San Marino’s embarrassing Eurovision Facebook song banned

valentina monetta san marino eurovision song facebook uh oh ohAndy Warhol said that “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Maybe so, especially if you live in tiny San Marino, population: 30,000. If you’ve ever dreamed of competing in the Olympics, the World Cup qualifying tournament or in the annual Eurovision song contest, consider trying to obtain citizenship in San Marino where your chances of representing the country on some sort of international stage are pretty good.

The country may have no stop lights and has won just one international soccer match in the last 22 years (against 106 losses) but with the release of its official Eurovision song contest entry for 2012 this week, it may have achieved a dubious distinction: world’s worst song contest entry.

Valentina Monetta’s “Facebook Uh Oh Oh” is a laughable, three-minute ode to the addictive power of the world’s most famous social media site.

Do you wanna be more than just a friend?
Do you wanna play cyber- sex again?
If you wanna come to my house, click me with your mouse….

So you wanna make love with me?
Am I really your cup of tea?….

Are you really a sex machine?
Or just some beauty queen?

One can’t help but wonder who she beat out to become San Marino’s official representative. But because Monetta mentions the word “Facebook” 11 times (and dresses up in Facebook’s colors to boot) in the song, it’s been banned from the contest for promoting a commercial interest. San Marino has until March 23 to remove the Facebook references or come to their senses and submit a new song for the contest, which runs from May 22-26 and is viewed by hundreds of millions around the world.

Either way, San Marino’s made a splash with this hideous entry. Their first Eurovision entry was in 2008 and has just over 8,000 views on You Tube, while Monetta’s abomination has nearly 150,000 in just a few days. What do you think of this song? Would you be ashamed if you were from San Marino?

Image via George May on Flickr.

The 10 smallest countries in the world

ten smallest countries in the world

The world’s ten smallest countries in terms of area fall into two general categories: European microstates (Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican) and small island nations of the Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Caribbean (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tuvalu.) Some of these countries are quite new as independent nations: Tuvalu gained independence from the UK in 1978, while the Marshall Islands gained full independence from the US in 1986. Others have been around for a very long time. San Marino dates its founding as a republic to 301. These countries vary greatly from one another along other axes as well: population, income, life expectancy, industry, tourist facilities, and membership in various international organizations.

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[Image of Tuvalu: Flickr | leighblackall]

Top 20 countries for life expectancy

life expectancy

“Old people” – we all hope to live long enough to earn this distinction. In some countries, the probability of living well into your eighties is much better than in others. The worldwide average for life expectancy is just a smidge over 67, with the highest and lowest countries fluctuating by over 20 years in each direction. 39 of the bottom 40 countries are located on the African continent, and 3 of the top 5 are European micro-states. The United States ranks in at number 50, boasting a life expectancy of 78 years old.

At the bottom of the list is Angola, a country in southwestern Africa with a machete on its flag. The average life expectancy in Angola is almost 39 years old. At the other end of the spectrum is Monaco (pictured above). Monaco is a micro-state in Europe with an extremely high standard of living. The average person there lives to be 89 years old. The 50 year gap between these two countries represents the difference between yacht ownership and subsistence farming, and every other country falls somewhere in between. For the full list, check out the world fact book at cia.gov.

life expectancy 20. Bermuda – 80.71
19. Anguilla – 80.87 (at right)
18. Iceland80.90
17. Israel – 80.96
16. Switzerland – 81.07
15. Sweden – 81.07
14. Spain - 81.17
13. France – 81.19
12. Jersey81.38
11. Canada – 81.38
10. Italy81.779. Australia – 81.81
8. Hong Kong82.04
7. Singapore – 82.14
6. Guernsey82.16
5. Japan – 82.25
4. Andorra82.43
3. San Marino83.01
2. Macau – 84.41
1. Monaco – 89.73 (at top)

flickr images via needoptic and adomass

Five ways to get more European stamps in your passport

european passport stamps
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that European passport stamps have become harder and harder to get. The expansion of the Schengen zone has reduced the number of times tourists are compelled to show their passports to immigration officials. For most Americans on multi-country European itineraries, a passport will be stamped just twice: upon arrival and upon departure.

Where’s the fun in that?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your passport’s stamps. They’re souvenirs. So ignore the haters and treasure them. You won’t be the first to sit at your desk alone, lovingly fingering your stamps while daydreaming of your next adventure. You won’t be the last, either.

And if you are a passport stamp lover with a penchant for European travel, don’t despair. There are plenty of places in Europe where visitors have to submit their travel documents to officials to receive stamps. Some countries, in fact, even require Americans to purchase full-page visas in advance.

The Western Balkans remain almost entirely outside of Schengen. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all require visas for Americans, while Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia do not. Immigration officers at the borders of all of these countries, however, will stamp your passport when you enter and when you leave. Turkey provides visas on arrival. These cost €15. Among EU countries, the UK, Ireland, and Cyprus remain outside of Schengen for the time being, while Romania and Bulgaria will soon join it.
european passport stamps
Pristina, Kosovo.

Ok then. How to maximize the number of stamps in your passport during a European jaunt? Here are five ideas.

1. Fly into the UK or Ireland and then travel from either of these countries to a Schengen zone country. You’ll obtain an arrival stamp in the UK or Ireland and then be processed when entering and leaving the Schengen zone.

2. Plan an itinerary through the former Yugoslavia plus Albania by car, bus, or train. Slovenia is part of the Schengen zone but the rest of the former country is not. Traveling across the borders of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania will yield all sorts of passport stamp action.

3. Visit the following eastern European countries: Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and/or Azerbaijan. Unavoidable passport stamp madness will transpire.

4. Visit San Marino and pay the tourist office for a passport stamp. The miniscule republic charges €5 to stamp passports. The bus fare from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast is worth it for the bragging rights alone.

5. Visit the EU’s three Schengen stragglers, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria. In the case of the latter two, visit soon.

Schengen and the disappearance of European passport stamps

schengen passport
Creative new use for border crossing posts at German/Austrian border.

In the late 1980s, an American spending a summer traveling across Europe with a Eurailpass would see his or her passport stamped possibly dozens of times. With a few exceptions, every time a border was crossed, an immigration agent would pop his or her head into a train compartment, look at everyone’s passports, in most cases stamp them, and move on. Every Eastern Bloc country required visas, some of which could be obtained at the border and others of which had to be applied for in advance.

Today, an American can enter the Schengen zone in Helsinki, fly to Oslo and then on to Amsterdam, proceed by train through Belgium, France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, then by bus to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and then by ferry back to Helsinki before catching a flight to Athens and landing in Greece without once needing to submit a passport to a border guard’s scrutiny.

The development of the Schengen agreement across Europe has altered the geopolitical map of the continent in many ways. For tourists, the development of the Schengen zone has simplified travel by drastically reducing the number of times a passport can be checked and stamped as national borders are crossed.

The Schengen Agreement is named after the town of Schengen in Luxembourg. It was here in 1985 that five countries-Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, and France-signed an agreement to essentially create borderless travel between them. A model for this agreement had been created years before by the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), which eliminated border controls back in 1948. The Nordic countries also did away with internal border posts, in 1958.

In 1995, the five original Schengen countries plus Portugal and Spain inaugurated the zone. In 1997, Austria and Italy joined. Greece followed in 2000 and the five Nordic countries joined in 2001. In late 2007, nine more countries joined the Schengen zone; most recently, Switzerland signed up in 2008.

schengen passport
Abandoned border crossing between Slovakia and Hungary.

Today, 22 European countries are part of Schengen. Every European Union country (save the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus) belongs. Other members include EU holdouts Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. The European microstates present a few complications. Monaco’s borders are administered by France, which makes the tiny principality a part of Schengen, while Liechtenstein’s accession, approved by the European Parliament in February, is pending. San Marino and the Vatican are de facto versus official members, while mountainous, landlocked Andorra remains outside of the zone altogether.

There are five EU countries not currently part of the Schengen zone. The UK and Ireland (as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) operate a Schengen-like agreement called the Common Travel Area. Neither country is obligated to join the zone.

Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, however, are all bound by treaty to eventually join. Romania has fulfilled all the criteria for joining Schengen and Bulgaria is close to fulfillment as well. These two countries will accede together, likely later this year. Cyprus presents a more complicated situation given the division of the island between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the largely unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the north.

With the coming accession of the Western Balkans to the European Union, the Schengen zone will almost definitely continue to grow. Might it one day cover the entire landmass of Europe? Check back in two decades.

[Images: top image Flickr | Mike Knell; middle image Flickr | jczart]