Should you talk pol­i­tics on va­ca­tion — or stick with the weather?

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY AN­DREA SACHS an­drea.sachs@wash­

When Pauline From­mer re­cently con­tacted a New Zealand lodge to book a room, the innkeeper didn’t ask about her ar­rival dates or num­ber of guests. In­stead, she asked the New Yorker if she had at­tended the Women’s March in Jan­uary.

“She had very strong opin­ions,” From­mer re­calls.

Th­ese days, Amer­i­cans trav­el­ing abroad are dis­cov­er­ing that the tu­mul­tuous po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in the U.S. is Topic A. With cit­i­zens of va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tions cu­ri­ous about the state of our af­fairs, ca­sual dis­cus­sions run the risk of mor­ph­ing into Sun­day morn­ing news pro­grams.

“This is not new,” said Bar­bara Bo­dine, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for the Study of Diplo­macy at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity’s Ed­mund A. Walsh School of For­eign Ser­vice. “Our ac­tions have caused di­rect anti-Amer­i­can­ism or awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions abroad be­fore.”

Bill Bull, vice pres­i­dent of risk man­age­ment at the Coun­cil on In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tional Ex­change, re­cently reached out to staff mem­bers at 64 study cen­ters in 44 coun­tries. The cho­rus re­sponded: All good here. How­ever, this se­mes­ter, the first of Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­minded its col­lege stu­dents and fac­ulty to re­view its in­ter­cul­tural train­ing guide­lines. One of the most im­por­tant: Mouth, yield to ears.

“If you are go­ing to pros­e­ly­tize, then you are in the wrong place,” he said. “When you are in a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, you need to lis­ten more than talk.”

Bo­dine sug­gests bolt-lock­ing your lips.

“Leave the pol­i­tics at home. Do not en­gage,” she said. “The rest of the world does not want to see a pro-Trump and an anti-Trump per­son duke it out in the mid­dle of a Paris cafe.”

Bo­dine also cau­tions Amer­i­cans against wear­ing T-shirts and base­ball caps fes­tooned with po­lit­i­cal slo­gans or U.S. flags. Save the pa­tri­otic at­tire for a rally.

“It’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate and un­nec­es­sary,” she said. “Why draw that kind of at­ten­tion to your­self?”

Yet many trav­el­ers see them­selves as part of a rov­ing band of mini-am­bas­sadors. They be­lieve that they have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in an open di­a­logue with their for­eign hosts and share their views per­son-to-per­son. No podi­ums, just a bar stool or cof­fee counter.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to ex­change ideas and rep­re­sent who you are as an Amer­i­can,” From­mer said.

Suzanne Nos­sel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of PEN Amer­ica, also wel­comes the con­ver­sa­tion, which she says can of­ten fos­ter a greater un­der­stand­ing of com­plex is­sues. “I think it’s im­por­tant to be a face — if you don’t agree with what’s hap­pen­ing — and a voice for the val­ues that you think our coun­try should rep­re­sent,” she said. “It is very im­por­tant that the rest of the world sees the di­ver­sity of views.”

If you plan to en­gage, do so with care.

Bull re­minds Amer­i­cans to be mind­ful of lan­guage. He cau­tions against us­ing such ab­so­lutes as “never” and “al­ways” and to avoid stereo­typ­ing and gen­er­al­iz­ing. If the di­a­logue turns threat­en­ing, he says, “dis­en­gage and walk away.”

Benet Dave­tian, di­rec­tor of the Ci­vil­ity In­sti­tute on Canada’s Prince Ed­ward Is­land, en­cour­ages vis­i­tors to be aware of the des­ti­na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment. A lo­cal con­sumed by his or her own coun­try’s af­fairs can spin the con­ver­sa­tion into an en­tirely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. For ex­am­ple, in Turkey, res­i­dents are con­tend­ing with a pres­i­dent an­gling to con­sol­i­date his power and lengthen his term in of­fice.

“They are so fu­ri­ous about their pres­i­dent,” he said. “They are dy­ing to put Trump down.”

His ad­vice: Take a con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach and main­tain a mod­er­ate tone.

Lizzie Post, a pres­i­dent at The Emily Post In­sti­tute in Burlington, Vt., and co-host of the pod­cast “Awe­some Eti­quette,” ad­vo­cates a “fil­ter check.” Be­fore delv­ing into a po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion, have an hon­est chat with your­self. Ask your­self if this is the ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting and right per­son for this type of di­a­logue. Take stock of your emo­tional state. Chal­lenge your­self to some in­tro­spec­tive ques­tions. Can you be in­for­ma­tive with your own views and re­spect­ful of oth­ers’ stances? Can you cede the last word, or will you try to sway the other per­son to your way of think­ing?

“This isn’t a ther­apy ses­sion,” she said. “Set per­sonal bound­aries.”

Also, know your body’s alarms. If you re­al­ize that your voice is get­ting louder and your heart is thump­ing harder, you have plunged too deep into the topic. Post says to in­form the per­son that you have en­tered ter­ri­tory that makes you feel un­com­fort­able. Then switch to a safer topic; weather, sports, food and books rarely ruf­fle feath­ers.

And if all else fails, use this diplo­matic exit strat­egy. Post sug­gests say­ing, “I’m on va­ca­tion, even from pol­i­tics.”


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