Country Facts #6: Luxembourg to Myanmar

This week: substance misuse, unusual monarchies, shipwrecks, mistreated islanders, strange borders, and burgers made from flies.


Luxembourg – Almost half of Luxembourg’s workforce lives outside of the country. As of 2013, 44% of people working in the country- 356,000 people – commute to their jobs in the Grand Duchy from neighbouring countries. READ MORE

Macedonia – Macedonian and Greek relations have been strained by a naming dispute between the two countries. When Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Greece objected to its official title on the grounds that it had taken the name from the Greek region of Macedonia across the border. So seriously does the Greek government take the issue that it has vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO and the EU. READ MORE

Madagascar – Despite lying just 400km off the coast of Africa, the most commonly spoken language on the island of Madagascar, Malagasy, has origins that differ widely to any other African language. It is actually part of a language group that developed in South East Asia, and is most closely related to the Maanyan language spoken on Borneo some 6,400km to the east. Researchers believe the language was brought across the vast Indian ocean to Africa by seafaring settlers around 1,500 years ago READ MORE

Malawi – Every winter, strange, swirling clouds often hundreds of metres tall appear rise up from the surface of Lake Malawi in the African country of the same name, giving the impression the lake is on fire. Billions and billions of tiny midges hatch and emerge from the water to mate, the numbers so huge that the swarm of tiny insects is visible for miles around. Local people then catch these flies en masse, squash them together into a patty, they then fry them and serve as a burger. Yum yum. READ MORE And see it here.

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Plumes of flies rise high above Lake MalawiCloud of Mating Nkhungu Flies on Lake Malawi / Avi Alpert / CC BY-NC 2.0

Malaysia – Malaysia has a rather unique constitutional monarchy. Since the country’s independence in 1957 the role of king, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, has been rotated between the nine Malaysian states with royal rulers for five year periods. The current king, Tuanku Abdul Halim, began his second term a mere 46 years after his first came to an end. READ MORE

Maldives – Never book a mountain climbing holiday in the Maldives. Though the country contains over one thousand islands spread over 90,000 sq. km, its tallest peak towers a mighty 2.4 metresvabove sea level, making the Maldives the world’s lowest country. Just don’t mention climate change… READ MORE

Mali – Mali contains Sub-Saharan Africa’s most spectacular historic buildings, most of which were constructed from dried mud. The 16 metre tall Djenne Mosque in the south of the country, thought to have been built in the 13th or 14th Century, is the world’s largest mud brick structure, and the famous city of Timbuktu contains a number of ancient mud baked mosques and mausoleums. Naturally, though, these monuments are rather fragile and are threatened not only by the elements, but radical Islamists who perceive them as idolatrous. During the Islamist occupation of northern Mali in 2012 many of the country’s ancient sites were destroyed by rampaging insurgents. READ MORE

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Timbuktu, before the arrival of the IslamistsObligatory Tourist Shot / User:JM / CC BY 2.0

Malta – Maltese is the only language in Europe derived from Arabic. It was not received, however, directly from Malta’s Arab neighbours in nearby North Africa. Instead, Maltese has its origins in a form of Arabic spoken around a thousand years ago on the Italian island of Sicily to the north- west. Indeed, 40% of the Maltese vocabulary is derived from Italian, and with a further 20% originating in English, Maltese is something of a Frankenstein tongue! READ MORE

Marshall Islands – Between 1946 and 1962, more than 210 megatons worth of nuclear bombs were detonated by the United States on the Marshall Islands during Cold War weapons tests. This was equivalent to more than 5000 times the force of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined, and the nuclear fallout left many islanders suffering from health problems. Many islanders who were resettled to make way for the tests have not been able to return home ever since. Over the years, more than $2 billion has been paid out to local people in compensation. READ MORE

Mauritania – Perched on the western edge of the Sahara desert, Mauritania is home to perhaps the world’s biggest ship graveyard. The port city of Nouadhibou is a naval dumping ground packed with several hundred shipwrecks, a cheap place for unscrupulous sailors from around the world to abandon their useless ships with no questions asked. It makes for a vista that is spectacular and disgusting in equal measure. READ MORE

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Just one Mauritania’s numerous beached shipsShipwreck of the United Malika / User:Jbdodane / CC BY-NC 2.0

Mauritius – In the early 1970s, the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean claimed by Mauritius but administered by the UK, were forcibly evacuated from the territory to make way for an American military base. 3,000 Chagossian people were repatriated to the UK or Mauritius, and the British and American governments continue to block their attempts to return home. Truly the leaders of the free world… READ MORE

Mexico – On the site of Mexico’s eponymous capital city once stood Tenochtitlan, the heart of the pre-Colombian Aztec empire. According to ancient folklore, the Aztecs were ordered by the Gods to base their civilisation wherever they found an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, and after several years of wandering the land they eventually found what they were looking for and set to work building Tenochtitlan. The image is even featured on the crest of the Mexican flag. READ MORE

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Artwork depicting the famous sceneViva Zapata / User:Travis / CC BY-NC 2.0

Micronesia – In August 1944, during the Pacific campaign of the Second World War, an American bombardment of Japanese forces stationed on and around the Micronesian coast destroyed hundreds of boats, tanks and planes. Many of these ended up submerged in the shallow waters of the Truk Lagoon, along with the bodies of the 3,000 Japanese victims of the onslaught. After seven decades on the sea bed, the remains of the carnage have become one of the most spectacular underwater wreck sites in the world, covered with coral and teeming with fish. READ MORE

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One of the ghostly shipwrecks of the Truk Lagoon – Wreck Dive / User:Aqua Immersion / CC BY-NC 2.0

Moldova – Moldova has some serious problems with substance misuse. With the exception of nearby Belarus, more alcohol is consumed per capita in the former Soviet nation than anywhere else, with the average adult consuming 17 litres worth of pure alcohol every year. Excluding wine guzzling Andorra, each country in the top ten is Eastern European- as damning an indictment of communism as any. As for smoking rates, Moldova comes in fifth with the average Moldovan adult smoking 2,500 death sticks a year- again, nine of the top ten are former communist countries. READ MORE

Monaco – The world famous Monte Carlo Casino, featured in a number of high profile movies, is strictly off limits to Monegasque citizens. The country’s royal family launched the casino midway through the 19th Century in order to attract wealthy tourists, but wisely did not wish their own people to waste their money at the tables, and the ruling has been maintained ever since. READ MORE

Mongolia – Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongolian Empire during the 13th Century, probably spent far more time with his pants down than he did commanding his troops. The amorous warlord is thought to have fathered hundreds of children throughout Asia before he died in 1227, and (disputed) scientific studies have estimated that several million people across the continent can trace their lineage back to him. READ MORE

Montenegro – In 2014, the Serbian Orthodox church of Montenegro gained a measure of revenge for the decades of persecution they experienced under communist Yugoslavian rule. A newly built orthodox church in the capital Podgorica was embellished with a fresco depicting three communist figures- Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and former president Josep Tito- engulfed in the flames of hell. READ MORE

Morocco – For all the Spanish complaints about Gibraltar, Spain itself has several external territories on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast. The smallest of them is Peñon de Velez de la Gomera, a tiny rocky peninsula occupied by the Spanish military for centuries. It was actually an island until the 1930s, when a storm deposited sand between it and the African mainland, creating an isthmus and forming the world’s shortest national border, just 87 metres long. The military presence did not deter four Moroccan nationalists from “invading” the territory in 2012 in an attempt to “liberate” it from Spanish rule. READ MORE

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The world’s shorest borderVelez de la Gomera / Ignacio Gavira / Public Domain

Mozambique – The flag of Mozambique proudly displays an AK-47 on the crest, making it the world’s only firearm embellished flag. Unsurprisingly, efforts have been made to remove the gun, with a 2005 competition proposing 169 alternatives, yet to this day it remains. READ MORE

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The deadly Mozambique flagMozambique Grunge Flag / Nicolas Raymond / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Myanmar – Ramree, a tropical island off the coast of Myanmar (then known as Burma), played host to one of the most mysterious and horrific battles of the Second World War. In January 1945, British forces invaded the island in an attempt to retake it from the Japanese, forcing the Japanese troops to take refuge in a mangrove swamp. With hindsight they might have been better off taking their chances against the British: the swamp was full of scorpions, spiders, snakes and giant crocodiles, tropical diseases were rife, and there was little food or drinking water. Of the 900 men who entered the swamp, just 500 were thought to have emerged alive, and perhaps as few as 20 ultimately survived. READ MORE


If you have anything to add to any of these entries, you can offer a better one, or you just want someone to talk to, please leave a comment!

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