When the situation calls for nations to be arranged in some kind of order, who gets to be first? Which ones get to sit next to each other? For most of these situations, the UN relies on that old standard of impartial organization: alphabetical order. Seating in the General Assembly hall is determined by alphabetical ordering of each country's English name (each year the starting point is rotated), as is the ordering of the flag display outside the headquarters in New York. But some nations don't show up where you'd expect them to.
1. NORTH KOREA, AFTER THE CZECH REPUBLIC
North Korea doesn't show up in the n's or the k's, but at the beginning of the d's. It is alphabetized by its official name, "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Not every country gets alphabetized this way — the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is with the v's and the Plurinational State of Bolivia is with the b's.
2. SOUTH KOREA, AFTER QATAR
South Korea also gets alphabetized by its official name, "Republic of Korea." South Africa and the newly independent South Sudan, however, are alphabetized by "South," though the official names of the countries are "Republic of South Africa" and "Republic of South Sudan."
3. MACEDONIA, AFTER THAILAND
When Macedonia declared independence in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, a conflict with Greece broke out about its name. Greece has a region called Macedonia and a historical attachment to the ancient kingdom of Macedon, and it objected to the use of the name by its Slavic neighbors to the north. The two countries have been in talks over the naming issue since 1995, and until they work it out, the country will be officially referred to as "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," making it a very rare thing indeed: a title alphabetized by "The."
4. TANZANIA, AFTER THE UNITED KINGDOM
In 1964, when the East African states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined together to form one nation, they joined their names as well, creating Tanzania. Its official name, "United Republic of Tanzania," emphasizes that joining, and gives it its alphabetical ordering among the other "united" entities.
5. MOLDOVA, AFTER SOUTH KOREA
That is, after Republic of Korea. Though the breakup of the Soviet republics created many countries that are officially "Republic of" but are alphabetized without that part (Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Belarus, Republic of Azerbaijan), Moldova is ordered with the r's under "Republic of Moldova."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- Why insects are the future of food
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
Subscribe to the Week