To get in the mood for a trip abroad, all you need to do is cue up a destination-themed soundtrack. If you're headed to England, maybe spin some Beatles, Bowie or "God Save the Queen" - the Sex Pistols version. For Germany, you could crank up Beethoven, Kraftwerk or Nena, but not David Hasselhoff. For better or worse, he's ours, not theirs.
To help create an international playlist, Babbel, the online foreign language-learning company, reached out to a dozen ambassadors posted in the United States. The staff asked the diplomats to suggest the music that best represents their country's culture and musical heritage. Several respondents also explained the reason for their selections - an A-ha moment for at least one dignitary. Here are their picks, which cross multiple genres, eras and levels of hummability.
"Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco
Wolfgang Waldner, Austria
"Falco is an Austrian icon whose music has influenced our nation's pop culture since the 1980s. 'Rock Me Amadeus' was a No. 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and blends virtuoso Viennese rap with international pop. Despite his untimely, James Dean-like death, Falco's bigger-than-life persona is still celebrated all across Austria."
"Alors On Danse" by Stromae and "Bluesette" by Toots Thielemans
Dirk Wouters, Belgium
"Paul Van Haver, better known as Stromae, is one of Belgium's best-selling artists, born in Brussels and representing some of the best that Belgium has to offer. His music is influenced by Belgian New Beat music as well as the timeless music of Jacques Brel, that other great Belgian musician. ... Also, Belgian jazz, including two of Belgium's most celebrated musicians: Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone in the 1840s, and Toots Thielemans, the jazz musician (who was) famous for playing his harmonica and appeared with Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Werner, Pat Metheny and many others."
"Izlel e Delyo Haydutin" by Valya Balkanska
Tihomir Stoytchev, Bulgaria
"Bulgarian folk music is by far the most extensive traditional art. The music has a distinctive sound and uses a wide range of traditional instruments. One of those instruments is the bagpipe. One of the most famous Bulgarian folk music singers is Valya Balkanska. She is from the Rhodope Mountains and known locally for her wide repertoire of Balkan folk song, but in the world, mainly for singing the song "Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin." The song is part of the Voyager Golden Record selection of music included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 as a musical message to the other unknown life-forms in the universe."
"Patriótica Costarricense" by Manuel María Gutiérrez Flores
Fernando Llorca Castro, Costa Rica
"The music is from Costa Rican composer Manuel María Gutiérrez Flores. For many years, the lyrics were considered anonymous, but a recent investigation showed that they are an adaptation of a poem by Cuban writer Pedro Santacilia. It was performed for the first time in 1862 and since then has become the most cherished song for Costa Ricans. This song represents the best of Costa Rica and its people because it is a song about liberty, joy, sacrifice and humility but mainly about love for our homeland. Every child in Costa Rica grows up listening to it and learning to love our country through the images that its music and lyrics create."
"Eesti muld ja Eesti suda" ("Estonian Soil and Estonian Heart") by Lydia Koidula (lyrics) and Rein Rannap (music)
Jonatan Vseviov, Estonia
"This is a 19th-century poem made into a song by a 20th-century composer. Immortalized by the band Ruja, it is an Estonian pop classic that has made its way to people's hearts and has become a part of Estonia's biggest music event: the traditional Song Festival, which is included in the UNESCO list of cultural treasures. Listen to the original or its modern remakes to understand why, for the Estonians, the soil and heart are inseparable."
"Island er land pitt" ("Iceland is your country") by Magnus Thor Sigmundsson (composer) and Margrét Jónsdóttir (lyrics)
Geir Haarde, Iceland
"One Love" by Bob Marley and "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" by Jimmy Cliff
Audrey Marks, Jamaica
"Bob Marley's iconic message in songs such as 'One Love', which was designated 'Song of the Millennium' by BBC in 1999, and 'Redemption Song' are widely known and acknowledged as global anthems of peace and love. 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People' by one of Jamaica's musical treasures, Jimmy Cliff, reflects a similar ethos to 'One Love' with its appeal for people across the world to live together in love and harmony. These songs are poignant demonstrations of Jamaica's global impact that belies our small size."
"Nicaragua Nicaraguita" by Carlos Mejía Godoy
Francisco Obadiah Campbell Hooker, Nicaragua
"In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg; Kygo; "Take On Me" by A-ha
Kare R. Aas, Norway
"Edvard Grieg's 'I Dovregubbens Hall' ('In the Hall of the Mountain King'), with its connection to Henrik Ibsen's play 'Peer Gynt' and the Norwegian trolls that according to lore live in the mountains."
"All the music of the performer Kygo - it's modern, has reached a large international audience and made a star out of a young man from Bergen: Kyrre Gorvell-Dahll."
"'Take on Me,' a classic from the 1980s by the band A-ha - probably the first time a Norwegian band achieved this level of international attention. People are still humming it."
"Canção do Mar" by Amália Rodrigues
Domingos Fezas Vital, Portugal
"Na Golici" by Slavko Avsenik
Stanislav Vidovic, Slovenia
"This song is a Slovenian polka composed by Slavko Avsenik in 1954. It takes its name from a beautiful Slovenian mountain in the Western Karawanks, on the border with Austria. It is known mainly for its fields of wild white narcissi (daffodils), swaths of which cover Golica and surrounding pastures in late April and early May. It is considered one of the most played instrumental tunes in the world and has to date over 600 different cover recordings, including with (ironically, as the song is instrumental) a cappella choir, Perpetuum Jazzille."
"Sommartider" by Gyllene Tider
Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden
"Before forming Roxette with Marie Fredriksson, Per Gessle was very successful with his band Gyllene Tider (Golden Times). 'Sommartider' (Summer Time) is one of the group's most famous songs and an anthem of summer for a large number of Swedes. I also have a very personal reason for liking the song. Of course, it reminds me of summer but also the area where I grew up - it reminds me of home. Like Per Gessle, I am from the city Halmstad in southern Sweden."