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eurovision: europe’s dirty little secret

May 28, 2010

Secret love child of a storm trooper and the terminator or just the Turkish entry?

As an American living abroad, I’ve developed a renewed sense of patriotism.  Not a crazy “U-S-A, U-S-A” chanting,  American-flag-on-my-denim-vest kind of patriotism, but the kind that comes from feeling that we (Americans) are at times unfairly judged based on a select number of TV shows, movies and news clips that are exported abroad.

I’ve found myself defending everything from our cuisine (no, hamburgers are not our national cuisine) to our basic intellect (yes, I do know the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia).  So, naturally, when something like Eurovision comes along I always think to myself  “Why is this not aired in the USA?”

Eurovision in a nutshell:  Every country from the European Broadcasting Union sends a performer (chosen American Idol-style in their home country) to the Eurovision contest hosted by the previous year’s winner.  Last year’s winner was from Norway, hence this year the contest is held in Oslo.  Previous winners include, but aren’t limited to, Celine Dion, ABBA and a Finnish group dressed as orcs singing “Hard Rock Hallelujah”.

2007 Eurovision winner

Lest you be tempted to think that many of these performances are tongue in cheek, I’ve learned the hard way that they are taken seriously.  After a particularly cheesy Russian contestant won the contest by performing in a tight white outfit while accompanied by an ice skater and a violinist, I joked around with colleagues from Russia. I mean really, an ice-skater?!  Really?  Unfortunately for me, this was no joking matter.  One of the women had been to his concert the night before and was likely a card-carrying member of his fan club.  Lesson learned:  Know your audience before you crack a Eurovision joke.

But this brings us back to the question as to why this isn’t aired in the USA. I just don’t know.  Perhaps Europe wants to be known for Eurovision as badly as the USA wants to be known for the Jersey Shore.  The difference is that Europe has the common sense to keep it on the continent, whereas we share the hot mess that is the Jersey Shore with the rest of the world.

I can promise you this: It’s good fun regardless of whether or not you take this seriously.  You can’t help but get a kick out of a band that consists of three guys who start off in dorky plaid pants and Adidas sneakers singing a mediocre song and ends with them inexplicably ripping off their pants to reveal silver-sequin hot pants.

The sneaker/hot pant combo doesn't really seem to work, does it?

That’s the beauty of the show.  There are no limits to the level of bizarre in each act–it’s a no-holds-barred cheese fest. And getting to watch them with British commentary that consistently delivers dry, sarcastic humor makes for a good time.  Of course, the wine consumed before and during the show probably doesn’t hurt either.

So, watch Eurovision this year or at least tune in for the incredibly handy 10-minute recap of all the acts aired at the end of the show–it’s conveniently offered as a webcast.  And then the next time you’re confronted with someone saying, “All Americans are fat and lazy,” you can respond with, “Right, in the same way that all Finns are head-banging orcs”.  Trite?  Most definitely.  Fun?  Absolutely.

**All photos courtesy of

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Phil The Hat permalink
    May 28, 2010 1:53 pm

    Superb! Yes stereotypes are often incorrect and in some ways likes to put itself down when it comes to culture. But no matter how snobby Europe is when we have Eurovision – no comment. You should look at re runs of ‘It’s a Knockout’ with the entertaining and verbose Stuart Hall!

    • May 28, 2010 2:11 pm

      Oh my! I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before. If there’s ever a time to bring this back, surely it’s at the 2012 Olympics.

  2. May 28, 2010 9:49 pm

    There is a lot of stereotypes concerning Americans in Europe, as well as millions of stereotypes, or rather, lack of any knowledge, about small European countries in a typical American provincial town.
    Or maybe I am an example of stereotypical thinking ?
    Especially as regards American cooking, a stereotype that the only food you est in the U.S., is a hamburger and French frites. It is wrong ! But on the other hand, often, the only food one can see in American movies, is hamburger and frites. And moreover, the biggest number of overweighted people is in America – thanks to fast food. School cantinas – hamburgers and French frites.
    For me, the US in the nineties was a “mecca” of national culinary cultures of immigrants. I have never been to Thailand, for example, but I learnt how the Thai food should taste – in the U.S. The same concerned the Chinese cooking, Korean, Japanese and so on.
    However, when I was visiting States for the first time (at it was at the beginning of the nineties) , I had to explain at least few times that Poland (the country I come from) is not Holland. I remember, that in Kentucky, a person did not know that there is a 30 million country in Europe called Poland. The ignorance and lack of knowledge about foreign countries was much, much worse that in a small, provincial and communist country, like mine. The geography lessons were at very high level. I had to know not only names of all countries, but also names of the rivers all over the world, mountains, bays, capital, regions.
    Take care!
    Well, it is glad that you know the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia.

    I’ve found myself defending everything from our cuisine (no, hamburgers are not our national cuisine) to our basic intellect (yes, I do know the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia). So, naturally, when something like Eurovision comes along I always think to myself ”Why is this not aired in the USA?”

    • May 29, 2010 10:00 am

      Hi Magdalena–Thanks for stopping by. You have some good points and I’m surprised I didn’t get more comments like yours.

      My post was really just my way of saying that basing stereotypes on a few choice people is as unfair as judging an entire continent on a song contest. As a country of 300+ million, we come in every shape, size, ethnic and educational background. For instance, I would say that it’s a bit unfair to say “The ignorance and lack of knowledge about foreign countries was much, much worse that in a small, provincial and communist country, like mine.” based on those choice Kentuckians. I think we all have those eyebrow raising experiences abroad. While living in Spain, I was asked regularly if I a) knew Al Capone or b) if Chicago was one of the largest states in the USA. For that matter, I’ve received comments and questions like this in virtually every country I’ve travelled to. I don’t mean this to come across as a tit-for-tat, but more as an example that these people exist everywhere for better or for worse.

      Perhaps it’s because I’m faced with these critical stereotypes on a regular basis as an American citizen abroad, but I have become increasingly aware of the temptation to create opinions of a country or people based on select interactions with the lowest common denominators they meet or worse yet, those pesky movies and news clips (and I’ve seen Americans do this as much, if not more, than anyone else). I think we’d all be better off being evangelists of the positive that we encounter abroad rather than focusing on the shortcomings. As a whole, I think we’re pretty set on negative stereotypes of foreign people, what we need are more positive ones.

      As an aside, as a half-Polish native of Chicago, I’m really looking forward to reading your blog. My grandmother from my Polish side didn’t like to share her cooking secrets and I’ve always regretted not understanding or knowing more about Polish foods.

  3. Melis permalink
    June 1, 2010 11:54 pm

    well…you know eurovision is fun, cheesy, tacky, and sometimes great! it is the only time europe is truly united 🙂 giving each other political votes and laughing themselves off..but i have to say that the first time i ever met an american was in madrid (i’m turkish) and she thought istanbul was another country and turkey was another. she also asked me if i’m going around with a burka riding camels in the desert. if you will reply me oops we thought the same, well that proves my point. i dread going to us thinking they will ask me this stuff and wonder if i am one of the four wives of a man. hurts to hear when turkish ladies got suffrilage before their other european counterparts. love from istanbul -ehem, the cinammon rolls look delicious by the way!

    • June 2, 2010 7:55 am

      The cinnamon rolls are lethal…proceed with caution 🙂 I only make them at the holidays because then the holiday spirit moves me to share as opposed to eating them all myself. A slightly funny story is that my cousin at Christmas time (adult male, keep in mind) disappeared from the holiday festivities only to be found at the back of the house wolfing down his fourth. I guess the holidays bring out the spoiled kid in us sometimes.

      On a separate topic, I cringe when I hear those stories, and I do admit they happen. It’s unfortunate. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. I’ve been several time and each time find it more and more enjoyable. Don’t dread going to the U.S., but it does sound like you should steer clear of Kentucky.


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