‘You’re Swiss? Stockholm is so beautiful…’

The Swiss red and white, rather than the Swedish blue and yellow, flew briefly over the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week. Reuters

A botched flag-flying attempt this week once again raised the question of confusion between Switzerland and Sweden. We asked readers why two such disparate nations are mistaken so often.

This content was published on April 5, 2018

The latest mix-up happened on Wall Street on Monday, when a symbolic attemptExternal link by the New York Stock Exchange to mark the initial public offering (IPO) of Swedish music-streaming service Spotify was marred by the flying of the red and white Swiss flag (see photo).

Though the mistake was rectified within minutes, social media users were quick to jump on the issue, and FacebookExternal link followers confirmed that the confusion wasn’t a one-off.

“Every time I tell someone I was born in Switzerland, the response is ‘oh you're Swedish or speak Swedish’,” said one Canadian-based poster, who also said that she is “so used to it by now I sometimes can’t even be bothered to correct people anymore”.

Others were more militant. “When I left the USA for Switzerland I got into ACTUAL ARGUMENTS with strangers over the fact that no, Sweden is NOT the same place. Seriously. Get an atlas America.”

One man, when he tells people that his wife is Swiss, says the stock response is “Oh, I just love Abba”.

Another woman says that when she tells people that she is Swiss, the reaction is a similar non-sequitur: “Oh, Stockholm is so beautiful.”

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Causes of the confusion

Why the frequent mix-up, especially among Americans? Readers pointed out the obvious fact that both countries share the same first two letters, while in some languages – especially Spanish and Portuguese – both names sound extremely alike.

The word “ignorance” was mentioned by many commenters. “I think people are just thick,” was one succinct appraisal. Others rowed in to defend the American intellect and knowledge of geography: “Ask a European person to point out Honduras on a map,” said another poster. “Let’s be fair.”

Are there deeper similarities than geographic and etymological confusion? “Both are known for snow and skiing,” said one user, while another (based in Ireland, which shows that this is not confined to the US) said that both countries are strongly associated with cleanliness, organisation and safety, adding to the muddle.

Ultimately, the confusion is probably nothing to get too concerned about and hasn’t (yet) led to any high-profile international diplomatic spats. Perhaps the worst that can happen is that travel plans are disrupted by a few thousand kilometres, as happened to one US-based commenter:

“I was flying to Sweden once. At JFK they couldn’t get the SAS 767 door to close. So they divided us up among various airlines to at least get us across the Atlantic. I wound up in Zurich via Swissair. I called my Swedish wife from Switzerland the next morning and said “You’ll never believe it!”

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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