Will the real Slovenia and Slovakia please stand up?

WASHINGTON — It was too good to resist, and as it turned out, it was too good to be true.

Last month, the Twitter account of the BBC TV show “QI” said that in D.C., “the Slovakian and Slovenian embassies meet once a month to exchange wrongly addressed mail.” It was liked 16,000 times and retweeted almost 6,900 times.

It turns out, that’s not the first time such a story has made the rounds of social media. And the idea of a monthly Slovenia-Slovakia mail-exchanging party, complete with copious amounts of Brinjevic and Tatratea, sounds like a lot of fun. But representatives from both embassies say it’s fake news.

Terezia Filipejova, a cultural and policy counselor at the Slovakian Embassy, told WTOP in an email, “The true story is that we do meet with colleagues from Slovenian as well as other Embassies, but the reason is not that one. Even if the names of our two countries might look and/or sound similiar, as a matter of fact there has not been any mail so far to be exchanged.”

Borut Zunic, a counselor at the Slovenian Embassy, agreed that it doesn’t happen. But he laughed when informed of the tweet and said it’s not exactly completely wrong.

“It was interesting to see that going around,” he said, “because we have had that before.” Just not in D.C.

Somewhat similar

There was some truth to the rumor at one point: The New York Times in 2004 quoted an anonymous Slovenian ambassador “in a European capital” who said that the embassy staffs in that city did, in fact, exchange mail. And Zunic, who said he used to work in the Slovenian Embassy in London in the 1990s, said, “We did get quite a bit of that.” They’d gather the wrongly addressed mail in a big envelope and mail the letters to each other periodically.

The two Central European countries were formed by different processes: Slovenia was created in 1990 by breaking with the former Yugoslavia and holding out after a 10-day war in 1991; Slovakia broke away from the Czech Republic peacefully in 1993.

But the two countries are only about 150 miles apart; their D.C. embassies, about 3 miles: The Slovenian Embassy is on California Street Northwest, off Massachusetts Avenue; the Slovakian Embassy, on International Court Northwest, off Van Ness Street.

And a certain amount of confusion is understandable, Zunic said. “It’s sometimes even for us confusing.”

Know your roughly 25-year-old Central European countries! Click to expand. (Google Maps/WTOP)

Zunic said both languages are Slav-based, but they have similar-sounding words that mean very different things — the word for “child” in Slovenian is the same as the word for “slave” in Slovak, which Zunic said made for an awkward situation when his boss, once ambassador to Slovakia, came to work in a car with a Slovene “Child in Car” sticker on it. The two languages even have the same name, in their respective languages.

“It doesn’t help that we have very similar flags, either,” Zunic said. “That’s one thing that I don’t understand — why did we pick very similar flags? It has the same stripes, the same sort of symbol — very small difference.”

How confusing? Take our quiz (scroll down each caption for the answer):

Slovenian or Slovakian? (Courtesy Flagpedia)
Slovenian flag or Slovakian flag? (Courtesy Flagpedia)         Slovakian! (Courtesy Flagpedia)
This is the Slovenian flag. Pretty similar, no? (Courtesy Flagpedia)
This is the Slovenian flag. Pretty similar, no? (Courtesy Flagpedia) (Courtesy Flagpedia)
In this undated photo provided by the Office of the Slovenia's president and used on president's Instagram, Slovenia's president Borut Pahor, enjoys sunbathing on a beach in Pacug, Slovenia. Donald Trump may rule Twitter, but he's no match for his Slovenian counterpart on Instagram as Slovenia's president Borut Pahor has been actively using social media to get his message across since 2012. (Petra Arsic/Office of the Slovenia's President via AP)
Tattooed, chilling-on-the-beach President Borut Pahor: Slovenian or Slovakian? (Petra Arsic/Office of the President via AP)       Slovenian! (AP/Petra Arsic)
Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Los Angeles Kings’ hockey player Anze Kopitar: Slovenian or Slovakian? (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)       Slovenian! (AP/Jae C. Hong)
Dave Grohl from the band Foo Fighters performs during the Corona Capital music festival in Mexico City, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Foo Fighter Dave Grohl: Slovenian or Slovakian? (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)         Slovakian! (Partly) (AP/Eduardo Verdugo)
First lady Melania Trump visits with children in the Red Room working on holiday treats among the 2017 holiday decorations with the theme "Time-Honored Traditions" at the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. The First Lady honored 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The former Melanija Knavs, now known as first lady Melania Trump: Slovenian or Slovakian? (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)       Slovenian! (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York. In the late 1970s, pop artist Andy Warhol and writer Truman Capote recorded dozens of hours of intimate conversations they planned to use as the basis for a Broadway play however, the two icons moved on to other projects, the tapes were forgotten and both men died. Director Rob Roth tracked down the tapes and adapted them for the play premiering Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Pop Art icon Andy Warhol: Slovenian or Slovakian? (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)         Slovakian! (Descent anyway) (AP/Richard Drew)
** FILE ** The Bratislava castle is illuminated above river Danube in this May 8, 2005 file photo. The house of Slovak parliament can be seen at left. (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)
Bratislava castle: Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)         Slovakia! (ASSOCIATED PRESS/JAN KOLLER)
The Roland fountain and the Old Town Hall at Hlavni (main) Square in Bratislava, Slovakia, are seen on May 20, 2006. The Old Town district is the city's jewel, with cobblestone squares, narrow, labyrinthine streets and a castle offering sweeping views of the city and the Danube River. (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)
The Roland fountain and the Old Town Hall at Hlavni Square: Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)         Slovakia! (ASSOCIATED PRESS/JAN KOLLER)
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2016 file photo, tourists and residents walk across Tromostovje bridge in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. The tiny European nation of Slovenia is getting an outsize share of attention lately. Not only has Melania Trump, wife of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. given her native country a boost of recognition, but Slovenia’s also in the midst of a tourism boom. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)
The Tromostovje bridge in downtown Ljubljana: Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)         Slovenia! (AP/Darko Bandic)
Pope John Paul II stands at the Velicke pleso lake in the Tatra mountains near Stary Smokovec, Monday, July 3, 1995. Monday is the last day of a four-day-trip of the Pope to Slovakia. (AP Photo/ Vatican Pool / Arturo Mari)
The Tatra mountains (seen here being enjoyed by Pope John Paul II): Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/ Vatican Pool / Arturo Mari)         Slovakia! (ASSOCIATED PRESS/ARTURO MARI)
President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell points the highest mountain of Slovenia, Triglav, 2864 meters (9,396 feet) high, before attending the 90th anniversary of the Russian chapel built by the Russian prisoners in 1916 on the mountain road over the Vrsic pass, Slovenia, around 55 miles (88 km) north-west of Ljubljana, Sunday, July 30, 2006. (AP Photo/Denis Sarkic)
Mount Triglav, here being pointed out by then-President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell: Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/Denis Sarkic)         Slovenia! (AP/DENIS SARKIC)
Slovenia's Jure Dolenec, left, shoot over Croatia's Luka Cindric to scroe during the 25th men's Handball World Championship bonze medal match Slovenia against Croatia at the Bercy arena in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
2017 Men’s Handball World Championship third-place finishers: Slovenia or Slovakia? (AP Photo/Michel Euler)         Slovenia! (AP/Michel Euler)
Polka virtuoso Frankie Yankovic: Slovenian or Slovakian? (Wikimedia Commons)       Slovenian! (Wikimedia Commons)
(1/14)
Slovenian or Slovakian? (Courtesy Flagpedia)
This is the Slovenian flag. Pretty similar, no? (Courtesy Flagpedia)
In this undated photo provided by the Office of the Slovenia's president and used on president's Instagram, Slovenia's president Borut Pahor, enjoys sunbathing on a beach in Pacug, Slovenia. Donald Trump may rule Twitter, but he's no match for his Slovenian counterpart on Instagram as Slovenia's president Borut Pahor has been actively using social media to get his message across since 2012. (Petra Arsic/Office of the Slovenia's President via AP)
Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Dave Grohl from the band Foo Fighters performs during the Corona Capital music festival in Mexico City, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
First lady Melania Trump visits with children in the Red Room working on holiday treats among the 2017 holiday decorations with the theme "Time-Honored Traditions" at the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. The First Lady honored 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York. In the late 1970s, pop artist Andy Warhol and writer Truman Capote recorded dozens of hours of intimate conversations they planned to use as the basis for a Broadway play however, the two icons moved on to other projects, the tapes were forgotten and both men died. Director Rob Roth tracked down the tapes and adapted them for the play premiering Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
** FILE ** The Bratislava castle is illuminated above river Danube in this May 8, 2005 file photo. The house of Slovak parliament can be seen at left. (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)
The Roland fountain and the Old Town Hall at Hlavni (main) Square in Bratislava, Slovakia, are seen on May 20, 2006. The Old Town district is the city's jewel, with cobblestone squares, narrow, labyrinthine streets and a castle offering sweeping views of the city and the Danube River. (AP Photo/Jan Koller, CTK)
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2016 file photo, tourists and residents walk across Tromostovje bridge in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. The tiny European nation of Slovenia is getting an outsize share of attention lately. Not only has Melania Trump, wife of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. given her native country a boost of recognition, but Slovenia’s also in the midst of a tourism boom. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)
Pope John Paul II stands at the Velicke pleso lake in the Tatra mountains near Stary Smokovec, Monday, July 3, 1995. Monday is the last day of a four-day-trip of the Pope to Slovakia. (AP Photo/ Vatican Pool / Arturo Mari)
President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell points the highest mountain of Slovenia, Triglav, 2864 meters (9,396 feet) high, before attending the 90th anniversary of the Russian chapel built by the Russian prisoners in 1916 on the mountain road over the Vrsic pass, Slovenia, around 55 miles (88 km) north-west of Ljubljana, Sunday, July 30, 2006. (AP Photo/Denis Sarkic)
Slovenia's Jure Dolenec, left, shoot over Croatia's Luka Cindric to scroe during the 25th men's Handball World Championship bonze medal match Slovenia against Croatia at the Bercy arena in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

An insult?

Even now, Zunic said, sometimes one country’s president or prime minister will go to another country and be greeted with the wrong national anthem.

Early in his country’s existence, he said, there was even more confusion, and it was a sore point: “Some people would even say Slovania, which doesn’t exist, or Slavonia, which is a region in Croatia.”

They’ve learned to live with it though, he said.

“We used to get very upset … because, a new country, you think everyone’s supposed to know you. But obviously they’re not.”

He took the opportunity to plug Slovenia’s charms: Consistent high ranking in tourism surveys and a No. 3 ranking worldwide for women’s equality; Slovenian-Americans including first lady Melania Trump, Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. “Not too many, [but] in a nation of only 2 million … we are pretty good.”

For its part, Slovakia dwarfs Slovenia with about 5 million people, and Slovaks and Slovak-Americans include Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, screen icon Paul Newman, hockey player Zdeno Chara, Five for Fighting singer John Ondrasik, parachute inventor Stefan Banic and John Dopyera, inventor of the resonator guitar. (The best-known resonator guitar is called a dobro, which Dopyera and two brothers, along with other partners, produced at the American String Instrument Company, in California. Where did the name dobro come from? It’s Slovak for “good,” and it’s short for Dopyera Brothers.)

And if you’re still having trouble telling the difference between the names Slovenia and Slovakia, Zunic has a simple reminder:

“We have the word ‘love’ in it, and they don’t. … We feel love. We feel Slovenia. Try to remember it that way.”


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