At any given point of my life, I seem to have had a crush on some European country which was not my own. I have spent the past 10-odd years embarking on new language courses, exploring yet another exotic music scene, supporting a whole rainbow of football teams, falling in love with cute foreign guys and piling up Lonely Planet guides on my bed. My friends regularly ask me how I can be so passionate about seemingly random foreign countries. Honestly, I do not have a clear answer myself; the best I can do is to summarise my country-crush history chronologically, as follows below.
In the beginning, there was Spain. USSR having freshly broken up in the early 1990s, our local television was instantly flooded up by Spanish-speaking soap operas stemming from Spain proper to Mexico to Venezuela to Brazil (the latter obviously Portuguese-speaking but I couldn’t tell at the time). Spain was my first country crush. The language was something so utterly non-Slavic that I just couldn’t get enough. I was too young to develop this passion in any meaningful way, though, so I resorted myself to listening to Spanish music and drawing pictures of Flamenco dancers in my Maths notebooks. Needless to say that my Maths teacher wasn’t happy.
Then there was Germany. I have to mention here that my parents are the keenest supporters of winter sports ever, biathlon being a key favourite. As a mere example, my mother would rather put the family to bed unfed than miss the Russian team’s shoot-out on target. My dad’s Russian biathlon sympathies, however less extreme, are still impressive. Little Anna, however, was a revolutionary from the start. Instead of dancing around dressed in a Russian tricolour mini-version, I gave my heart fully and unconditionally to the German biathlon team. I am not sure why I did that – perhaps thanks to Germans’ sexy, tight grey skiing suits – but the fact remains one. Do you remember Ricco Gross, Frank Luck, Sven Fischer – all rocking the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics? They were my heroes. My Maths notebooks suddenly turned towards a heavy Deutsch-inspired black/red/yellow colour palette. Thinking back on the situation, I am finding it weird how a 12-year-old had the guts enough to go against her parents and her ethnic Vaterland so easily? Vaterland is a German word, by the way. There you go.
I would be lying to myself here if I failed to mention the cutest German ever in existence. Who else but Georg Hackl, 3-time Olympic and World champion luger? It was his mysterious Bavarian look that got me to pick German as my second foreign language at school. Sadly though, due to rare utilisation, my German has become rather rusty these days. I am sure that my Bavarian Prince would not have been very happy.
Still tuned onto an Anglo-Saxon frequency, I then fell in love with England, the main trigger this time being not sports but music. Mid-1990s were the heyday of so-called Britpop. I had a particular soft spot for Manchester music scene, represented but not remotely defined by the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, James, The Charlatans, Oasis – as well as veterans like The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order and The Fall. Years have passed, but I can still feel my blood starting to boil at even a passing mention of Manchester. It was my unfulfilled teenage dream to visit the city. Can you believe I still haven’t been? What a disgrace.
Years went by. Going through my dad’s old record collection one rainy evening, I discovered some albums by U2, and a new banner rose on my horizon. The next couple of years in my life would be defined by Ireland. One clear difference from my previous country crushes was my slow, but growing, interest for history in addition to pure visual and audio material. I threw myself with passion into history books on Ireland, Northern Irish conflict, Irish geography, Irish immigration, Irish politics and everything else Irish. During my obsession with Ireland, I happened to discover a poet, Irishman, who remains my all-time favourite today. Heard of William Butler Years, Nobel Prize 1923 Laureate in Literature? He was perhaps not adored by everyone, but his remarkable contribution to Irish literary scene cannot be disputed. I cannot help but share my all-time favourite poem of his.
Alongside books and history, I swore by Celtic music. The lyrics, sung predominantly in Irish Gaelic, however, made little sense to me. I smile now as I remember my determination to learn this unfamiliar, unintuitive, new language, but that’s what I did with unceasing passion during my penultimate year of high school. It was a struggle; I never quite got beyond the basics and pronunciation was driving me crazy. However, I did try.
Ireland was predictably followed by Scotland. I went to Scotland for the first time in the summer 2000, met amazing people and fell in love with another country – again. Next years would see me return to Scotland five more times, work one entire summer in Edinburgh, develop a shocking Scottish accent, pledge an oath to get married to a kilted guy to the sound of “Highland Cathedral” played by an army of more kilted guys with bagpipes, and so on. The only thing I strongly disliked about Scotland was the weather. But then again, who doesn’t.
More years went by. I made conscious attempts to grow up and moved to Finland for my graduate studies. With Finland, it was always a love-hate relationship. I would cry when I was leaving the country – as well as when I was leaving FOR the country. I both longed for and loathed our every encounter. However, if not a real passion or a crush, Finland and I at least had an affair. I took a Finnish language class at university (not recommended), kissed a Finnish guy and became a fan of Värttinä and Eppu Normaali. This affair eventually died out, but at least we both had fun.
I had recently moved to London for my first full-time job when my world suddenly turned upside down. I fell in love for the first time, this time not with an abstract country concept, but with a real person. The person happened to be Greek, and my country preferences instantly made an abrupt north-south shift – all the way to the ancient glories of Greece. This was not a mere affair or crush or even passion – this time I was dealing with an over-flowing, over-consuming force beyond any imitation of control from my side. I was literally swept off my feet, with a control shot in a head afterwards. My music had to be Greek. My friends had to be Greek. My holidays had to be in Greece. I studied Greek language day and night. I used to hate cooking and suddenly became the biggest fan and virtuoso of Greek specialities. I could sniff a Greek origin in every word – including that famous “kimono”. Eventually, I moved to Greece, experienced a bit of a cold shower and moved away again. Unbelievably, my obsession with Greece felt like a flash but actually lasted for as long as two years.
One would ask what my current country crush is. Or is there one? Well, continuing on my sunny destinations series, I am proud to announce that, currently, Croatia has the honour of occupying that privileged position in my heart. However, my fear is that the resulting post-Greece syndrome is stronger than it seems and the recovery process will not be short and easy. I have a feeling that any subsequent relationship with any European country will be overshadowed by the past and never quite cross the “affair” boundaries. Unlike in my previous crushes, I have no desire to learn Croatian language, support their national football team (which is by the way fantastic – HRVATSKA!) or fall in love with a Croat.
Perhaps the time has finally come for little Anna to grow up.