Handling Political Conversations

Handling Political Conversations

Dear Ben,

The second that people figure out where you are from, they will want to ask you about American politics (and more recently, only want to hear your opinion after making a joke about Trump or telling you how horrible he his). Most Europeans, in general, don’t understand the American electoral system at all, and having a conversation about politics here is hard. If you are lucky, you will get someone who either has some background knowledge or wants to talk to you in English about it. As a general rule, I try to avoid talking about politics and, until recently, didn’t really want to talk about it in Spanish because it is harder to defend your way of life in another language unless you manejarlo muy bien (are really good at expressing yourself).

But let’s back up. I left the States when I was 18, but I never had the opportunity to vote when living there. Since leaving, I have absentee voted, but not frequently because I feel like, if I don’t live there, 'who am I to decide the political structure?'. Therefore, I would consider myself to be “not very politically inclined.” However, if I feel like someone is attacking my cultural heritage I will either tell them to ‘shut-up’ because I don’t want to hear it, or I will try to have a conversation about it (which totally depends on how much time and energy I want to invest in the conversation).

The first thing that you should keep in mind when talking about politics is that what most people know about this comes from TV shows or social media sites (just like in the United States). This means that their information about the subject isn’t great. For example, with the presidential elections in 2016 I don’t know the number of times that I had to explain to people that, while Hillary won the popular vote, Trump won the presidency. They don’t know much about our representation system or swing states, so be prepared to explain that things in the US don’t work the same as things over here*.

The second thing to keep in mind is that (in Europe in general) the ‘right’ is way more left/socialist than the ‘right’ back home. This makes it really hard to have any sort of coherent conversation about political perspectives because the basic conceptions of being left and right are different. That means, if I was the most left-minded voter in my hometown, I probably would still be more conservative than the majority of people here. If you ask me personally, I don’t believe that one system is inherently better than the other, but if you try to talk about them (or compare them in a political analysis course, which I have also done), it is hard.

Our political system defines part of our culture and, in my opinion, part of how we see the world. When you try to take this perspective out of context or if you don’t understand it, it is really hard to comprehend why someone would act or vote in a way that you don’t agree with. During the Trump/Clinton elections (and afterwards) I have found myself defending both candidates, regardless of who I voted for because I know and respect people who voted both ways (or who didn’t want to vote at all).

I am still not very politically inclined, but now talking politics doesn’t always mean defending my personal ideology. Politics has come to mean sharing what I know about my system with other people. If they are respectful about it, we can have a conversation (and I have no problem being critical about things I don’t like), but if I feel attacked, I feel like the best option is to let it go. There will be people who just want to tell you that you are an idiot because you are an American, but those people probably aren’t worth talking to anyways.


* On that note, the political system here is weird for us too―we've got an article that covers the basics, but also encourage you to do some research so you will be more than ready to ask questions back to whoever is grilling you on the US system.