What makes a country weird? Obviously, the term itself is far from official—there is no universally accepted metric that measures a country's weirdness. Moreover, weirdness is often a matter of perspective. What seems weird to the citizens of one country may seem downright mundane to the citizens of another. Plus, all countries are unique in one way or another—your own country is probably pretty strange as well.
All that said, the fact remains that some countries are a bit more unusual than others. Whether it's due to some quirk of their history, their geography, or even the way their people celebrate Christmas, some countries really do stand out.
Although the term "weird" often implies negative connotations, this report favors an objective mindset. "Weird" does not mean "bad" so much as simply "unusual." Granted, not every national eccentricity is preferable—see North Korea, for example—most differences are to be celebrated as part of the rich tapestry of human civilization.
The weirdest country in the world: Vatican City / Holy See
While every country has its own peculiarities, it can be argued that Vatican City / Holy See boasts more and bigger peculiarities than any other country on Earth. While "weirdness" is an unscientific metric, it's difficult to imagine any country that could be perceived as weirder than this one, the headquarters of the Catholic church.
- It is the world's smallest country in terms of both land area and population.
- It is actually not one but two closely intertwined political entities, the Holy See and the Vatican City State, which fulfill complementary roles and are commonly considered a single binary unit.
- It is one of only three countries in the world that are located entirely inside another country (in this case, Italy) and the only one completely enclosed within a single city (Rome).
- Its population is nearly 95% male, most of whom are clergy.
- It is served by three separate security forces. The Roman police patrol Saint Peter's Square, the "Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State" handles the rest of the grounds, and the Swiss Guard—select soldiers from Switzerland—protect the pope and his residential palace.
- However, it also has no prisons, so it borrows Italy's prisons when necessary.
- Its government is an absolute elective monarchy—which means that the pope's power and authority are comparable to those of a king.
- It is also arguably the world's only Christian theocracy, which means the ultimate head of state is God, not the pope.
The second-weirdest country in the world: North Korea
North Korea is easily the most secretive country in the world, a totalitarian monarchy ruled by Kim Jong-un, the all-powerful dictator who leads the country's only political party. The internet barely exists, the media are all state-run, travel into and out of the country is greatly restricted, and the government wields tremendous control over the daily lives of the people.
- The government's official stance is that its "Great Leader" Kim Jong-un is superhuman and divine, as were his father and grandfather, who ruled the country before him.
- All media (TV, radio, newspapers) are controlled by the government and flood the country with propaganda. This includes many far-fetched stories celebrating Kim Jong-un, such as claiming he scored a perfect 300 the first time he went bowling, shot 11 holes in one on his first attempt at golf, and was in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
- The few tourists who are allowed into the country are accompanied by a North Korean guide who tells them what they are allowed to photograph and to whom they are allowed to speak.
- North Korea's borders are largely closed to international businesses. As a result, the country has no McDonald's (or any other western chains such as KFC or Burger King) and is one of only two countries in the world where Coca-Cola is not sold. (The other is Cuba.)
- Reports have surfaced over the years that North Koreans may only wear government-approved hairstyles. It has been suggested that photos purporting to show the accepted hairstyles (roughly 15 per gender) were actually just suggestion sheets such as one might see in a hair salon. However, the fact that these reports have been so difficult to confirm or disprove is a testament to the country's secrecy.
A quick sampling of the world's "weirdest" countries
As mentioned above, every country is unique in its own way. In some cases, a single unusual trait is enough to qualify a country as weird—at least, to the rest of the world. Sometimes, that trait is geographical. Other times, it could be cultural, ecological, or even political.
Countries with "weird" geography:
- Russia — Being one of the world's transcontinental countries is already a rare feat, but this enormous nation is the largest country in two continents. Russia's European area makes it the largest country in Europe, and its Asian portion ranks as the largest country in Asia. No other country in the world can make such a claim.
- Denmark — This tiny Scandinavian country has an area of roughly 43,094 km² (16,639 mi²)—and it rules over an overseas territory, Greenland, whose area is 2,166,086 km² (836,330 mi²), roughly 60 times larger.
- South Africa — Not only does South Africa contain another entire country (Lesotho), it also has three capital cities: Pretoria for the president/executive branch, Bloemfontein for the judicial branch, and Cape Town for the legislature.
- Indonesia — Like the U.S. state of Hawaii, this country in Oceania is made up of several islands. What's strange is that no one knows exactly how many islands there are—and for good reason. Indonesia includes at least 17,000 islands, and sources can't seem to agree as to the exact count.
- Kiribati — Another country composed of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is the only country on Earth that is officially located in all four cardinal hemispheres (North, South, East, and West) at once.
Countries with "weird" history or culture:
- United Kingdom — The British once ruled an empire that spanned the globe—and remnants of that empire are what make England weird today. The current King of England is not only the king of England, but also of 14 additional countries—including several, such as Canada and Australia, which the majority of Earth's populace likely don't realize even have a king. Another unusual remnant is the Commonwealth of Nations, an international organization made up entirely of former British territories—54 of them, to be precise.
- United States — Nicknamed the "Great American Melting Pot", the United States acquired its diverse citizenship from a uniquely broad range of disparate sources. The original colonists came from all across Europe for a variety of reasons, including business opportunities, religious freedom, or as prisoners. Native Americans were already present. Africans arrived as slaves, the gold rush of 1849 brought immigrants from Mexico as well as Asia, and welcoming immigration policies and the promise of a fresh start attracted immigrants from all over the world.
- Romania — Weird in the most Halloween-friendly way, this Eastern European country includes the region of Transylvania, the source of most of the world's vampiric lore and the birthplace author Bram Stoker chose for his fictitious king of the vampires, Dracula. The real-world inspiration for the name was Vlad III, a 15th century warlord also known as Vlad Dracula ("son of Dracul," which was his father's name and meant "dragon") and "Vlad the Impaler" for his tendency to execute his enemies by impalement.
Countries with "weird" ecology:
- Australia — Located in the Southern Hemisphere, the "land down under" is one of the world's 17 ecologically "megadiverse" countries. Even weirder, Australia has more endemic species—meaning those species are found nowhere else on Earth—than any other country in the world. Australia's endemics include koala bears, kangaroos, dingos, wombats, emus, and the adorably weird platypus.
- Madagascar — Located off the eastern coast of Africa, this island nation's isolated location has led to a unique ecosystem with nearly as many endemic species as Australia. These include more than two dozen species of lemur and sifaka to the cat-like fossa, panther chameleons, golden mantella frogs, and more than 12,000 species of plant (including 600+ orchids) that are found nowhere else in the world.
- New Zealand — An island nation whose ecosystem evolved with no apex predators, New Zealand is yet another country known for its high number of endemic species. Chief among these is the kiwi, a chubby flightless bird with a long bill and shaggy brown feathers, followed by the kakapo (a flightless parrot), and dozens more birds, geckos, skinks, and shellfish.
- Brazil — This South American country's territory includes the majority of the Amazon rainforest and river, which means it could qualify as the best kind of "weird" in several categories. The Amazon is believed to be the most biodiverse place on Earth, with more than 2.5 million species of insect, 16,000 species of tree (and 40,000+ plant species in total), and more than 2,000 bird and mammal species. Moreover, Brazil's Amazon is thought to be home to more uncontacted people than any other place on Earth, with an estimated 100+ different tribes of people who have never interacted with the outside world.