Faux Pas

The Awkward Tale of the Countries with Identical Flags

1936 Olympics flags Haiti Liechtenstein

What can be more awkward than two ladies showing up at a social event, wearing identical outfits? How about two countries showing up for the Olympics, waving identical flags?

That’s what happened at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

The Haitian civil flag dates back to the early 1800s. Unlike the national flag, which includes the country’s coat of arms in its center, the civil flag consists solely of two equal-sized horizontal bands, blue on the top and red on the bottom. The national flag is properly used only in military and governmental matters, so in events such as the Olympics, the civil flag is flown.

From 1852 to 1921, Liechtenstein’s flag consisted of two equal-sized bands of red and blue, but they ran vertically. In 1921 these bands were changed to run horizontal, making the flag identical to Haiti’s.

1936 Berlin Olympic Scarf
Commemorative scarf from the 1936 Olympics, bearing the flags of the nations. Note the identical flags of Haiti and Liechtenstein, in the top left and bottom right.

The fact that two nation’s had the same flag apparently escaped everyone’s attention until 1936. Liechtenstein made its first appearance in the summer games. As its nation’s representatives proudly marched into the stadium, it suddenly dawned on spectators that they had seen the same flag somewhere before. In fact, it was just a few moments earlier, when Haiti’s athlete entered the stadium.

Fortunately, the world was spared the awkwardness of both flags flying side-by-side in a medal’s ceremony.  Haiti’s only athlete withdrew prior to the first event, and none of Liechtenstein’s athletes earned a medal.

This embarrassment could not be allowed to repeat, however, so on June 24, 1937, Liechtenstein proudly unveiled its new flag. It continued to bear the familiar red and blue stripes, but now it also displays a gold crown in the upper left corner.

This historical faux pas was of sufficient interest to the writers of television’s The Big Bang Theory to feature it in Sheldon and Amy’s Fun With Flags podcast in Season 10, Episode 21, “The Separation Agitation.”

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