Usually it’s a civil debate. Sometimes just a brief, frank and cordial diplomatic exchange. Although on a few occasions it has gotten downright, dare I say it, territorial, between a few lesser intellects or overly patriotic nationalists. Blood is lost, and sacred drinks are spilled.
How many countries are there anyway?
I remember three such debates in particular: One, a marathon session in a dank and dark pub in Dublin on a rainy afternoon over numerous pints of Guinness. Another took place on a sultry and easygoing evening at the FCC in Phnom Penh. The most memorable one though, occurred though around a remote fire circle somewhere in the fabled Lost World of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana between a handful of well-lubricated fellow travelers from no less than five continents. All the debates start out the same…and then escalate to terra incognito from there: “So mate, how many countries have you been to?”
And so, it begins.
It sounds simple enough. And to some it is. Yet for me, this has always been a tough question to answer. One that I’ve grappled with and pondered obsessively since my graduate school days studying the lofty ideals of international relations at the London School of Economics. (Maybe that’s my problem? I am just a pointy headed intellectual!) Whatever…there’s no easy answer—at least one that makes everyone happy.