Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Eurovision 2012 Semi 1 - predicting and wishing

Less than two hours to go until the first semi-final, and I've been predicting. But first, here's the 10 countries I want to make the final on Saturday:

It was a close-run thing, and Jedward just missed out because of their annoying and frankly rude fans, who've made me wish for the Irish song to crash out humiliatingly tonight.

Of course, these are just my wishes, though some of them are tied to my predictions, as there's some I really need to come true if I'm to make any money in my bets! This year, as well as general bets - the most money is on Belgium in various forms - I've also put £1 on each of the ten songs I predict as my qualifiers. Afterwards, I'll come back here and let you know how much money I ended up, and we'll see if I made a profit on my £10!
That's it! Agree? Disagree? Either way, have a lot of fun tonight!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why I feel sorry for Valentina Monetta

You know, there's a lot of reasons to feel bad for this perky 37-year-old (I know!) from San Marino. First and foremost, she has to stand and sing 'Facebook The Social Network Song (Uh Oh Uh Oh Oh)' on a stage in front of millions of people. The poor girl also has to spend a lot of time with Ralph Siegel. It doesn't seem like a fun experience for anyone.

It's bad enough that a talented jazz singer has been shoe-horned into a song completely unsuitabed to her. It's a song for a 17-year old girl, though Monetta pulls off a pretty convincing impression of one in the video and in her performance. But it's the way that the campaign has seemingly overtaken her entire existence that makes me feel sorry for her.

Of course, all promotional campaigns involve creating an image for an artist, dictating where they go and who they talk to. But Monetta's has been taken to the next level. Even before the song was unveiled, a personal Facebook account had been set up in her name and started friending Eurovision fans and over the past few months has posted as if it were Valentina herself behind it. And throughout her promotional campaign, she's worn variations on the same clothes (always white and light blue, to reflect her country's flag) and always has to be pictured at a moment's notice on flights and in foreign cities allegedly 'on Facebook' or making friends.

We know nothing about her personally outside of 'The Social Network Song'. All of her interviews are about how much she loves to use Facebook and how cool social networking and the internet are, and nothing about her as a person (oh, except she loves kitesurfing, of all things!). Valentina Monetta just does not seem to exist outside of this song.

It's almost like this Valentina Monetta who we've got to know over the last few months and been friended by on Facebook is nothing but a character created by Siegel and the Sammarinese delegation to sell this song. It's as if 'Valentina Monetta' is just a creation in the way that Silvia Night was just a creation. But in this case, while she's just playing a role, there is a real person with a real career behind it, who is going to lose out.

But the reason I feel most sorry for her is that all of this effort is likely to be for about 8 points next Tuesday, and an early flight back to San Marino, and back down to earth to a bump, with nothing to show for it except for lots of blue clothes and a Facebook profile full of friends she doesn't even like.

She's Lolly for the 21st century.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Eurovision 2012 interviews

Almost two weeks ago now, I visited the London Eurovision Party as accredited press and took the opportunity to interview several of this year's performers.

As press, you always want to keep your cool and appear professional, but the one artist I was absolutely desperate to meet was Kaliopi from Macedonia. I'm a big fan of hers and have been for many years. After hanging around while she was in massive demand early in the day, I eventually managed to grab her right after her soundcheck. It's always a concern when you meet your idols, in case they don't live up to your impression of them, but I had nothing to worry about. Kaliopi was absolutely lovely and hugged and kissed me after the interview when I confessed what a big fan I am.

And she was a delight to interview too, and was shocked at how knowledgeable I was about her career (as well as a little humourously put out that I reminded her how old she was!). It was such a pleasure to meet her, and you can read my interview with her for ESC Nation here.

After having achieved my main goal for the day, I set about grabbing as many more interviews as I could. I'd made contact with Andrej Hofer, the Slovenian press representative, earlier, and he'd promised me an interview with Eva Boto, but she'd been snapped up by Channel 4 and the BBC. He came to find me immediately after my hugs and kisses from Kaliopi, and hustled me into the toilets where I finally got my interview with Eva. You can read that, as well as my chat with 2005 representative Omar Naber, here.

Filipa Sousa from Portugal wasn't very in demand compared to many other performers, as spent much of the afternoon sitting chatting to her parents, who'd she'd flown across to have a brief holiday with in London. I perched on a couch next to them, and her interview is here.

Finally, I ventured into the press scrum upstairs, where at least four acts were sitting with fan and professional journalists queueing up and trying to hold their ground to get their five minutes in. Compact Disco from Hungary headed off very suddenly, but I did manage to sidle my way on to Anggun's table, and did a very quick interview with her too, which you can read here.

The final performer who was hanging around was Sabina Babayeva, who was very sought after by the TV stations present, and I was warned that they were eager for a story on Azerbaijan's human rights record. With a large crowd waiting to get to talk to her, and finding myself at the back of the queue, I bade a hasty retreat. I wasn't able to stay for the party in the evening, where all the acts sang their songs and other hits, before fans and performers danced the night away to Eurovision music until the early hours.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Serbia - what I did wrong

In embarking on my mission to learn Norwegian, I've frequently been prompted to look back on what I did wrong in my previous time learning a language, in an effort to learn from my mistakes and go in with a fresh, open outlook.

My last big attempt to learn a language was Serbian, which I did as my degree course. This involved a year of study at the University of Belgrade. A year abroad should be a time of immersion, to fully experience life in the country where the target language is spoken, allowing the learner to properly appreciate how the language is used in context. I didn't manage to do this: I didn't embrace the opportunity, and therefore I didn't come home with a level as high as I would have wished. I've made a lot of excuses about this in the past, and while I recognise that some of these are valid reasons, I have to face up to the fact that the reason my Serbian didn't improve was, quite simply, my own fault.

The main problem, in essence, was that I missed home too much. I was quite naive, liked my home comforts and was in a relatively new relationship. I wasn't ready to be thrown into a situation where I was out of my depth and, for these reasons, I came up with several coping strategies that ended up being detrimental to my long-term language prospects.

I didn't speak to people!
Just reading that headline, it's blindingly obvious that I was doing something very wrong. I have to admit that I was very intimidated about talking to people, both to strangers and to my Serbian friends. It may seem strange that I was worried about speaking Serbian to my own friends, but I was very conscious of making mistakes around them, and thus hampering our communication. Similarly, while I did communicate in Serbian in shops and restaurants, I wasn't making enough of an effort to just talk to lots of people. Looking back, this is obviously something I should have been doing much more.

I isolated myself
I also couldn't face staying in the (free) student accommodation we were provided with. They were extremely cramped, didn't feel clean and I couldn't get used to sharing a tiny room with a stranger, so I struck out on my own and rented an apartment. In hindsight, this was a mistake - many people seemed to improve greatly from time spent with the other foreign students speaking in Serbian, an opportunity I missed out on by spending a lot of time alone, chatting with friends back home on the internet. This also meant that I was missing out on social bonding, which would have probably helped to make the whole experience more pleasant and enjoyable.

I spoke English

And when I did hang out with my friend from back home who was also learning Serbian there, we generally spoke in English. I also made other British or American friends, and even got a job teaching English to local teenagers. All of this meant that I was spending far too much time speaking English, and not enough time speaking Serbian. I thought that because I was going to the classes, and living among the sights and sounds of the language, that would be enough, but of course, I was wrong.

I was looking for ways to cope

Looking back, I know now that this was all very much a coping strategy, as I was finding it incredibly difficult to be away from home for such a long period of time, and in an alien environment that frequently made me feel stupid. Michael Sieler at No Nonsense Spanish recently blogged about 'benefits'. I recognise a lot of my own struggles in what he describes:
"I had a goal to speak to at least one native German speaker each day. Some times I would talk myself out of starting a conversation with someone I didn’t know and would instead just sit quietly next to them on the bus. For me, at that time, the benefits of not starting a conversation were greater than starting one. By not talking to strangers, I was able to feel safe and secure. I didn’t realize this was sabotaging my ultimate goal of becoming fluent."
For me at that time, the benefit of learning Serbian that would have been gained by hanging out with more Serbs, living in student accommodation and chatting more freely were outweighed by the benefits of not doing so - the security I felt I needed that came from the apartment, the English conversation and not exposing myself to the potential humiliation of making mistakes.

Like Michael, I now know that I was sabotaging myself. I felt at the time that I was doing what I needed to do in order to get myself through that year, emotionally and psychologically. However, in doing that I lost sight of the long-term benefits of being there, and didn't make the most of them.

It was clear when I came home from Serbia that I'd fallen well behind several of my colleagues in terms of being able to hold discussions and converse fluently. My Serbian still isn't as good as it 'should' be for the amount of time I've spent on it and the amount of work I put in. And looking back, and being honest with myself, I know it's because of the mistakes I made during my time in Belgrade; and they're mistakes that, if the opportunity arises again, I'm determined not to repeat.