What does each country claim for its own?, greatest hits

A little while back, I invited readers to describe what students are taught (or end up believing) are the greatest contributions of their country. Many people strayed from the "what students are taught" part of the exercise, but I didn't mind too much as long as you were funny.

Here are some of my favorites:

Representing Greece is Pi, who writes,

In Greece I was also taught that Greeks invented democracy. Other than that Greeks are supposed to have laid the groundwork for the development of philosophy, mathematics, physics, biology and pretty much every other greek named thing as a science (except for economics).

Greeks claim to have organized the first olympic games some 2800 years ago. And back then there was some guy named Homer whose stories are still read today occasionally. He was also the template for the creation of a character in the Simpsons.

The sad thing is that my compatriots often think they are cool by default because of these things and they don't have to accomplish anything by themselves.

Dan reminds us that

Sweden is pretty proud of Dynamite (Alfred Nobel), and the safety match.

I enjoy that juxtaposition. Do you use a safety match to light your dynamite?

For France, we have bahbar (who pseudonym is a reference to another great French contribution to humanity):

- beheadings (just kidding)

Rafael Vargas points out a Spanish invention that is very important to students:


Rob points out that some inventions can be used for evil:

- the first moving picture was shot in Leeds, West Yorkshire, though by a Frenchman (so we're not responsible for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle).

Leonardo Brondani Schenkel adds an important Brazilian contribution I had overlooked:


Dan summarizes how all these claims are manifested on Wikipedia:

"John Doe was an Italian-born[1] Jew[2] of Dutch[3] and Lithuanian[4] descent who was raised in Canada[5] and lived in Argentina for several years as an adult[6]. He is perhaps best known for inventing the belly-button-lint remover[citation required]."

JS Bangs points out one of Romania's great contributions for which it doesn't get enough credit:

[W]e defeated the Turks over and over, and thus kept the Ottomans from raping and pillaging their way all the way to France. So we like to take credit for the survival of Western Europe.

At least it beats being known for providing the soundtrack to the Numa Numa video.

Canadian Ens happens to mention "the CanadArm" in an extensive list of Canadian inventions. From what I can tell, Canadians are taught that NASA's job is to launch the CanadArm into space so it can move stuff around.

Zheng Hua was the first of many to call out the Four Great Inventions of ancient China which students are drilled in from a young age.

Omer van Kloeten explains the Israeli approach:

In Israel we pretty much take credit for every invention ever made by any Jewish person in the 5000 year history of the religion.

Also, even though it's not inventions, we celebrate the fact that we survived (which for us is the same as "won") the wars of 1947, 1956, 1967, 1969, 1973, etc. while mostly being heavily outnumbered.

I remember it being explained to me by a Jewish friend that nearly all Jewish holidays are based on a celebration of the fact that "They didn't kill all of us!"

Laurent points out a common theme: A country will claim credit for the deeds of an immigrant, and will also claim credit for the accomplishments of somebody who was born in the country but made the discovery while an expatriate. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a case of a country who claimed credit for somebody who merely stopped in the country to have lunch.

A South African friend mentioned to me privately that South African are taught that their country invented the Kreepy Krauly pool vacuum cleaner and the dolos.

Glenn S tells us what Norway is proud of. It's too long to quote here, but it's worth reading because, unlike many other people who posted lists of accomplishments, Glenn's is written with the right sense of humor, playfully acknowledging that some of the claims may not be entirely fair.

Comments (25)
  1. Josh says:

    You forgot a critical part of the "generic Jewish holiday".  The whole description is "They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!"

    That last bit is important.  Every good Jewish holiday features eating, usually some holiday specific food (Hanukkah – Latkes, Rosh Hashanah – Apples & Honey, Purim – Hamantashen, Pesach – We scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything without leavening). Holidays like Yom Kippur, which feature neither surviving an attack nor eating are the exceptions that prove the rule.

  2. thixo says:

    The origin of the cheese slicer explains the cover of this (very good) sampler of Norwegian music:


    That always puzzled me.

  3. David Walker says:

    In Norway’s list, Abel invented more than just the Abel-Ruffini Theorem.  He invented Abelian groups.  And the Abel-Ruffini theorem is related to what’s called the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra.  Just so you know!

  4. George Jansen says:

    The state of Ohio counts as its own not merely the presidents born there and still resident when elected, but also U.S. Grant, native Ohioan but last resident in Illinois before the War of the Rebellion, and W.H. Harrison, Virginia native.

  5. no says:

    Sweden’s dynamite/safety match is not that great a juxtaposition when you consider that dynamite is a considerate safety improvement on TNT.

  6. Abel-Ruffini theorem related to the fundamental theorem of algebra? No, not unless you consider it to be a relation that they’re both about roots of polynomials.

    Dynamite was a safety improvement over gunpowder and nitroglycerin, not TNT. It’s primary attraction was that it was safer to handle than than the very sensitive nitroglycerin. TNT is even less sensitive (though also a bit weaker pound for pound).

  7. Ens says:

    Of course that’s what NASA is for!

    Hey, I didn’t claim to make legitimate claims of inventions that exist in complete isolation — those are just the biggies in school.  And I’m not exaggerating:


    I totally missed the Wonderbra in my top-of-the-head list.  Maybe I’m just not dirty-minded enough.  That doesn’t get taught in class so much, but the fact of the invention gets circulated around schools nevertheless.  It’s almost as important as 5-pin bowling and more important than the pacemaker, as you can see.

  8. Christian says:

    Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a case of a country who claimed credit for somebody who merely stopped in the country to have lunch.

    That also works inside a country for cities.

    When I came back from a trip via train to central railway station in Frankfurt, Germany, I was greeted by the loudspeakers "Willkommen in der Goethe-Stadt Frankfurt am Main".

    I was not very happy with this, given that Faust was the ONLY book we read and discussed in school that I didn’t like or appreciate as worth anything.

  9. Greg says:

    Laurent’s comment about claiming inventions by both expats and immigrants is certainly true of many countries, but Canada is probably the only place where we manage to combine the two in the same invention, the telephone. The telephone was invented by an immigrant to Canada, Alexander Graham Bell, who was born in Scotland and who had immigrated to Canada as a young man, but when he invented it, he was actually an expat, because he was living in Boston at the time, so the invention actually took place in Massachusetts.

  10. dbt says:

    Too many people want to give Bose credit for beating Marconi, when of course Tesla beat them both (and in New York City).

  11. Alistair says:

    I’m surprised that none of my fellow Jocks quoted this rather popular passage:


    The average Englishman in the home he call his castle slips into his national costume, a shabby raincoat, patented by Chemist Charles Macintosh from Glasgow, Scotland.

    En-route to his office he strides along the English lane, surfaced by John Macadam of Ayr, Scotland.

    He drives an English car fitted with tyres invented by John Boyd Dunlop, Veterinary Surgeon of Dreghorn, Scotland.

    At the office he receives the mail bearing adhesive stamps invented by John Chalmers, Bookseller and Printer of Dundee, Scotland.

    During the day he uses the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. At home in the evening his daughter pedals her bicycle invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, Blacksmith of Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

    He watches the news on television, an invention of John Logie Baird of Helensburgh, Scotland, and hears an item about the U.S. Navy founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland.

    Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots.

    He has by now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation he picks up the Bible, only to find that the first man mentioned in the good book is a Scot, King James VI, who authorized its translation.

    He could take to drink but the Scots make the best in the world.

    He could take a rifle and end it all, but the breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.

    If he escaped death, he could find himself on an operating table injected with penicillin, discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming of Darvel, Scotland, and given chloroform, an anesthetic discovered by Sir James Young Simpson, Obstetrician and Gynecologist of Bathgate, Scotland.

    Out of the anesthetic he would find no comfort in learning that he was as safe as the Bank of England founded by William Paterson of Dumfries, Scotland.

    Perhaps his only remaining hope would be to get a transfusion of guid Scottish blood which would entitle him to ask:

    "Wha’s Like Us?"

  12. Anon says:

    England invented America. People from America countries invented lots of stuff, as they never tire of telling us.

  13. SRS says:

    @Anon: No, America reverse engineered England.

  14. Wound says:

    We English invented Association football (soccer), Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Badminton, Boxing and darts. Unfortunately we’re pretty much rubbish at all of them.

  15. Ens says:


    I think there’s one of those for just about every possible country pairing.  I’ve seen something written in the same style with the same themes from both points of view regarding Canada & US, for instance.  Maybe they’re copies of the Scotland one, or maybe they’re both copies of a common ancestor; who knows?  Maybe somebody who will read this comment knows.

  16. Filip says:

    …so in 1911 Alebert Einstein stopped by in Prague, Czechoslovakia to meet his friends Franz Kafka and Max Brod and to play a violin.

    (so much for today’s useless fact of the day)

  17. ibrahim dursun says:

    They are mostly good and what @JS Bang:said is just hilarious, I am still laughing at it

  18. Fábio says:

    >…claimed credit for somebody who merely stopped in the country to have lunch

    Brazillians like to point out that Darwin stopped here on his way to Galápagos Islands and again before returning to England.

  19. Fábio says:

    @JS Bangs

    Germans/Austrians claim the feat of keeping Otomans out of Europe too.

  20. Olen Finni says:

    Finland was underrepresented in the original thread, so I took the liberty of listing here just some things we Finns can take indisputable credit of.

    • US declaration of independence

    John Morton, who I’m told gave the deciding vote for US declaration of independence, was of Finnish descent. Yeah, that’s right. No need to thank us for owing us your independence.

    • The Beijing Olympics

    The international TV-broadcast of the opening and closing ceremonies were televised by a Finnish crew. Also the main stadium was designed using Finnish software. Yeah, we Finns sure know how to throw the Olympics. I guess the Chinese might have helped us a little.

    • Nasa’s Phoenix Mars lander

    The lander carries a Finnish-made pressure instrument. There’s no shame in asking us if you need more help in building your spaceships.

    • Finns are also very proud of losing in WW2

    We were defeated by USSR, twice, but somehow people always make it sound like a great achievement. It’s part of the national identity. Don’t question it.

  21. Andreas says:

    We Swedes claim the feat of keeping the Danes out of Norway, but what thanks did we get for that? Did they do like the Finns and add Swedish as an official language. No, instead they go and invent a whole new language the bastards.

    If only they had adopted Swedish as an official language I might’ve been able to visit any restaurant on Karl Johan, order in Swedish and be understood and in turn understand the waiter.

    Btw, rest of the world, you can thank us Swedes for Carl von Linné. As we all know he invented plants. He travelled all over the world inventing plants (except for the middle east as he was afraid of islamic fundamentalists). So think about Carl von Linné the next time you eat an apple or us, the Swedes.

  22. Eric Duran says:

    @Andreas: Yeah, because Swedish is SO different from Danish. And going all over the world inventing names for plants it’s not the same as inventing plants.

  23. Andreas says:

    @Eric Duran: No, the difference is just a hot potato, but tell me, how happy would you be if you had to walk around with a hot potato in your mouth all day?

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