Imagine my horror a couple of weeks ago when a colleague pointed out that I’d swapped Latvia for Lithuania in a translation job I'd been working on. An easy mistake for a layman maybe, but as a Geographer, I pride myself on making such simple distinctions. No sooner had my embarrassment subsided, than my colleague sent me a link to an article reporting that the publishers of the Bosatlas, regarded as something as a national treasure in Dutch classrooms, had made a similar gaffe. In a promotional give-away, a mini-atlas called the Boskabouter, they too had inadvertently switched the names. My blushes were spared further on discovering that an even more damaging faux-pas had been made by the Czech Republic’s football federation when their national team faced Lithuania in an international friendly last year. Not only were the Latvian team pictured in the match programme, they had the Latvian national anthem played before the game. The mix-up cost two of the federation’s officials their jobs.
The confusion that many people seem to have with the Baltic States has apparently given the Lithuanians some food for thought. Last year, in an effort to raise its profile and attract new investment, a commission led by the prime minister suggested the option of changing the name of the country. Perhaps not without reason: in Lithuanian, the country is called Lietuva. And after all, as a Lithuanian, you wouldn’t want to see foreign capital being channeled into Riga rather than Vilnius on the basis of a mere muddle, would you?
Fortunately, my mistake was picked up before it ever reached the client. I should imagine the lay-out man or woman at Noordhoff Uitgeverij in Groningen will be even redder-faced. And as for the two Czech officials, all I can say is, I have every sympathy - it’s an easy mistake to make!