The Americas according to Google autocomplete

This post was profiled by The Atlantic Cities on February 7, 2014 and by the Matador Network on March 4, 2014.

Montana is “for badasses” or “cold” depending on whom you ask, (though as a Montanan, I can tell you both are correct.) France, meanwhile, is “gay,” Spain is “empty,” and Italy is “racist.”

This is the world according the Google autocomplete, the function on the popular search engine that suggests popular queries as you type a search. Since the results reflect Google users’ most searched phrases, autocomplete has become an unscientific barometer of what people on the Internet want to know about a given place or subject.

CaptureSo, when it comes to the Americas, what are we curious about? This map shows, in blue font, the first autocomplete suggestions regarding most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. For a more “Latin American” perspective, the words in red are the translated results for the same question (“why is [country] _____”), in Spanish. This methodology has obvious shortcomings: not all Spanish speakers that use Google are Latin American – Spaniards and US Latinos, for instance, presumably influence the results – and not all Latin Americans speak Spanish – notably, the views of some 200 million Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are omitted.

Nevertheless, some interesting differences and similarities emerge.

Autocomplete%20map%20for%20the%20Americas

The most popular searches related to Latin America, in both languages, are related to the region’s poverty. English and Spanish speakers agree that Nicaragua is “poor,” that Haiti is “so poor,” and that Guatemala and Venezuela aren’t doing so well either. Yet while Spanish speakers wonder about the roots of poverty in Colombia and Paraguay, English speakers are more concerned with why those countries are even “important” in the first place. Mexico and Peru may be poor in our eyes, while Latin Americans may be more likely to view them as “biologically diverse.”

The Spanish results certainly reflect a higher level of sophistication in some cases. While true that Chile is indeed quite “long,” Spanish speakers are more curious why it is “tri-continental.” (Answer: Chile has holdings in Antarctica and Oceania). For the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Bolivia, the most popular Spanish queries deal with their forms of government: a “social state,” “republic” and “plurinational” state. Why is Panama “famous?” Not the canal, surprisingly, or at least not for Spanish speakers. The country’s lax financial regulations topped their list.

Predictably, there are questions related to soccer. English searches for Suriname ask why it plays in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, rather than in the South American division presumably. Spanish speakers are curious why Uruguay is the head of its World Cup series.

But the searches reveal some deeper-seated values in the United States. Why is it that Cuba is “bad?” Well, as Spanish speakers note, because it is “communist.” The autocomplete answers for the United States (“in debt” vs “rich”) are perhaps the map’s most insightful, though the question “Why is Canada a country?” may also be a telling indication of how we view our neighbors.

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