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Americans abroad and conversation

We leave for England one month from today. We carefully selected our bed and breakfasts and have confirmed our reservations. I'm eager to see the sites in my mother's black and white photos. She was a WWII WAC stationed at Burtonwood Air Base. Day trips to abbeys and cathedrals are a priority because of our faith tradition. Our love of British literature, television and films have us drooling in anticipation. I want to pack now.

Jessica Love, a contributing editor to The American Scholar magazine writes "American culture values all things brash and independent, arrogant and insensitive." That sounds more like the headlines and talk points we're eager to take a break from. Will the folks at our B&B follow the British stereotype and remain reserved, or will we be asked to defend the current events we're losing sleep over? And while I'm as self absorbed as the next American, I appreciate that Great Britain is experiencing their own set of nightmares.

What conversations are you having and where? What should we anticipate? I know you can't predict who we'll sit by on the train or in a pub, but I'd like to hear your recent personal experiences.

Posted by
1959 posts

We do not bring up politics while we travel and seldom does anyone broach the subject with us. This was true in April of this year.

Posted by
626 posts

What nightmares are we experiencing? Lol. Things are pretty good atm thanks 🇬🇧

Posted by
8252 posts

I've found the talk with the hosts and other guests in the B&Bs I've stayed in generally revolves around what you plan to see that day, what you saw yesterday, what you might see tomorrow. After one terrific host in Salisbury found I was going to Stonehenge for the day, he did a complete description of weather patterns (the wind is from the east today so it'll be cold up on the Plain) and was insistent on clothing recommendations.

I would guess when the hosts in the area where your Mom was stationed find out they will be delighted you came on the hunt and will be eager to help if they can.

And...what a wonderful thing to do! A few years ago my brother and I traveled to the town and airbase where our Dad was stationed in 1945 in Belgium and it was amazing. I hope you have a wonderful time!

Posted by
4765 posts

No-one talks to strangers on trains or in pubs here!

Your B&B hosts will be chatty, probably. Unlikely, but there maybe some talk of politics and our incredulity concerning one of your presidential candidates. More likely, the chat will be about where you have been the day before and where you are going that day. You maybe asked where you are from. You

I am confused. What nightmares do we have?

Posted by
16068 posts

Polite people do not talk about politics or religion, but after a pint or two of bitters, the subject is bound to come up. Relax. Part of the fun of meeting people from far away is learning about their opinions.

Posted by
2122 posts

Ditto to what Valerie said. I think it's rude to question people you've just met about the politics of their country. And I have found the British to be unfailingly polite.

Posted by
489 posts

Can not say about current situations in GB, but in May while in Germany and very much away from the rest of my traveling group I was asked over a couple glasses of wine who'd I prefer to win the presidency. The Germans, or at least this one just could not understand how we could support certain person. But then didn't back away from acknowledging that they are a country with problems, too.
You'll probably only be asked in a one to one discussion and probably after some libations.

Posted by
3527 posts

Did Ricky say/mean "satiric" or "satyric"? I do hope it was the latter, but either will do.

On my trip to the UK in May-June, I did have some conversations about the USA election and the UK referendum. Some were shallow and some were more in depth. All were both enlightening and fun.

Agree or not, I never felt I had to defend what was going on here, and I hope the people I talked to felt the same way. I will say that typically Brits would ask me about our elections and I would ask them about their referendum. The tone of the conversations was more curiosity than challenge, so why would I feel defensive?

Full disclosure: My husband is a Republican, although sometimes I think he's a RINO (Republican In Name Only). I'm definitely a liberal Democrat. Our house is a politics-free zone.

So I loved talking politics with folks in the UK and getting their points of view, both on their own situation and on ours.

Posted by
16068 posts

My experience is identical to tgreen099. Shortly after a retired German sat down at our table on the K-D boat, and we established that his English was way better than my German, he began giving us the 3rd degree.
"Do you like Bush?" "Are you Catholic or Protestant?" "Is your home a red state or a blue state?" "Or are you Jewish?" "Is it a battleground state?" "Do you like Obama?" Hilarious. His only comment on his own opinions, "Bush is going to Hoelle, he is going to the bad place!"
Edit - @ LO, Spell check didn't say.

Posted by
1586 posts

Perhaps the timing of our visit, arriving in Ireland the day of the Brexit vote, had something to do with it, but we found everyone ( Irish, Scot and English) to be quite engaging. The difference I found was the rational way people discussed politics. People just seemed curious about one of our choices. Again, I think because it was unfolding in front of us, people were quite willing to discuss Brexit.

Something I am curious about, if you live in the U.K., do you still need to pay a fee (license?) for a television set? Personally, I think our 24-hour news leads to our feeling stressed because it's always in our face.

Posted by
3465 posts

In all of my trips to Europe, I have had many interesting and fun conversations with the locals that I mostly enjoyed. None ever seemed to be an interrogation about politics or religion.

In some countries, the person was just wanting to try their English (since my ability to actually speak other languages is about right up there with a newborn baby I have no doubt why they wanted to speak English with me!). The most energetic conversations were in the pubs in Ireland (usually about country music for some strange reason) and we all left as friends.

Posted by
31294 posts

"Will the folks at our B&B follow the British stereotype and remain reserved"

The two brothers that ran the hotel I stayed at in London last September were anything but reserved. Breakfasts were usually quite entertaining and lots of fun.

Posted by
25778 posts

but after a pint or two of bitters

You would not be happy after more than a few drops of bitters - used in Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktails, amongst others.

A pint or two of bitter (or mild or IPA or lager or whatever floats your boat) might loosen you up a bit for conversation.

Note the presence or absence of the "s".

Posted by
77 posts

We were just in London a couple of weeks ago. We had quite a few people ask us who we hoped would win our presidential election. Other people asked if which party we belonged to. I found it kind of humorous, especially when they would wish us good luck. I can tell you who they are hoping WON'T win.

Posted by
2515 posts

Emma I was in Prague last week and was trying to watch the BBc olympic coverage by iPlayer.whenever I logged on a box came up asking me to confirm I was a License holder which I did but even then I was not allowed access, I suppose some sort of registration will be required but that is not active yet.

Posted by
16068 posts

Yes, those bitters would be bitter. Next opportunity for a pint of Tetley's Bitter, I might get a shot glass of Angostura with a tea bag mashed in it.

Posted by
2353 posts

The test of a really good Innkeeper is to keep the breakfast conversation lively but non-confrontational. I was asked all manner of things (seriously one afternoon a young woman who was there with her husband and the best 9 month old ever came into the kitchen area and sat on the couch and asked - "Do you & your husband fight?") by folks from all walks of life. I actually had a Palestine & a Jewish couple at my table the same morning! Most folks have manners and use them - I found most were really just curious (not judgy) to get an American's point of view - much the same as many of us are when we talk of mingling with the locals.

So you may be asked - just not asked to defend.

Posted by
3895 posts

It's funny - we've had some American couchsurfers stay with us the last few months and they all brought up presidential politics (we decided to not broach the subject unless they wanted to talk about it). They kinda started with...'so, you must think we are crazy down there...'

But I wouldn't talk about anything political unless the other person brings it up (and maybe you can gauge their opinion before getting into something with a stranger that could turn heated). When we went to Toronto, we ended up on a bus sitting beside two people who were getting into a rather heated discussion about the Syrian refugees brought into Canada - I'm just like - thank goodness we are getting off at the next stop!

Posted by
9820 posts

I spent quite a bit of time in the UK between April and June--I left the day before the Brexit vote.

First, I have never been forced or asked to DEFEND what it going on in my country. I was asked quite a bit about he who shall not be named but mostly after conversation about other subjects. If they asked me about someone running for election in this country, I would ask them about Brexit. It never got heated or nasty. Very friendly conversations.

If you don't want to talk about politics, don't. If someone brings it up politely say you don't want to talk about it.

Second, I would suggest you get rid of all stereotypes and negative anticipations. People are individuals, not stereotypes. You live in North Carolina. I lived there. My brother, who is in NY, thought North Carolina was like Mayberry. (He never visited.) His only reference was TV.

Lastly, the quote you took from Jessica Love was completely out of context. It was a quote used for a psychological experiment on stereotypes done in Hong Kong.

For anyone who wants to read the article, here is a link:

American Culture Makes Us Egocentric--Maybe

What I'm mostly trying to get at is that there is really nothing to worry about. Go, have a great time, and you'll be surprised just how friendly a place the UK can be.

Posted by
12360 posts

Almost all conversations aboard on recent trips with strangers (locals) I have had does not go beyond pleasantries, no matter how perfunctory. Do they involve taking about politics? Rarely, but it does happen, sometime more on one trip than on another..

There was one food vendor outside (a few years back) of Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin who asked me where I was from, so I told him, California. He then started this historical barrage...America started this,,America stated that.. I thought, what is this? But what he said I noticed in this barrage was historically and factually accurate, so I figured as long as he was historically accurate, I'll listen, I was eating there anyway but if he goes off by editorializing, spewing out opinion, which I wasn't interested in hearing, without evidence, I'll hit him (verbally) and take him on. He didn't. After finishing the food, I politely left, no discussion, never went back, even though I passed his food station a few more times before the end of that stay in Berlin.

On this last trip in June, there were a few Germans in German who commented on the election campaign news here or the refugee issue, which I asked more about. "They" say, don't talk about politics in Europe, yes, generally no, but that depends too.

Posted by
4637 posts

It seems to me that Europeans at least Central Europeans and southern E. and French love talking politics. It's not taboo like here. Nobody has to take it personally. Many of those who like to criticize USA have very shallow knowledge of it and some never been here. It happened to me at some party in Czech Rep. Because Czechs (among others) like talking politics it inevitably came to the US. Especially one guy was very critical and talked all negatives some of them not even correct. (He did not know I was American, I speak fluent Czech). When I told him that I had lived there for thirty years he changed, had a lot of questions and was willing to listen. When traveling abroad we are all ambassadors of our country. Most people we will meet never have been to US. It's good to know something about Europe and especially country (ies) we are going to so we won't feed their stereotypes.

Posted by
2637 posts

Glad that you are making your first trip to England! I hope you have a wonderful time!
I doubt you will be asked about U.S. politics while you are in England. None of the very nice people we met when we were there this May asked about this. If you are wanting to take a break from all the political rhetoric on U.S. television right now, don't talk about it while you are in England if you don't want to. Start conversations instead about what local pubs, restaurants, or historic sites your B&B owners recommend, for example.

You asked about talking with people on a train or in a pub.
We were recently in England for three weeks (May 2016) and no one engaged us in conversation in a pub or on a train. We would have engaged them in a conversation, but the opportunity did not come up.

"What conversations are you having and where? What should we anticipate?"
During our May trip, we found that those people who were most open to having a conversation were:
1. B&B owners or managers.
2. Cab drivers in London.
No one asked us about U.S. politics while we were there. The most chatty person in London was a cab driver. This was because we had booked him for a long cab ride, and he seemed to want to pass the time in conversation. He opened the conversation by asking where we were from in the U.S. When we said "Nashville", he started talking about country music, and Elvis! Then we asked him how many years he had been a cabbie. He said "40 years", which led to a lot of interesting stories about the passengers he's carried! Hugh Grant, Judy Dench, and Patricia Routledge, to name a few. The latter two delivered to the theatre where they were to perform that night.
3. Guides, docents, or staff in tourist sights. For example, the Beefeaters at the Tower of London will be glad to have a conversation with you. Thankfully, it will be about English history--a subject far more interesting than current American politics.

I agree with Rick Steves' philosophy that it is interesting to talk with people in other countries and to learn about their cultures, politics, and opinions. But if that discussion may cause hard feelings, or is uncomfortable for you, don't talk about politics. You will find that people in England love to talk about their town, their favorite pub, nearby historic sites, or other places in England you should stop and see on your trip. These are good talking points, not controversial.

Have a great trip!!

Posted by
260 posts

We have always found the British to be polite, whether in busy London or much less busy countryside. You should anticipate a warm welcome, which would be undone only if you are playing the part of the worst American stereotypes they may have in mind.

Posted by
12360 posts

Whether the European person talking on the subject of US history or politics is saying all positives or all negatives is ok by me, as long is the person is historically and factual correct. It is, after all, freedom of speech, and the person with an an axe to grind focuses on all negatives, basically an indictment of the US, he has that choice. I draw the line when this "stuff" being spewed out are falsehoods, inaccuracies or outright lies.

Posted by
31 posts

Wonderful, you are rightly named. Thanks for those links. I'll study. Nigel, you and Emma helped me in the past with my beer sampling discernment mission. We'll order a pint with confidence, just one. Pam and Jennifer, thank you for listening. The cab driver story was entertaining.

We recently watched John Oliver and Jerry Seinfeld in their Comedians and Cars Getting Coffee routine. Oliver jokes about the English and their reservedness. I'm not sure if it is accurate, but it is funny. This is a story from a fellow Texas. She is gentle and soft spoken. She and her husband went down to breakfast, introduced themselves and said where they were from. The other guests did not respond. Texans, at least my friend and I, may need to turn down our bubbling personalities, especially in the morning.

As to what I perceive as your share of nightmares in the U.K. I was referring to terrorism. It became more real to me when a friend's daughter was touring Europe at the time of an attack in Paris. This article from Rick Steves is also thought provoking.

http://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/brexit-and-the-traveler-europe-just-got-even-more-interesting/

And Pam, Jennifer, Emma, one of you pointed out folks who operate B&Bs share their homes. You are absolutely right. Their travel site reviews were gushing. E-mail correspondence has been prompt and professional. One owner in Shere has been especially pastoral. Thanks to all who took the time to respond.

Posted by
1248 posts

Well I am late to this conversation as always...

Looking at the title a different way, I can contribute to being a Canadian having a conversation with an American abroad. We were in Madrid in May and found ourselves next a nice American couple at the San Gines chocolate place (exact name escapes me just now).

They really wanted to talk politics. My personal rule is to not engage Americans in such conversation, as I would be considered extremely left of centre, even in Canada. At any rate, they continued to ask questions (I do believe they were left of centre, and were trying to prove it to me). I just kept replying with a vague "hmmm". Eventually they stopped talking. I think they thought I was a simpleton!

I still chuckle a bit about how they were gushing about how cute Justin Trudeau was (they were 55 or 60, if they were a day). And all they got in reply was "hmmmm". (he is a bit good looking but I am "orange" so am still cautiously optimistic at this point!)

Posted by
1829 posts

One thing I would mention is don't mistake friendliness with wanting to be proper friends. That is not to say that people are being insincere but it's more a case of ships passing in the night. That way your feelings won't get hurt.

Posted by
683 posts

Hi,
I'm trying my best not to have a heavy hand, and most of you are being really good, but please please refrain from directly mentioning current presidential politics. Please don't even mention who is involved. This is a travel forum and people can't resist once the subject is broached. It will get this topic removed. I have already made some edits to try and keep things within our guidelines.

A few of you also need to watch the tone of your comments, please. If it isn't positive in nature, don't post it.

Thanks,
RS Webmaster

Posted by
2353 posts

It really is OK to tell someone that you are on vacation and really prefer to not talk politics. They'll get it.

Posted by
7124 posts

Regardless of manners and diplomacy, I tend to observe that when there is an elephant in the room most people find it pretty hard to ignore.

Posted by
31 posts

Nature is the answer

We've been scolded by the Webmaster and rightly so. Rick say's "Keep travelin' I feel so fortunate to be on this journey. I recently discovered I have directional dyslexia which basically means I can't find my way out of a paper bag. Don't pity me. I'm 57 and retired. Yesterday I had to put my brakes on in our long driveway because the deer were crossing, three of them. So beautiful. I have no sense of direction, but my kind husband let me plan this entire trip, every last detail. He retired first. Italy was his dream destination. England is mine, and it will be magical.

David from Brisbane, amen to the elephant in the room and unfortunately for my travelmate, I'm in my climacteric phase, coupled with being a gregarious Texan with a propensity to overshare. We live in a county with a population of 14,000 people. Our demographics county reveal a massive problem of homogenity. And despite my coy post I'm ready to talk about the elephant, but I hope to LISTEN, learn and grow in wisdom.

Linda from Kent, how did you know to say something about hurt feelings? You are very intuitive. I want to be more like you. Fred, from San Francisco, a city we love, how do we know we're right and others are wrong? Are we passionate or arrogantly certain? I hear scolding sermons about that on Sunday mornings. Not to spark a social justice discussion, but look who wrote Amazing Grace. [John Newton changed a bit][3]

Rebecca, from Nashville, we come to Smyrna, TN on a regular basis. My husband trains Labrador Retrievers. I hope you work in customer service. You were the type of student who made the teachers happy. You read the question and covered every point. That is listening, something I pray to do in England. I think I'll be looking toward heaven and saying thank you a lot, and it is less than one month away!

Posted by
31 posts

Emma, you way cool woman, who gave me pub advice. I love your insight. This is why I have to put on my boots and get out more. There are folks like you waiting on this journey, but in order to acknowledge them I'll have to stop and pay attention. Think of Anthony Hopkins or someone like him and his C.S. Lewis-type wisdom. Those folks are waiting, but I have to shut up and pay attention, otherwise I'll miss him. Many Americans are the unruly children of England. Our parents are older and more experienced. I like your vision and am sorry others have been trying to blow you away for years. That is why history is so important You look at days of old and find out, "Oh wow! Humankind has been behaving badly since creation."

Posted by
2353 posts

That is why history is so important You look at days of old and find out, "Oh wow! Humankind has been behaving badly since creation."

Amen Mary!

They just get more press these days!

Posted by
16068 posts

@ Mary - I don't think it was you who was scolded, but those of us who mentioned [he who shall not be named].

Posted by
5980 posts

The best way to have a conversation with people while traveling, is to listen.

Posted by
12360 posts

When asked by Immigration or ordinary locals, which happens often enough, why I am in Europe after I tell them I'm from Calif, I do tell them I am on vacation, be it two weeks or two months., likewise with Americans I've encountered. With locals this exchange usually takes place on trains, or at an Imbiss stand, or at breakfast in the hotel/Pension.

Posted by
31 posts

Sam, thank you for the literary reference. I will not be visiting the author's sites, but we are fans, for the first four volumes, at least. Fred, from San Francisco, I'll try to keep this about travel and broadening our horizons. After retiring from 33 years of nursing I started looking for causes. We go to a church with this motto, "Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the World." We also say EVERYONE is welcome at the table, and I mean the Eucharistic table. Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry was just at Canterbury, a place we plan to visit. My husband says he is like the CEO of our corporation. He is my pope.

I don't want to get political, or raise conflict or negativity, but our neck of the woods has some really tragic history. Think Harper Lee. The cause I adopted, my social justice ministry, means I go to meetings, join groups, read books, find mentors and watch recommended movies. Recently three men of faith with varying degrees of pigmentation spoke at a public forum. One of them said the two words he dreads hearing most are "Next please." He is an immigrant with a British passport. He was a gifted speaker. He said, a co-worker, who appreciates his accent, said, "I could listen to you read the phone book." Maybe that will help my listening abilities.

Posted by
8 posts

Leaving for the UK on Sunday, great posts, thanks for your insight Emma. Plan to stay in small town hostels and looking forward to seeing the English and Scottish countryside. Just need to remember to stay on the left side of the road!

Posted by
110 posts

Reserved schmeserved.

My wife and I spent more time discussing politics during our two weeks in England in May than we have in the months since. Each time, it was brought up by the locals we were chatting with. Each time, it was a variation on "what the bloody hell is going on with that bloke Trump?" So be prepared.

My favorite was the very wonderful Glaswegian woman who suggested we should re-elect that nice man, President Bartlett. I told her that the Constitution limited him to two terms.

Posted by
16068 posts

Bartlett! Wasn't he "Big X" in The Great Escape? Played by Richard Attenborough.

Posted by
12360 posts

Talking about politics or history at breakfast in the hotel/Pension is fine by me. They both however fall into the situation of "it just depends," ie, my mood, the specific topic, the person(s) bringing up the topic. the environment. Generally, what I've observed at B&Bs in London, is if any talking is done among strangers, it's on traveling, the sights on one's itinerary, etc.

One time at the Pension in Berlin a few years ago, (2012?), there was a very old German couple, both white haired, late-70s (wife) to early 80s, the husband. The wife was a very talkative, sharp, personable, talked to the proprietor of the Pension mainly on life in the post -war years, history, (esoteric history), Berlin, etc...all in German. . They were there for a week or so, so was I. The result was every morning we saw each other at breakfast. You couldn't help hearing the conversations. The last couple of days she just went on and on talking about history, specifically on the Army resistance to Hitler. That's when I got into the conversation, no problem, it wasn't seen as intruding at all, mentioned and pointed out to her the sites related to that topic which she and her husband could track down since they were focused on doing just that going all over Germany.