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talking about American politics in England-is it OK?

We will be in London for the better part of the month of August and then a couple of weeks at Oxford and if we meet up with people who would like to talk with us in a pub or on the tube or just sitting in the park, do you think it would be OK to talk about our American politics? They might be curious how just the average American feels and if he/she is going to vote and why they think their preferred candidate is the better one to vote for. Dare we wear a button which says who we like best...or would that be sort of gross. We are seniors for Obama but not from way out in left field.

Posted by
5574 posts

I'm not sure I'd wear a button, but I have talked politics. One tip might be to read up a bit on the local scene so that you have a reference point. Check out The Guardian online or other UK newspapers. I subscribe to The Scotsman and it lets me know what the local issues are. I can also see what they say about us. In Scotland, for example, Donald Trump has been trying to build the next great golf course. It's caused a stir! ; ) My experience has been that for the most part Europeans do separate government from individuals.

Pam

Posted by
8293 posts

Mollie, it would be fine to discuss U.S. politics, as long as you are prepared with enough information to discuss UK politics should that subject come up, as it well might.

Posted by
949 posts

Hi Mollie,

I admire the way that Europeans are able to discuss politics and even disagree about politics without making it a personal argument. I think that's why it's so much easier to discuss politics with them. We had several political conversations with people from Spain, Italy, UK, and the Caymens while we were in Europe. One thing to remember though is that they only get their US news from one source, so they usually don't have all of the information that you do (I guess the same way that we don't watch their news and have all of their current events at the forefront of our minds). It was kind of fun to provide a new perspective and in turn recieve a completely different perspective from them.

I agree, read up on their politics too so that you are able to return the conversation.

As far as the button, I would call that an "Ugly American" moment. I would pass.

Have fun!

Posted by
12040 posts

It isn't just a stereotype, I have found that the British, no matter what class, are generally the most well informed nation on earth. Probably because the BBC still takes its duty as an educator of the public seriously... unlike CNN, Fox, etc, which seem increasingly to be indistinguishable from their parent entertainment companies...

Posted by
448 posts

Mollie - I have found that Europeans find our politics fascinating and have had many lively discussions that started with US politics (they usually initiate the political discussion) that turned into very lively discussions about everything from US policies, to European elections, how the EU is changing Europe, pop culture, etc...

Now I'm generalizing here based on my experiences all over Europe (including the UK) - but I'm not sure if many Europeans would engage in an in depth discussion of your personal politics because any discussion I have had with many Europeans doesn't stay on politics for long!

I agree with April on the button... Skip it.

Posted by
158 posts

May I suggest checking in on the BBC and Skye (sp?) on the internet to get a flavor of the latest news....I think others appreciate it when we Americans take the time to know what is happening in the rest of the world......so often, I have felt inadequate because our friends from the UK know alot about us and we seem to center on ourselves...

I would say the buttons would be a bit much but then again...there is freedom of speech where you are going!

Great topic!!

Posted by
1556 posts

I talked politics in Ireland (yes, I know, NOT England, but they are neighbors!). I was embarassed to learn that the average Irishman knew much, much more about American politics than I do, and I consider myself well informed. I didn't know anything about Irish politics by comparison, and I tried to read up before I left. So I agree with the earlier posters to do some research on their current issues, etc., so you can have a well informed, two-way discussion. By the way, their perspective is really interesting. I learned things about our candidates that I wouldn't have ever thought of - like who has the most Irish in them (Obama, really).

Posted by
710 posts

Talking politics and history in England is one of my husband's favorite things to do. It is amazing how much they all know about our country and politics. My husband is a history buff and his favorite magazine is the Economist. From our experience they all love to get into discussions. Go and have fun.

Posted by
1170 posts

They are way more open and interesting across the pond than we are when it comes to politics. I tend to be more "European" in thinking, so discussing, debating and arguing politics has been a past time of mine since I was a child. Thanks to my dear old Dad.

Why not wear the button? I don't see anything ugly about it. I wore a T-shirt in 2006 that had Dumb and Dumber on it. Guess which President and Vice P were depicted? I got lots of compliments and applause from the Brits.

Posted by
506 posts

Definitely feel free to talk politics. Just don't be obnoxious or defensive about it. Be willing to share and to listen. Like others, I've learned that Europeans are very curious about US politics. And they're also very knowledgeable (more so than most of us US folks).

Be prepared to be challenged by their questions. But don't shy from the conversation - there's nothing personal in their questions. The best thing about travel is the sharing of knowledge, opinions, and perspectives.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
1254 posts

Mollie

You might be interested to know that a poll published yesterday found that roughly 50% of Britons supported Obama, 10% McCain and 40% didn't know / care. Unlike the US support for Obama spread equally across all age groups.

Personally I'd find wearing a button slightly odd - we don't use them at election time - but talking about stuff is fine.

Cheers
Alan

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks all for this input! I have been a lover of politics for many years and I find that almost everyone in the last few years is so defensive about his/her own thinking that it is impossible to share ideas.... unless you share absolutely exactly the same thoughts. No fun. This year may be a whole new ballgame, historic to the max. I decided to take my badges with me and give them away rather than wear them...I agree they are pretty ostentatious! Again, thanks ALL
Mollie

Posted by
264 posts

From my time in the UK it is certainly okay to talk politics with people provided it is held at a general level. If you want to talk about Obama, McCain and the economy I think you are great.

I would be cautious of either taking a very strong position or talking about emotionally charged topic such as the death penalty, abortion or even immigration. Use common sense for the audience/company you are in. I think the same would hold true in the states.

Posted by
11798 posts

I think talking politics intelligently is fine. I really enjoy talking politics in Europe. As was stated already, it doesn't devolve into an argument.

Most people would be interested in hearing who you support and why. Even more interested if you have well thought out reasons behind your support.

Most Europeans only know what they see in their media, which is often only an echo of our own media. Since our media can't report American politics intelligently, it puts many (here and there) at a distinct disadvantage.

I recall after the Bush/Gore election how misinformed many intelligent Europeans were. Few could answer the following questions accurately.

Of the two:
Which one is a junior?
Which one dropped out of one college program and flunked out of another?
Which one was a fighter pilot?
Which one has undergraduate and graduate degrees from two of the top universities in America?
Which one has an IQ of 125?

Do you know the answers?

Also check out dontvote.org. Take the test to determine your knowledge of world leaders.

Another good one was MSNBC.com had a "Could you pass the latest citizenship test?" but I don't have the link.

Posted by
448 posts

Of course you can talk politics...use the advice of previous posters...and please be aware that Europeans in general are more knowlegeable about what's going on in the USA than vice versa...But wearing an Obama button??? (or a McCain button)???...I don't know, but that for sure takes you off the list of the travellers who want to dress like the locals....and PS...my absentee ballot goes to Seattle...

Posted by
11798 posts

Regina,

Be sure to get your ballot in early! You recall the mess from the 2004 election with King County and absentee ballots. King County was the last county in the U.S. to mail out absentees (They were threatened with a lawsuit from the Justice Dept if they didn't get them out that day). Many arrived too late to vote while others were voted legally but not counted because they didn't get back in time.

I hope yours gets counted.

Posted by
3580 posts

It's a great way to find an interesting conversation wherever you travel. Europeans know how our system differs from theirs (death penalty, gun laws, etc.) and like to hear it from us. I had a lengthy discussion with an Irishman in England last year about guns in America, mostly about hunting. We talked about the new situation in Ireland (peace) and I told him I had traveled to N. Ireland twenty years ago. He seemed surprised that I would have gone there alone. Another topic is about how citizenship is decided differently in the USA compared with other countries. Generally, citizenship is not conferred simply by being born in a country as it is here. There are many similarities concerning illegal immigration problems. I do not take the position that our system is "best"; I make a point of admiring something I like about their system that I think is possibly better than our system. Even though many Europeans are informed on American politics, sometimes their view is distorted because of the news that they are getting. When Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp) was running for governor of California, some people were convinced he was running for president because of the amount of press he was getting. They did know that he was born in Europe; I had to mention that it was Austria, not Germany. I am careful about discussing politics with other Americans while traveling; it can get nasty.

Posted by
805 posts

Yes it is perfectly okay. Especially if you are an Obama supporter. I have a friend who has an Obama button on her backpack and everywhere in Europe she went she got smiles and encouragement from the locals.

Posted by
12040 posts

Great points, all around. Let me share a few observations from experience in the UK:
1) If you want to talk politics, you may want to arm yourself with more than just a superficial knowledge of contemporary British politics. Otherwise, your conversations may not go very far (and at worst, it may seem like preaching). Anyone who wants to talks politics with you in Britain (and many will) will probably have opinions on their own system they would like to share.

2) Don't assume that "Conservative = Republican" and "Labour = Democrat", especially since the start of the Tony Blair-Gordon Brown era.

3) Don't make this mistake (which resulted in the ridicule of a young American female I once traveled with)- "For whom will you vote for Prime Minister"?

4) Finally, remember that although all English are British, not all British are English.

Posted by
11798 posts

Yes, don't assume Democrat or Republican are universal terms. In many countries Democrat is associated with conservative parties. Many other countries don't use Democrat or Republican at all.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong but some things that are very different:

1) No two party system, there are multiple parties and governments are formed by coalitions of parties. While we have multiple parties, very few other than D or R get elected.

2) As far as I can tell, the British don't run for election in their home-towns but are allowed to stand for election in a certain district by their party. The party that gets the most votes in the district gets their guy as the Member of Parliament (MP).

3) The Prime Minister is like our Speaker of the House. Essentially the party-chosen leader of the majority rather than a seperately elected position.

4) While our Senate is often referred to as, "The House of Lords", the purpose of our Senate structure is to balance the interests of lightly populated states with the heavily populated ones. The House of Lords in Britain is REALLY about balancing the interests of the Lords with the commoners.

5) The British love to love their Queen while we love to hate our president.

6) In the U.S., leaders publicly speak very respectfully to each other while privately stabbing each other in the back. In England (at least the house of commons) the public speech is much more entertaining (not sure how they do in private).

Posted by
495 posts

"The House of Lords in Britain is REALLY about balancing the interests of the Lords with the commoners."

It really isn't you know. Although the OP might have some fun conversations if she goes around telling people that!

As far as the Labour/Conservative thing goes, Labour is still (on most issues) more leftward leaning than the conservatives the Labour Party in the late '90s made a swing to the centre where they have mostly stayed whilst in government.

One thing that may confuse US visitors is that the political centre is much more leftward or "liberal" (in the American meaning of the word) than in the US. A lot of the policy fundamentals of the Conservative Party (our right wing party) would be considered very left-wing by a lot of Americans. A lot of British people are puzzled how Americans end up voting for Republican Governments as, even when they move to the centre at election time, a lot of their policies and rhetoric seem extremely right wing to us.

Posted by
658 posts

And not all of us are fans of the institution of a monarchy, or in favour of an unelected family living in opulence and isolated ignorance of the day to day reality of the lives that are lived by the poor and disadvantaged.

That having been said - please come and talk with us about politics or any other subject under the sun from Football to Public Transport.

If done with the right spirit over a pint or two in a friendly pub, it's a great way to spend an evening.

Posted by
8293 posts

Well, Mollie, you have certainly had a lot of answers to your query, most of them encouraging you to be tactful but to carry on with your plan to talk politics ... American politics, that is. I was just wondering how interested you would be to discuss UK politics with a British tourist to the U.S. or for that matter Canadian politics with a Canadian tourist. (God knows, Canadian politics would bore you to tears.) I guess what I'm saying is, don't expect too great a level of enthusiasm or interest and have a few other topics of conversation tucked away in your bag near the Obama buttons. I rather like Obama but I would find it passing strange if you pressed an Obama button into my hand. What the heck would I do with it?

Posted by
4555 posts

Al...some of us aren't even fans of an ELECTED family living in opulence and isolated ignorance of the day to day reality of the lives that are lived by the poor and disadvantaged :)

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks again from those of you who like to talk to people in other lands...especially those of you who know and love England (Al from Nottingham) this may be my last trip...hope not...but one never knows. I think it is the 20th....

At almost 80 I'll be strapping on my Crocs...I have 4 pairs now....and walking the streets so to speak and who knows I might bump into one of you somewhere. The secret password is Barack Obama. All Best to you all and Many Many Thanks!!

Mollie

Posted by
11 posts

Be careful who you listen to. ALL news organizations like the BBC, FOX (SKYE), etc. have their "angle". It is virtually impossible to get unbiased news nowdays.

Posted by
8959 posts

When was it ever possible to get "unbiased" news? As long as news is written by human beings with different experiences, backgrounds, culture, and ideologies, journalism will always mirror it.

Posted by
12040 posts

"When was it ever possible to get "unbiased" news?" Probably no news is completely free of bias... but I give the BBC high marks, because while the likes of Fox and CNN seem to spend ever-increasing airtime on talking heads, entertainment, celebrity, and other domestic "fluff" news, the BBC makes an honest effort to cover the globe consistently. Bias doesn't bother me, because it's rather obvious and transparent. What bothers me more is the limited scope of many of the major US news organizations. OK, I'm stepping down from my soapbox now...

Posted by
158 posts

I can see that at least several people responding to your e-mail have raised the level of awareness about the need for a broader range of news and information in the US.............

My travels have certainly added to my growth and understanding........

The US is not the center of the universe but rather a part of it.

Thanks for the discussion on this!

Posted by
3580 posts

It was a real shock to me when I realized that Europeans aren't completely focused on the USA and what we are doing/thinking/saying. I think many or most Europeans get their ideas about us from our movies. If you read the International Herald Tribune, the articles aren't all about us.

Posted by
102 posts

Swan, that last one was a joke, wasn't it? You couldn't be serious.

Posted by
448 posts

When i watch english tv it is the international editons of SKy, BBC, Cnn and AlJazeera...all seem quite open (not one-sided) to me...I don't live in the US currently (or recently)...but i think that SKY news of UK has nothing to do with FOX....ANYHOW, Mollie, recently a friend of a friend from Seattle was in Paris handing out "Si, on peut" Obama buttons...maybe you know her...

Posted by
11798 posts

I was reading recently about complaints from the Scottish Labour Party that BBC Scotland was being very biased in their coverage.

The rebuttal was that the labour party isn't in charge any more and they don't know how to deal with it; the BBC is reporting things the way they are even though the Labour Party doesn't like it.

It's hard to pick up on media bias when you don't know the ins and outs of an issue. As an American, there are few British issues I could claim to really understand. Sometimes they're funny. I love irony, like when Blair was running an anti-hooligan campaign and his son got picked up.

Has the Queen knighted Johnny Rotten yet?

Posted by
495 posts

Traditionally the BBC has been accused of bias by both sides - this is generally seen as a sign that they are doing something right. Recently the BBC commissioned a study into it's own bias that concluded it had a slight lean to the left, I'm not sure that it came as a surprise to anyone even though the right-wing press were quite gleeful in their reporting of it.

Sky and FOX are both owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation* and like all his media outlets tend to favour an economically right wing view. They do tone their views for the sensibilities of their target audience, FOX News being much to the right of Sky News, especially on social issues (God, guns and gays etc.)

*(News Corp. wholly owns FOX and is the largest shareholder in Sky with Murdoch's son being Chairman of the Board)

Posted by
632 posts

I for one, think that Mollie will make a great representative our fair land. I don't think for one minute that anyone would find her button offensive...and it may elicit discussions that ultimately would allow her to connect with the people of England in a way many of us have not. As far as the media coverage in England, one of my fondest memories, (in a bitter sweet sense) was November, 4, 2004. I just arrived in London the day before (after an overnight flight from SF California). Thursday morning the Mirror headlined with this: "DOH! 4 more years of Dubya", with a subtitle below as follows: "How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb" followed by "U.S. Election Disaster" in smaller print. All of this was imposed on a large picture of GWB looking even more chimp like than is usual....I felt like I was truly among friends.

Posted by
991 posts

I don't think anyone would find Mollie's button offensive either but the minute she speaks everyone will know she is American anyroad. I'm thinking she wouldn't want to wear it very often. I'm sorry, but I don't go to England to find out what the English think of American politics. A little can go a long way and mostly they are really only interested in our foreign policy. I mean no offense.

Posted by
344 posts

Like most, I think that people will find it interesting to talk politics. What I found very refreshing when talking about politics in England was that most of the people that I talked with were interested in politics - not name-calling and senseless babble. For example, the everyday person seemed (unlike some newspapers and posters here) to recognize that if someone disagrees, it doesn't make them dumb or misinformed or ignorant - instead it is just a difference of opinion. I think the worst thing about American politics at present is the idea that if someone is on the other side, they aren't just wrong, they are stupid. That is a real uneducated way to discuss politics.

BTW, many British people also want to see America's role in the world diminished (and I don't just mean military involvement) - in other words, even though I don't think Bush is our best example of a President, I don't think that looking for acceptance from someone who does not have our best interest at heart is the best way to go.

Posted by
588 posts

Read The Economist, a weekly news magazine published in GB. You will be fine talking American politics.

Posted by
11 posts

Like Julie, SF Bay Area, CA USA, you may find that the Brits might ask you first about the political situation in America. In large part, England and Europe don't really understand the American political system and are curious about why and how we do what we do. I would, however, leave the political buttons at home.

Posted by
51 posts

To be honest it really depends on who you talk too. London is going to be a lot more impersonal than Oxford (and I speak from experience here) as it has something like 10m people as opposed to Oxford's c120,000.

Oxford - wait to see how the conversation goes. Bear in mind that there is a high proportion of American and other foreign students amongst the Graduate population (most undergrads won't be around in August), and those locals who you might talk too will have had plenty of exposure to Americans etc (today I was on Cornmarket Street in Oxford and it felt like I was the only British person there).

You just have to sense who to talk too, and who not to talk too. It'll be the same as in the US. Some people will obviously not be ripe for a political discussion, but a lot of people will. This doesn't mean it will happen, but most people are willing to listen and debate, even if they sometimes know very little about the subject. Why not ask them about what they think regarding British politics? Do some research on the net first (the Government just had a shock defeat in a by-election in the Glasgow East constituency). One way of doing this (since British people can be very indirect and consider it rude or intrusive to directly ask sometimes) might be to buy a newspaper and then ask a friendly local to explain a local political story, or for their take on it. There are a number of newspapers, but given you say you are for Obama, I would suggest The Independent, The Observer, or possibly the Guardian.

Also, it depends on where you go. Some of the pubs in the centre of town (the Turf for instance) are VERY popular with tourists and students and you probably won't be able to have a decent conversation. If you like, I can send you a list of decent, nice, more local pubs that are in easy walking distance of the centre of town where you are more likely to meet people to talk in.

Alex