Let me set the scene. It’s a warm September evening. You are sat by the Danube gazing over Budapest and enjoying a local beer. Next to you is a random new friend you’ve made from Couchsurfing or the free tour you went on or a dating app (we’ve all been there). You’re having a good time, getting to know someone – be they a local or a fellow tourist – and really taking in the city. And then, suddenly…
Oh, so you’re from the UK? What do you think about Brexit?
The mood changes. A chill fills the air, the party boat on the Danube starts playing Robbie Williams and your beer suddenly seems much more bitter. For what seems like the hundredth time on your trip you’ve just been asked that question.
I know this isn’t just something those of us currently avoiding daily aneurysms whenever that word comes up suffer from. I’m Scottish, so I’ve also fielded many questions about our independence movement and even more unsolicited opinions from people who have never even visited. I know Americans get a lot of Trump questions, the Irish still have to deal with constantly explaining their opinions on women’s reproductive rights and god forbid you’re from a country that doesn’t have the same kind of democracy as most European and North American countries have. With all of these the point still stands – it really isn’t any of your business.
There’s that old saying that there are two things you shouldn’t bring up at the dinner table – politics and religion. I happen to find both quite interesting and would happily engage in some ice cold discourse with friends and family over jacket potatoes, but the rule still applies to strangers. Religion? You might get away with it if you are respectful and just genuinely curious. Politics? Well, it’s a bit harder.
I totally understand your interest, I really do. The whole point of travelling is to gain other perspectives but please, please, be aware that some of these issues you are discussing are a little bit sensitive. If you are sat next to a young, queer Scotsman who likes to travel extensively, you probably already know his opinion on Brexit and it isn’t that hard to come to the conclusion he’s probably sick of talking about it. You probably agree with him anyway and just want someone from that country to confirm your beliefs so you can tell your friends about how right you are.
So how can you have a discussion about it without being annoying? Let it come up naturally. The thing with divisive political opinions is that they often will come up in conversation – especially if the person concerned is fairly certain you will either agree or simply not care. A good trick is to open up a little bit about a major political story that has impacted you. This is basic information sharing you are doing, not a journalistic expose. If you don’t want to share that kind of info? That’s fine, you are entitled not to – but don’t expect it from someone else. Also understand that even if you do deploy this tactic, it might still not work and you can’t expect the other person to suddenly owe you any information. That being said, it’s better to open up before expecting someone else to do so because it makes them feel more comfortable with you.
And humans are self-obsessed creatures, there’s a good chance they’ll interrupt you with their own political nightmare story before you manage to completely finish anyway.
But most of all, and I really must emphasise this point, understand that you probably aren’t an expert on the issue they are talking about. Oh, you spent a semester in London? Great, but the person you are speaking to suffered the UK for twenty years – understand that. You think Brexit won’t happen? A sensible conclusion but you don’t understand the contextual background of the Conservative Party and Middle England. You don’t think Scotland would be able to go it alone? People said the same about Ireland, and they didn’t have the vast incomes from oil and whisky that we have. Think of it as being like a similar concept to mansplaining, but with countries instead of genitals.
By all means, offer your own perspective on it. I personally love hearing what others think about the things that are going on in my country. Whenever anyone mentions something specific to Scottish politics I’m just really pleased they know about it. You just shouldn’t try to offer your opinion as if you are any kind of authority on the matter, and you should probably spend more time listening than giving an opinion. Asking for a political opinion because of genuine interest can be shaky ground as it is – asking for it just so you can get on your own soapbox is frankly deplorable. If possible, wait until your opinion has been solicited – most of the time it will be.
So you’re sat there, on a Tinder date (OK, it was Grindr (OK, calling it a date is overstating it a bit)) by the side of the river with some intrepid traveller who is honestly just there because he was bored and wanted either a free tour guide, a good bar recommendation or a sexy pillow fight (it’s usually all three). You’re just dying to know about his opinions on the big global news story from his homeland. What’s the next best step?
Go for the sexy pillow fight and if you’re good at it you can ask during the cigarette.
Click links, read stuff, open your mind to the endless possibilities. Or don’t. Whatever. Free will and all that. Cheers for making it this far at least.