Swiss offer US a geography lesson

Switzerland or Sweden? Keystone Archive

News that a detainee being held in Guantanamo Bay came from Switzerland sent newsrooms across the small alpine country into a frenzy on Tuesday.

This content was published on February 13, 2002 minutes

Within minutes, French-speaking radio was broadcasting the story and hungry reporters were bombarding the Swiss foreign ministry -- desperate for more details.

Editors salivated at the prospect of a story that appeared to have the "legs" to run for days.

The "scoop" managed to make headlines for some five hours before the Associated Press, which issued the original story, printed a correction. "Please read Sweden and not Switzerland," the apology said.

To the uninitiated, confusing the two European countries may appear an easy mistake to make. Sweden, of course, is famous for its cheese, chocolate and snow-capped Alps; whereas the Swiss are best known for their blond hair, smörgasbord and 8,000km of coastline --or is it the other way round?

A howler

Predictably, this geographical howler sparked much merriment in the French-speaking press, which enjoys a poke of fun at the perceived ignorance of "les Anglo Saxons".

Barely containing their glee, editorials and reports eagerly recalled that this was not the first time the Americans had got their Swiss and Swedish in a muddle.

The "Tribune de Genève" reminded readers that this was a "classic American mistake", pointing out that Uncle Sam had also experienced problems in differentiating between Switzerland and Swaziland.

"In America, they also confuse fine cuisine with hamburger," sniped writer Marc Bretton.

"Le Temps" suggested sending Canadian wunderkind Tyler Brûlé, mastermind of the new "swiss" airline makeover, to Guantanamo Bay to give the Americans a geography lesson.

by Adam Beaumont

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