While driving down to San Mateo (which, it turns out, is to the south of San Francisco) to visit K-poo a few weeks ago, I drove on a portion of the 80 that I hadn't driven on before. I expected to eventually cross the Bay Bridge to San Francisco -- when I saw a bridge in the distance my first thought was "Hey, I made better time than expected." And then my second thought was "That's not the Bay Bridge". Then I crossed over the short bridge and had no idea what bridge I had just crossed.
That, in a nutshell, has always been my approach to geography. I've lived in or near the SF Bay Area for about fifteen years, and I managed not to realize that SF was on a peninsula for at least the first ten of those. I grew up in Orange County and only know two freeways there. I'd be hard pressed to identify more than half the states on a US map. (To be fair, though, there's no point to all those little states on the east coast, and I don't feel bad about that.) At one point in high school I had memorized all the countries in Africa, but I think at least fifteen of them have changed names since then, so what little knowledge I had is still wrong. (Burkina Faso? Really?)
It's not that I have a bad sense of direction -- even if I take a wrong turn, I can usually figure out how to head back to where I'm trying to go. I just don't know anything about where I am when I get there.
I know that Tahoe is at a higher elevation because that was used as an example in my respiratory physiology class (and the point of the question was to prove why you shouldn't take a dog in heart failure with you to high elevations), but I don't actually have any real idea of where Tahoe is, and I couldn't name the mountain range it's on. Also, I'm pretty sure, but not positive, that I live within a few hours of Tahoe.
So pretty much my grasp of where things are is limited to the following:
1) Is it my house?
2) If it's not my house, have I walked there before?
3) If I haven't walked there before, have I driven myself there within the last two years?
If the answer to all of those is no, it may as well be in Ouagadougou.