Small Talk Politics

When you’re traveling outside of your country and you tell somebody where you’re from, how do they usually respond? Do they ask you about the weather or about common meals back home? Maybe they ask you what kind of currency you use or about your favorite football team?

The first time I came to Norway in 2014, a lot of people were eager to tell me about their trips to California or New York and ask me about the Grand Canyon or if every party in America actually had those red plastic cups they see in all the movies (they do). Occasionally, people asked me if I owned any guns or what I thought of Texas. But this time around, I seem to hear the same question every time I meet somebody new. Are you voting for Trump or Clinton? I’ve been asked about my political stance on a plane by the passenger sitting next to me. I’ve been asked about Trump outside of Rokken by somebody I wasn’t talking to. I was even asked whether I was voting for Hillary or Donald by the elderly gentleman who was processing my «personnummer» application. At this point, I’m starting to think I should just start telling people that I’m Canadian. But, I think I get it. People all over the world learn about the USA. Many of the policies and practices that the country implements have far-reaching impacts. Many of the people who speak to me come from countries that are directly or indirectly affected by our foreign policies or trade agreements. It only makes sense that when they meet somebody from America, they’d like to exercise all the facts they’ve learned and viewpoints they hold. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Maybe they forget we’ve just met and it’d be a safer route to talk about our studies. Maybe they forget that discussing governmental policies isn’t great small-talk in the first place. Maybe they forget that I can Wikipedia controversial things about their country too! In my opinion, asking about somebody’s political beliefs is on par with debating religion. At its core, it’s a conversation about what ought to be in the world. I understand that people want to share their opinions, and that Americans are rela-tively rare in Volda. I guess it’s only natural to want to discuss politics with an American when you have one in front of you. I don’t fault people for the impulse. I know I’ve crossed my fair share of conversational taboos too. I think the biggest issue that I have with the whole thing is that it’s just so impersonal while simultaneously being so intrusive. My answer doesn’t tell you much at all about who I am as a person or whether or not we have much in common in our day-to-day lives. It’s a question that either has a right answer or a wrong answer for many people. And that is not the kind of conversation that I’d want to have with somebody I’ve just met at a party. I’d rather talk about your hobbies or play a game of beer pong with you (some stereotypes are true). So please, if you meet an American at a party between now and November, just ask them about the weather or something boring like that. And then ask if they’d like to play a game of beer pong.


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