I learned to read maps as a young girl in the Brownie Scouts. Having moved all over, well, the world, by now, I find them indispensable. Imagine my shock to realize that not everyone even knew how to read a map!
My first experience of this was living in Korea. Before about 1986, few Koreans had traveled outside the country, or even their home town. The streets are not really numbered so much as known in relationship to certain landmarks or buildings. Where numbering exists, it is a scattershot affair, with numbers randomly placed along a street in no order whatsoever (that I could discern, anyway). I remember the first time I got lost in Daegu and pulled out a map and, myanhamnida, pointed to something on the map to a stranger. I might as well have shown them a diagram of neurons. It was simply not necessary to have maps for where you lived! How silly of me.
When the subway arrived in Daegu, there were, in fact, maps, big maps, on the wall. They were of little help to me, as north was not, well, north at the top of the map, but wherever. Not knowing the language, and not being able to reference direction, I was still at a loss.
This is really an example of ethnocentrism. Yes, Asians and Portuguese invented the instruments for navigation and map-making, but still in the world, most people live where they were born. Only about 3-4% live in a country they weren’t born in. People know their places by heart, as it were. Maps were developed by those few who ventured out, and, often, for those who would conquer and colonize those who stayed at home.
A map is a sign of being out of your territory, on other terrain than your mind can fathom. For that reason, for me, maps are essential. Map-lessness is a state of being I cannot imagine at the moment. Maybe that place is what I am looking for in my atlas?