian workers testing positive for the drug four times as often as the national average. Law enforcement agencies average about 200 pounds of meth seized in Hawaii each year, which is absolutely shocking. How did so much ice remain frozen on a tropical island? Hawaii: 1, Global Warming: 0.
Oh, and it probably doesn’t help that Hawaii’s homeless population has reached crisis levels. If you found yourself stuck on an island where the 1 percent were jacking up real estate to the point where even renting a small apartment was impossible, you’d probably turn to meth too.
For more kind of really weird places on this planet, check out 4 Of The Most Bizarre Small Towns In The World and 7 Insane Stories Behind The World’s Weirdest Looking Towns.