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PAT-THETIC; US postal service still have no idea where Wales is.


PERHAPS it's something to do with the fact that while Scottish stars like Sean Connery proclaim their national origin with pride, our top star Anthony Hopkins has taken US citizenship.

Whatever the reason, it seems the American Postal Service doesn't recognise Wales as a country.

A book sent to our newsroom from a New York publisher's took nearly two weeks to arrive in Cardiff because an American postal worker marked 'No Country' on the envelope - even though the last line of the address label clearly states Wales.

At a time when the Wales Tourist Board is launching yet another initiative to raise Wales' international profile, we decided to engage in a spot of ad hoc market research ourselves. Would mention of our country's name be met with universal bemusement?

Our method involved ringing half a dozen post offices in various parts of the world and asking how much it would cost to send a postcard to Wales. The locations chosen had at least a tenuous connection with something Welsh, the reasoning being that if these places had no idea where Wales was, we were in very serious trouble.

OUR first call was to the post office in Trelew, Patagonia, a coastal town in the part of Argentina colonised by Welsh settlers in the nineteenth century.

We clearly have no recognition problem there. A friendly and lively man instantly replied in Spanish that it costs 25 centavos to send a postcard to Wales. Thanks to the weakness of Argentina's currency, that's a bargain at just under 10p.

NO difficulties at Pembroke, Ontario, Canada either, where a matter-of-fact clerk in the post office said without hesitation:

"International. A dollar 25."

That's 55p.

AT Picton, New Zealand, a South Island town named after Wellington's Welsh General Sir Thomas Picton, who died at Waterloo, a woman who sounded bored out of her mind immediately said: "One dollar 50" (44p).

AGAIN, at Eden, New South Wales, Australia, there were no doubts. A woman with a twangy Australian accent said: "A dollar. It's a dollar all over the world." (36p).

AT Stuttgart, Germany - the twin city of Cardiff - a friendly woman with a South German accent said it costs 51 cents (31p) to send a card to Wales.

ONLY in Wales, Alaska - the remotest part of the United States, on the Bering Strait facing Siberia across the International Date Line - was there a problem.

Asked "Can you tell me how much it costs to send a postcard to Wales?", a man sounding like a character from a David Lynch film said: "Scuse me?"

When it was pointed out to him that Wales was in the UK, he spent several minutes rummaging through books before rather uncertainly stating: "That's 70 cents" (50p).

So perhaps we only have a recognition problem in the United States.

But even in the postal service of the world's sole remaining superpower, Wales isn't entirely unknown. Another postal worker, clearly frustrated by the "No country" comment scrawled across our envelope by a colleague, had written "Look!" with an arrow pointing to 'Wales' on the address's final line.

Even Dubya has a bit of trouble

AMERICAN President George W Bush famously asked schoolgirl star Charlotte Church which state 'Wales' was in.

So it's hardly surprising the US postal service doesn't recognise us either.

Charlotte, in fact, is one of the few Welsh exports to have succeeded in the States.

The Manic Street Preachers tried to crack the lucrative American market but left without barely making a mark on the charts.

Welsh movie Solomon & Gaenor, starring Ioan Gruffudd, was nominated for an Oscar, but it too limped home with nothing after the Yankies decided it wasn't quite good enough for one of their most treasured awards.

Catherine Zeta Jones is one of the few who can join Charlotte as a star across the water. But Catherine had to marry into one of America's 'great' families to do so.


PATRIOT: Scot Sean Connery WHERE'S WALES? : Bush and (inset) our Charlotte STAMPING GROUND: Our favourite postie Pat would be appalled at the US postal service's apparent geographical short-comings LOST: Our letter from America took 2 weeks
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 3, 2002
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