Since many Americans are unaware that West Virginia and Virginia are separate states (perhaps you know my aunt in Richmond?), it should come as no major surprise that Chinese travelers frequently confuse Sweden with Switzerland.
In Mandarin, both European countries begin with the same symbol and are written similarly. Both conjure up images of relative prosperity and efficiency as well as spectacular alpine scenery
But with China now providing the world's fastest growing number of globe-trotting tourists, who spent $102 billion on travel last year, Sweden and Switzerland are working together to promote themselves as China-friendly tourist spots and to clear up confusion over their national identities.
According to the Huffington Post, the Swedish and Swiss consulates in Shanghai have come up with a contest that appears on their websites, asking Chinese people to come up with funny ways to help differentiate between the two countries. The winner will receive a free trip to both countries, and will be expected to report back on his or her impressions of the two nations at the end of the trip.
Sweden and Switzerland got the ball rolling by posting humorous images of items associated with each nation on maps of the two countries appearing on the contest's website. Sweden's map included meatballs, a gay couple (same sex marriage is legal there) and Pippi Longstocking from Astrid Lindgren's line of children's books. Switzerland's included Swiss cheese, fondue and tennis star Roger Federer.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government is apparently worried their nation could be producing its own version of Ugly Americans. Last month, it issued a 64-page "Guidebook for Civilized Tourism" to the nation's first-time international travelers.
The guide advises rookie Chinese travelers to refrain from public nose picking, noodle slurping and swimming pool peeing, in addition to resisting the urge to make souvenirs of emergency life vests from airliners.
I'll try to remember to follow the same advice during my next visit to Ohio.
Maybe the Swedish-Swiss collaboration will catch on in other places with mistaken identity issues. Austria and Australia come to mind.
I recall a scene in "Dumb and Dumber" in which Jim Carey's character tried to hit on an attractive young woman with a thick European accent who said she was from Austria. "Well, g'day, mate!" he said. "What do you say we get together later and throw a few shrimp on the barbie?"
Now that 150 years have passed, it may be time to follow the Swedish-Swiss initiative by promoting bi-state tourism in West Virginia and Virginia while preventing confusion from clouding the differences between the two states.
But the other Virginia's possession of a coastline gives them something of an advantage.Their bounty of beaches just seems a bit more appealing than our endless beeches.