General English

Eurovision 2021 – did you notice what happened?

Did any of you watch Eurovision last Saturday? It was unique.

Not only because it was the first European entertainment event held in front of a live (negative tested) audience of 3,500 held during the pandemic.  But also, I would say because it was difficult to choose the winner. There were so many well-written songs and talented singers who performed incredibly professionally. There were several countries I found who rightfully deserved to win.

Is that a good or a bad thing?  And why would I even ask such a question?

First, of course, it is a good thing.   I am guessing the reason the standard was so high this year is the accumulative effect of the many TV talent shows and song contests like “Got Talent” and “The Voice” which have been syndicated around Europe (not to mention the world) and have become ubiquitous. Each country has their own version.  Hundreds of people are pushing themselves now to win these highly competitive contests from all over Europe.  The Swiss entry, Gjon’s Tears, had competed in 3 of them starting at 11 years of age. And don’t get me wrong – he was my favorite!

Yet, why do I feel somehow disappointed when watching Eurovision?

One of the main reasons is that I find it a shame that so many entries sing in English now. Did you realize 1998 was the last time that all countries sang in their national language?

Also, because I miss seeing quirky, funny acts that take you by surprise.  It boils down to “Vanilla-ism”.  And – no, that’s not a real term.  “Vanilla-ism” for me is what Hollywood has done over the years, creating movies that sell by following a formula rather than taking a chance on something new.  “Vanilla-ism” lacks vulnerability, I guess. 

Less vanilla – more spice

And yet, I believe my sentiment was echoed by the way people voted.  And the way the jury voted, too. In lockdown, especially, I feel we crave for something different.  Something not so “vanilla”.  Uniqueness and vulnerability somehow feed our souls. So, with all the acts that sang so professionally, the best way to stand out was to sing in your own language.  And those were the ones who caught our attention.  Those are who everyone voted for most.

So, I see hope. These performers could have probably sung in English but instead chose to proudly take the risk of singing in their own language. It showed, quite frankly, singers who bet on the right horse and won.

A new development

There is yet another reason why the 2021 Eurovision signals a turning point. And that is, it was the first time that neighboring countries did not vote automatically for neighboring countries. 

Politics, perhaps, still had an influence, Russia for maybe the first time didn’t get so many votes.  And the Brexit factor to vote against UK continued.  However, I truly believe the Eastern Block vs. Western Block voting divide seemed to disappear. The votes seemed to be cast based on merit rather than sticking to expected, polite political norms. And that can only be a good thing.

P.S I do tip my hat to Gjon’s Tears for being vulnerable and true to himself.  For those who have not seen his music video for “Tout l’Univers”, I do invite you to watch this moving clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpM6o6UiBIw             

And to take a look back in time, I invite you to watch the following Eurovision final recaps of:

1998 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvDuGipUP3Y

2008 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CANdu63BEo 

2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-g5UAE-tmA

And this year’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ5j3FuHCxA

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Spotlight on Talent: Kevin Wieser

by Kevin Wieser

When I was little, I didn’t like to read books. Instead, I looked at many graphics like comics or cartoons. In the library, I would always head to the comics corner. Especially the comic series Tim and Struppi (The Adventures of Tintin) by Hergé inspired me.

In time, I would begin making cartoons myself and discovered I really enjoyed it. Word soon got around school that I liked to draw. With my cartoons, I quickly made teachers and classmates laugh. I liked making people laugh with my cartoons and still do today. With the advent of tablets and digital pens, it has allowed me to now draw professional cartoons.

I have been publishing single pictures in social media (kevinwieser /Instagram) for some time now but always had the dream of publishing my own comic book some day. But I was missing the inspiration for it.

One day, it came to me that my best friend, Steve Schild, actually would be a perfect comic figure. If you read about what he has already done, there is probably  no one better suited to fit the role of a comic figure.

Steve Schild is extraordinary and has had a fixed goal since childhood: He wants to go to Mars. And while on his way of making his dream come true, he has already experienced many adventures. Just to name a few: he has broken two unusual Guinness world records: pushing a shopping cart around for 24 hours in circles and also doing the most ski-rope jumps in one minute.  But that is not all. 

He is also one of the last 100 remaining candidates worldwide under consideration  to qualify for the Mars-One Project; a one-way mission to Mars.

if that wasn’t intriguing enough, Steve also used to be a member of a secret order and has written several sci-fi books. He is currently a finalist for the Swiss Men’s Award and continues to train daily for his dream to go to Mars.

In collaboration with Steve, we have now turned his adventurous life story into a children’s book. The book is entitled “Steve träumt vom roten Punkt am Himmel” and we hope it will serve as an inspiration for all children and also adults to stick firmly to their dreams.  In 76 pages, the readers will become involved not only with various funny, sad and cheerful cartoon pictures about childhood memories and landmark events in his life but the reader will also be asked questions about their own thoughts, ideas and interests along the way. 

We have received feedback from many readers saying that they have never seen such a unique and interesting book before.

I would be very happy to also have you as a reader of my children’s book. So, If you are wondering how I met Steve, please check out the book.  Have fun!

You can find more information about “Steve traümt vom roten Punkt am Himmel” in German and purchase options through this link: https://www.kevinzechnet.ch/buch

And if you are interested in learning what it took to publish such a book, Kevin will be hosting the Zurich Networking Group’s free Zoominar held on 24 September 19:00-20:15. Be sure to register for this unique opportunity here.

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US Election 2020: The Stakes are High

The election of our lifetime

It is soon time for US citizens to vote – not just for who will lead the country for the next 4 years as President and Vice President but those responsible in Congress.   In fact, there are 33 out of 100 senators seeking re-election for another 6-year term. The Senate, the upper house of Congress, is currently controlled by the Republican Party by a close margin.  

It may feel like eons ago but can you remember? Trump had been convicted on impeachment charges passed by the lower house: the House of Representatives, led by a majority of Democrats. There was plenty of powerful evidence of his abuse of power and the Republicans didn’t deny it in the end. Yet they continued to back Trump to keep a united front. In their point of view, Democrats represented the enemy.  Not the Russians.  Not corrupt politicians.  Not Donald Trump.  So they acquitted him.

When will enough be enough?

And then came the mismanagement of the pandemic, the authoritarian use of power during the racial protests ignited by George Floyd’s broadcasted murder.  Along with the unresponsiveness of politicians to seize the moment to pass a law banning the choke hold used by police officers.  It could have been a positive step forward in fighting police brutality, which could have satisfied the emboldened protestors.  But it didn’t happen. And let’s not forget, the tictoc debacle and Trump’s humiliating drop in the polls.  

You would think you were asking Yankee fans to root for the Red Sox in the final inning of a World Series!  But treating political parties like rival sport teams is very dangerous, indeed. It’s really okay to switch sides.  From sports we should keep in mind: “It’s not winning or losing but how you play the game that counts”.  

Small cracks, which had begun forming prior to all those events, have been growing much larger within the Republican party itself: between Republican conservatives and right-wing Trump supporters. So large in fact that lifelong Republicans are stating publicly and on social media that they will vote Democrat for the first time in their lives. 

But will it be enough?  The stakes are so very high.  And it’s not just all about Trump.  It’s about the average American – Democrats and Republicans, who have drawn a line in the sand, who refuse to speak to their neighbor because they side with “the other team”. 

Will Americans reconcile with each other?

Reconciliation between parties not only has to happen between elected officials but between the people they represent. Family members, neighbors and co-workers have to do their part. Can Americans, who have been trolling and throwing ugly insults at each other for years now, finally say “enough is enough”? Can those who refuse to speak to one another pick up the phone and start with a clean slate?

Whether Trump wins or loses this coming election, there will still be a need for Americans themselves to change their tone and make every effort to unite.   If Trump convinces “his base” that the Democrats cheated to win or the Democrats have proof that Trump abused he helped rig the election, who will believe whom?  

Will there be a peaceful transfer of power in America? 

This is what everyone fears to say out loud but we’re all thinking it. But basically, unless people stop blaming Trump, the Clintons, the supposed Deep State, the FBI, CIA, the US Postal Office or whatever other institute: real or made up, the problems that plague the country will continue to mount.  The promise of a more united union will be harder to deliver on if regular everyday people don’t start to have real conversations with each other. 

Freedom vs. liberty – there is a difference

Will it be Americans desire for individual freedom to not wear a mask, eat as much junk food as they please and buy as many guns as they wish that will trump all? Individual freedom to do whatever you want could win over a deeper sense of duty to one another as a country whose Constitution values liberty and justice for all. What kind of lessons will children be learning from that?

If there is no sense of duty to do right for one’s neighbor – whether they love them or not, then it looks like after all these years, the Communists will be proven right.  The USA may be on its way to becoming yet another country ruled by a large authoritarian figure head and not “for the people, by the people”, after all. 

Ironically, the Republicans call Democrats often “Socialists”.  Yet, it will be the acts of the Republicans that may turn the USA into a country run by a dictator: by Donald Trump, who may never leave office.  Or perhaps spur on a second civil war.

America these days seem to be addicted to drama.  But let’s hope they still are seeking a “they lived happily ever after” ending, too. One not just for the cameras but in real life.  Their own lives.

 

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A Personal Story during Lockdown

This article is written for the B1-B2 level student. The hyperlinks lead to English-German translations. After clicking on the links, you can easily change the language to French or another language from within the online translator used: linguee.com.
A PERSONAL STORY DURING LOCKDOWN TIME
Introduction

How are all of you doing?  Are you starting to get used to the lockdown? I feel very fortunate.  Losing over 80% of expected income for the year within a few days was swiftly and effectively counterbalanced by the meaningful financial support the Swiss government and banks provided.  I think for the first time ever during an economic crisis, interest free loans and unemployment benefits in the form of short-time working insurance have been granted to self-employed business owners like me.  So thanks to the Swiss government authorities, I am able to remain calm and focused during these uncertain times!

But I’d like to back up a little and share a personal story with you. Let me tell you how it started…

It was early March and I was feeling pretty good.  I had just recovered from a month-long flu.  Who knows?  Maybe from “the virus” and I started feeling a natural urge to reach out to family and friends that I had lost touch with.   My best friend from home, Ellen, had been on my mind recently.  The last we spoke was about 13 years ago.  

This crisis woke me up by perhaps instilling fear of an unknown future.  The thought of loved ones coming down with the virus was working away at me.  So I began reaching out and in a way that felt easy and natural.  Ellen’s birthday was in March and so I sent a happy birthday message to her. 

I was so delighted to receive a response.  We started sending simple texts back and forth.  Being a bit nervous about talking over the phone, I had asked her in my first message if it would be okay if we kept to writing first. Her answer to me?  “Time is on our side.”

Then Easter time came.  I had hesitated to respond to her last message as it had innocently stirred up some painful times that she wasn’t aware of.  I got stuck.  I wanted to explain why it took me so long to answer without going into too much detail.  On Good Friday, I finally sent a vague message to her. I thought to myself how silly it was that I hadn’t called her yet.  I agreed to myself that it exactly what I needed to do upon receiving her next reply.

And then it happened.

PART 2

Being connected to her niece via facebook, I received an announcement that Ellen had gotten into a serious car accident with a friend on Friday and had been rushed to the hospital with multiple broken bones.  Ellen had been driving.

In a split second, not only had Ellen’s life changed, it seemed mine had, too.  No longer was I basking in the warm feelings of having gotten back in touch or the feeling of relief  or the grateful feeling that I would not be experiencing financial distress any time soon.  All of that went out the window and meant absolutely nothing. 

Instead feelings of fear, guilt and regret consumed me.  Why hadn’t I just called Ellen from the start? Why did I take so long to get back in touch with her in the first place?  So much time wasted. 

Ellen was brought to a reputable hospital in Boston and I even managed to get through to speaking to her nurse.  I’m not even sure she found out about that.  I didn’t feel I had the right to suddenly get all involved.  She had a life that I wasn’t a part of any more and wanted to respect that. 

I found out she was in great pain. Nothing more.  Later, I wrote to her niece who explained that her mom and Ellen’s older sister had created a facebook group to communicate with friends and family about how things were proceeding.  Pam accepted me into the group quickly and so felt grateful.

In the next few days, I was to learn that Ellen had a broken, dislocated neck.  She decided to risk an operation.  She made the right decision.  Afterwards, she could feel her hands and feet again. And by the way, more good news: she had tested negative for COVID-19.  Then, a double surgery came next.  Two surgical teams worked at the same time: one to put in a metal plate by her broken cervical bone (collarbone) and the other to place another metal plate to stabilize her broken wrist.

I had no idea if more surgeries awaited her.  Thankfully, the medical team had finally found the right way to relieve her pain.  I can’t imagine what she must have gone through for nearly a week without proper pain relief.  It was an Easter story that seemed very close to the original one.  

PART 3

In the meantime, I continued to write short questions to Ellen’s niece and sister via facebook.  I was excited to find out about a blog Ellen and Pam started in early 2019.  It is dedicated to telling memorable stories of their past to honor their family history.  It brings to life those family members and good friends they miss who have sadly passed away.  At the same time, it is a gift for future generations who may be curious to learn more about their ancestors.  It’s a family record created in a personal, unique way.

Both of them are great storytellers.  It is something in their blood.  Ellen has always liked to read and keep a diary.  And I can remember Pam telling some really hysterical stories after coming home from work.  I can’t tell you how reading their newsletter and watching their videos caused many sentimental tears to fall.  I laughed out loud reminiscing over the childhood stories they shared.  Most of the stories were new to me but I could vividly imagine them playing out in my mind since I not only knew the people and places so well but also because I, too, hold them so dear.

The feeling of relief for Ellen would be finally come when she had the courage to share a smiling face of herself in her neck brace.  Phew! There she was. She was alive and somehow she looked so calm.  The expression she conveyed to the nearly 200 people worried about her was: I got this!  That was the first night that I could finally sleep. 

After the two surgeries, things began to move quickly.  Within about 2 days or so, she could stand up and the decision to transport her to a rehabilitation clinic was made.  She was on her way.  She had passed the first painful stage and now she was going to the next.  It’s certainly not over yet.  Not by far.  It’s just the beginning.  But I do hope to be back in her life in a big way now so I can accompany and support her along the way.

In honor of Ellen and her family, I would like to share the” Leaving a Life Legacy” blog with you.  I find it very relevant in these times.  Not all of us may be lucky enough to survive this pandemic unscathed.  Writing or sharing our stories may be the key to helping us through any losses we may experience now or in the future. I hope you may be inspired by their stories to do your own thing.  Warning: it could awaken strong feelings in you!

ENDING

Finally, I have to say Ellen has always been able to bring out the sentimental side in me.  I miss that very much.  I haven’t found many people like that lately. With so many shared childhood experiences, she can do it the best!  So in honor of her poetic sentimentality, and my hidden one, I’d like to leave you with this important message that she gave to me as a gift many moons ago.  I still have it today and it remains in my living room to this day.  It’s the picture of the cushion you see at the top of this post. “A friend is a gift you give yourself”. As I now look forward to renewing my friendship with Ellen, a woman that helped shaped me as a person, I hope you can learn from my mistakes.  Give yourself the gift of friendship. And remember everyone: Time may not always be on our side. So, let’s make the most of it.

For those who may have been inspired to write their own personal lockdown story or reminiscent story of days gone by, I would be so pleased to read them. 

Writing about emotions taps into a completely different writing style from business letters.  But it is when we share emotions in another language that the language truly becomes our own. That I know from my own experience.

I’ve got to go now.  It’s time for me to call Ellen!  Wishing you all well.  Keep safe, strong and hope if there’s a story in you, you find time to write it!

 

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