Do you know your Swedes from your Swiss? Tourism operators in the two countries are collaborating to help Chinese tourists understand that they are different places.

Apparently, the fact the two nations' names are written similarly in Mandarin and begin with the same symbol, has caused confusion in the Chinese market.

Looking to make light of the situation (while still educating travellers), the Swedish and Swiss consulates in Shanghai launched a competition asking the Chinese to come up with humorous ways to differentiate between the two, with the winner netting a 12-day trip to both countries.

But here's the thing: as a dual citizen of New Zealand and Switzerland, anecdotal evidence tells me it's not just the Chinese who confuse their Heidis with their Pippi Longstockings.


Occasionally, the topic of my ethnicity comes up in conversation and I've lost track of the number of times my saying I have Swiss heritage has elicited the response: "Oh, do you speak Swedish?"

Perhaps it's because I'm fleetingly familiar with Sweden and have lived in Switzerland, but the confusion has always baffled me. I know both countries begin with the same two letters and are both in Europe but, beyond that, the differences really do start to stack up.

Switzerland is a land-locked, mountainous piece of the continental European puzzle, famous for railway engineering, chocolate and watch-making industries (it's not, however, the original home of cuckoo clocks, which hail from Southern Germany's Black Forest region — another common misconception).

Residents — depending on where in the country they live — speak either Swiss German, French, Italian or Romansch.

Sweden is a long finger of land in the north of Europe, flanked by Norway to the west and the Baltic Sea and Finland to the east. The Stockholm archipelago alone is made up of more than 30,000 islands. The Swedes have given us — among other things — Ikea and Nobel prizes and, although it, like Switzerland, can be decidedly chilly in winter, you're more likely to hear Abba playing there than alphorns. Swedish is the official language.

Having read about the Chinese campaign, I'm now wondering whether this geographic muddling is a wider problem.

Are Slovenians mistaken for Slovakians? Are Belarusians asked if they speak Bulgarian? Are Tunisians quizzed about the weather in Tanzania?

A Swedish woman recently began working at a cafe I frequent. Curious as to whether it was just in my circle of acquaintance this confusion was occurring, I related my Swiss v Swedish encounters to her.

"Oh yes," she said, a smile of recognition crossing her face. "We get this all the time."