Are You Smarter Than an (Italian) 5th Grader?

Oh, really?

If so, then tell me … how many continents are there?

If you said seven, you are wrong!

By Italian fifth grade standards, that is.

photo credit: JMazzolaa

This debate recently arose when I asked my husband why he-and his fellow paesani-insist on referring to people from Argentina, Canada, Brazil, etc., etc. as “Americans.”

“Argentinians and Americans come from two different countries, you know,” I told him. “Why does everyone mix this up?”

“Well you are all from the Americas … the same continent,” he said. “Close enough.”

“It is not the same continent,” I began …

“Cherrrrrye,” my father-in-law cut in, “There are five continents …”


It was my turn to interrupt.

Our debate ensued with his father bulking “the Americas” together and insisting Antarctica was just ice, and as such, does not constitute a continent.

Peppe agreed.

Oh Dio Mio!

“How can I live in this country?” I thought. “They don’t even know how many continents there are!”

So we took our argument to the Internet.

And it seems … we were both right.

Americans-whoever that may be-are taught there are seven continents.

North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Australia

Italians are taught there are five.

America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa

And I didn’t even know this was up for debate. In fact, if you Google “how many continents are there” you’ll see quite the discussion.

So there you have it … if you ever find yourself with an invitation to the game show, you’ll be prepared and you’ll know how to answer the question … Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader!

20 Responses
  1. Welcome to the most heated debate between Americans and Europeans!
    It’s not just Italy that supports the 5 continents-rule. It’s a very Europe vs. US argument. Quite entertaining, if you manage to remain detached. It seems that’s a very hard topic to feel detached about, as “I am right, and THEY are obviously wrong!” seems to be the hardest obstacle to overcome! 🙂
    .-= Vanessa´s last blog ..Best of the Bay, Italy in SF Style =-.

    I have to agree, it was hard for me to swallow that, as well. I mean, I thought it was common knowledge, you know, like the earth is round. 🙂

  2. Well I am going to throw a new one at you. I just googled and this is what I came up with, and it was the first one on the list……

    This web page says SIX or Seven ….

    I am just wondering what search engine you used, I cannot find one link to 5 continents …but I found this and it goes down to 4……..

    So so far, I have found 4, 6, or 7 continents…sorry to confuse the matter even further.
    .-= anne´s last blog ..Two wonderful Awards….. =-.

    No worries! I used Google, but I Googled it in Italian to see what the Italians would get! I am pretty sure I also saw it in English, though…

  3. Fascinating! I’ve never heard of this before.

    I remember being shocked when I was teaching English in Hungary, that my students told me that the U.S. had 52 states (as their geography teacher had drilled into them). My protests that there were 50 did not penetrate. “But what about Puerto Rico and Hawaii?” they would retort (I never did figure out what was the 52nd state). I tried to explain to them there were 50, and it was just one of those things that was true, like Budapest was the capital of Hungary, but they didn’t believe me for a minute!

    That is crazy funny! ha

  4. Now this is strange, because the other day I was chatting, the topic came up, and they listed a whole load of continents. Being tired I didn’t query it, but thought there were too many. However, having read your post and checked UK national curriculum, in UK it’s 7, so I guess I was wrong.

    Interesting … wonder what they mentioned!
    .-= Travelingsuep´s last blog ..Good, bad, and slightly dangerous? =-.

  5. It’s not just Italian, many Spanish speakers would say “America” to refer to the Americas. Strangely enough Brazilians don’t do this and many say “americanos” to refer to citizens of the states.
    In English the standard has leant towards saying America for the states simply because of American’s use of it, and frankly because of American’s self importance!! It’s like they won’t even acknowledge all the other countries as being in “America”. Wikipedia agrees that even in English the use could mean either.
    English speakers going to “America” would usually be going to the states (or Canada of course) and not a country that speaks Spanish or Portuguese. Italians have famously emigrated to a lot of South American countries (*especially* Argentina and a lot to Brazil too). America is everything west of the Atlantic; the New World etc.
    What I don’t get about the 7 continent system… is where the hell is Central America?? Where is Guatemala in your system? 🙂 Why are North and South America separated? And Europe and Asia? If the definition of a continent is somewhat political or cultural, then Antartica really is just a big lump of ice! 😛
    Also, when the term America was first ever used… didn’t Columbus not even actually ever set food in “America”?? (i.e. USA)
    For me there are 5 OR LESS continents 😉

    Hey Benny. I don’t see Americans as not acknowledging others as being part of the American continent, but we are the Unites States of America. What are we supposed to call ourselves? United Statizens? 🙂 As I told my husband, they make a distinction of countries when they talk about themselves or others. They don’t say “I am European” they say they are “Italian.” And, LOL at your Central America question. I have actually wondered the same thing. It is North America, fwiw, which extends down as far south as Panama. This is just a crazy debate, though. I thought it was scientific proof (of any of the systems).

    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..Summary of month 2: on the final dash to see if I make it to fluency! =-.

  6. Anon

    Isn’t the number of continents based on the number of continental plates? But I don’t remember how many plates there are! But I thought it was 6 — Europe and Asia were on the same one, but the Americas were separate.

    You’d think it would be something scientific like that, wouldn’t you?

  7. We actually DO say something like “United Statizen” in other languages 😉 Spanish for example is “estadounidense”, because an “americano” is anyone from that entire chunk of the world. This is an issue with English (and some languages that adopt English’s use of words). If the USA were less important to the English speaking world, or less politically important, then we would definitely have given you some similar adjective 😉 In the mean time I usually just say “yank(y)” much to my American friends’ annoyance!! 😛 No but honestly, I personally use work-arounds. The girl-from-the-states etc. Cumbersome, but luckily for me I almost never speak English so I don’t have this problem 😉 Technically, this month neither should you, right? 😀

    I know! It was so hard this morning-we have a German guest at our B&B who doesn’t speak Italian so for work, I had to break out the mother tongue! I plan to write a follow-up post about how it is going. Also, I’ve heard other English speakers say “Yankee.” I always think it is cute! Then again-I’m from Texas and being called a “yankee” is a novelty for me. 🙂 Thanks for the info on how other languages refer to Americans. Very interesting.
    .-= Benny the Irish polyglot´s last blog ..Summary of month 2: on the final dash to see if I make it to fluency! =-.

  8. hilarious – I had no idea! They should make that a Trivial Pursuit question….

    They should-totally!

    .-= MadelineJ´s last blog ..The Best of Palermo, Sicily =-.

  9. casalba

    Interesting debate. I had no idea. We are taught 5 in the UK too. Your argument re. Argentina and America doesn’t hold up: You list Europe as a continent (as we do) but Italy and England are two different countries also!
    No, I meant people here call people from Argentina,”Americans.” That would be like calling Italians “English” because they are from the same continent.

  10. Love this. Reminds me a bit of my father-in-law who gets red-in-the-face angry if you mention that the Vikings may have come to the Americas before Columbus. LOL!!

    Still..yeah…kinda scary!

    Ha. That is funny.

    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Five Favorites: Lucca =-.

  11. Lino Salvatore Bordin Insfrán

    Hello Cherrye!

    There are a lot of different assessments about that around the World. The number of continents varies between five and seven.

    For example, I’m paraguayan, and in all Latin America we study the “America” like a continent. Not the “Americas”, but America. So, you’ll ask me: “How do you call us? United Statizens?” Well, I don’t know if the word “statizens” exists, but… It’s similar. I will explain. In spanish, we call your country “Estados Unidos de América” (or EUA or E.E.U.U.). So, people coming from EUA are called “estadounidenses”.

    First, we must know which one is oldest. I’m referring to the name “America”. We know that the the first denomination of the continent America happened in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller in his work called Cosmographiae introductio. You can see that here (near the brazilian territory):

    So, we have first the continent America and then the term America to designate a country. But, became common uses the term “americans” to designate a person came from USA. It’s not wrong. I will call you “american”, without problem. 🙂

    And now… finally, I’ll write about the number of continents. I would like to be a universal knowledge, but it doesn’t. So, I just send the link of the continental composition by the United Nations:

    And we see five continents: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

    Apologies for my english, my italian is better but your site is all in english, so I decided to write in english. 🙂

    PS.: Il tuo sorriso é bellissimo

    Ma, grazie! This is so comprehensive. Thank you so much.

  12. Molly

    Hi! Ciao!

    Just found your fantastic website when I was searching for differences between the UK school system and the Italian school system for my italian homework.

    After navigating around your site for the past 20 minutes, I found this debate and thought it was a really interesting topic.

    I know all of this is from last year but I still wanted to write my opinion.

    I’m at secondary school in England and at primary school I was taught there are 5 continents; America(s), Europe, Oceania (incl Antartica), Africa and Asia.

    But in Secondary school I was taught there are 5 continents but they are differet to the ones I was taught before: America(s) Europe, Australasia, Africa and Antartica.

    That said, I just spoke to my dad about it, and he said that at school, all those years ago, he was taught to keep the number as small as possible: America (one continent as he said he was taught it is one land mass, so one continent), Eurasia (Europe and Asia combined – weird I know!), Africa and Antartica/Oceania. Which makes 4.

    So there could be between 4 and 7!!!

    How do we expect our kids to learn anything? 😉

    1. Molly

      @Molly, just realised at primary school Australia was never mentioned. I think we all presumed it was in Europe, which it isn’t.. weird how it could have been missed out though..

      Ha, def weird.

  13. Daniel

    Mmm, seven continents that is the absolute truth. It’s just a matter of culture I think. The north and south poles are not to be forgotten. However, the picture shows about 4

    Thanks for swinging by! 🙂

  14. ciao

    I was taught at school that there are 5 continents, just like the five olympionic rings. When in Italia we talk about “americani” we usually refer to United States citizens, when we use “latino americano” or “sudamericano” we’re talking of central or south america, and the “canadesi” are the from Canada. But it’s true that most of the time we use the word America in a broad sense. I asked the continents question to my parents and they answered 5! They are 20 years older than me, so the Italian school is teaching the same stuff also nowadays.Ciao a tutti!

  15. Mike

    Americans are people for any of the Americas. From the tip of Argentina to the tip of Alaska. Canadians, US and Mexico are North Americans. Then, there are central americans and finally South Americans. However, the Gringo is anyone from the USA regardless of race, color, ethnicity or religion! Ironically, Italians in Argentina were referred to as Gringos at one time, because it actually was a term originally referred to the Greek that went to Spain. Griego (Spanish for greek) slid into the term gringo because of dialect and informal spanish with the old timers!

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