“Missent to Austria… Again.” Name Confusion and Strange Journeys

Yes, the Austrian Post has a special stamp that says "Missent to Austria" for Australian packages. One recent package was finally delivered with five such stamps all lined up in a nice row.

Austrian postbox
Austrian postbox. Photo: Ilan Rosen / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

If you live in Slovakia or Slovenia, you’re probably somewhat used to your country constantly being confused with the other. You may even joke about it – like that time when the prime ministers of both countries resigned from office at the same time. Sometimes, you might even have to wait a little while longer for an international parcel, as it ends up in the wrong country.

Am I in Austria or Australia?

But hey, that’s still ok – you’ll wait only an additional day or so, as both countries’ capitals are less than a five-hour drive from each other. Austrians can only envy you, as when their country is confused, it is being confused big time. Like, other-side-of-the-world big time. Austria/Australia – what a coincidence!

Close as they sound to each other, Austria and Australia are, in fact, from entirely different language constructs. Austria comes from the German “Österreich,” meaning “Eastern Realm,” and though the German and English versions look quite different, when correctly pronounced in their respective languages, they sound similar. Meanwhile, “australis” is Latin for “southern,” so “Terra Australis” simply means “Southern Land.”

Alas, hardly anyone speaks Latin anymore, nor do they speak 10th-century German. Therefore this tiny appendix, the letters “al” stuck in the middle of the word, make thousands of kilometers of distance. It might not have been a problem centuries ago when there was no place to confuse two countries. But in today’s global age, when you can, for example, have your online shopping delivered pretty much anywhere in the world, the issue gets annoying.

Frustratingly missent

It’s gotten annoying to the point that the Austrian Post gets so much mail addressed to Australia that its employees have a special stamp: “Missent to Austria” they can use when redirecting a parcel. We know it from one Reddit post by an Australian man who got his packaged order a few weeks late with no less than five such stamps. Next to one of the “Missent to Austria” claims, some frustrated post officer wrote by hand resigned “again.”

Reading through comments in the thread, we can learn firsthand from other Austrian post officers that the confusion happens on a daily basis. And Australian post workers have admitted to knowing the stamp by heart after only a few days of working in their sorting facilities. Well, for some, it’s perhaps still easier than to learn the difference between Austria and Australia.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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