Wales, my homeland, is a small country in the world. But, whilst I can look at some statistics, or even a map, and understand that as an abstract concept, it’s hard for me to truly make that statement feel true, given the myriad of wonderful things I know about it.
In New York, I regularly meet people who are only vaguely aware, from a comment heard in passing years back, that Wales is even a country, but I’m too excited by the opportunity to educate these poorly-informed travellers about the beauty of my home that I don’t stop much to think how strange it is that they have so little knowledge to begin with. It’s often South Americans that seem to have the least-strong idea about Wales, but even close to home the EU once managed to leave Wales off a map entirely.
A couple of recent interactions, however, did help me to see the slightly bigger picture. The first was in which I gave a Brazilian friend the topic of Wales in a game of Just A Minute. That didn’t go well.
More recently, at work, I was looking for a shorthand for EuroZone countries in a dataset, and came across the country code ER. I assumed this to be the correct answer, but made a couple of quick calls to check things through before continuing. I spent the rest of the day being gently ridiculed for my lack of knowledge about the (no doubt beautiful) country of Eritrea and, with the stinging embarrassment of my ignorance inescapably present in my head, resolved to share on Facebook an Eritrea fact every day.
Now, this being New York City, the great melting pot, I soon discovered that I already have a half-Eritrean friend in the city (I’d always assumed she was Ethiopian) and that a number of my friends already knew about this fine place. I’ve never been one to underestimate the cultural diversity of New York. I work in a small team which contains people from every populous continent, and my social gatherings regularly include conversation in three or four different languages, but even so, I was still a little surprised: until I started researching Eritrea.
Eritrea ranks at 107 in the most-populated countries in the world, and at 153 in the rankings by area. Wales, on the other hand, is in position 137 for population and just pips Israel at 153 in the size stakes, coming in a clear 10 places above such giants as Fiji, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia. Wales is small.
More people speak Konkani, Xhosa, Tatar-Bashkir, Makuwa and a plethora of other languages about which I am entirely ignorant, than speak Welsh. Wales is known for its beautiful mountainous countryside, but there is a waterfall in Venezuela over which water free-falls a greater height than Wales’ tallest mountain. Really, Wales is small.
You’ll never convince me that Wales isn’t the most beautiful, important and wonderful country in the world. But since my experience with Eritrea, the next time someone asks me where Wales is located, or looks quizzically at me when I mention Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant, I’ll be able to empathise just a little bit more with their bewildered stare.