Just about every online publication you can find in Norway right now, and a Swedish paper to boot, is reporting on how if you type “Norway” into Google Earth, it directs you to a spot in the middle of Sweden. Considering that Norway was a part of Sweden until 1905, this is getting a lot of play — the official angle is that according to Google, Sweden now belongs to Norway. (It’s funny in an understated Scandinavian sort of way — you really had to be here.) In some cases, photo editors have conveniently helped along the story by turning off the country names layer before taking the screenshot, as on that layer the names are marked correctly, and that would just ruin the fun.
But why might a search for Norway in Google Earth end up with a placemark in Sweden? My first guess was that Google somehow finds the center of gravity of a country, and in the case of Norway, the country is so oddly shaped that it could just conceivably fall outside the borders of the country itself. But just from looking at Norway, there is no way that the center of gravity would be that far into Sweden.
Instead, I think I’ve figured it out. What Google returns is the coordinate point whose longitude is halfway between the easternmost and westernmost point of a country, and whose latitude is halfway between the northernmost and southernmost point. In the case of Norway, that’s far into Sweden. In the case of Sweden, that’s just into the Baltic Sea. There are in fact few countries where this point does not actually fall within its borders. I had to do a bit of a search, but finally found Croatia, Israel, Laos and Vietnam. If you find others, do let me know.
This is obviously a completely arbitrary piece of geographical trivia, as we’d merely have to agree on using a different reference frame for our coordinates and we’d get different answers. Even so, I reckon Croatia would have a hard time finding any coordinate system that allows this point to fall within its borders. Just nobody tell the Bosnians they “belong” to Croatia, or it’ll be 1992 all over again.