I do not consider myself political. I have formed a few general and obscure opinions over the years; however, the conclusions I’ve reached are never very well informed or developed. It seems like every time I attempt to tackle a subject, the labyrinth of information swallows me up in a vortex of sub-topics and variables. I spin aimlessly, grasping at overly-simplified facts, trying to make sense of it all, only to emerge more confused and unsure than when I first started. I can only assume that this is some master plan.
It also doesn’t help that my brain is just not wired to retain facts and figures. I am much more adept at speaking in broader terms about ideals and ideas. Ask me to quote GDP’s of developed countries or tell you the speed of light (which I have read dozens of times), and I am about as effective as one legged octopus.
Given all of this, I am preparing, among other things on my endless to-do list, to be armed and ready for the impending political discussions that are inevitable (especially now) when we relocate to Europe.
It is widely known that Europeans are much more informed on history, world events, and politics than Americans. This is not a comparison. It is simply a fact. How many of us can name the President of Mexico? I got nada, nein, niente, wait – Nieto! (I do feel compelled to point out, that for the first time in my life, I know the name of the Prime Minister of Canada. Ok, maybe it is only because he’s super hot, and his name is very similar to Jennifer Aniston’s ex, which makes it easy to remember.)
I consider myself fairly well-read. I have devoured countless books, from the contemporary to the classics, fiction to non-fiction, and religion to metaphysics. Travel memoirs, self-help, and biographies all stand prominently on my shelves as testaments to the countless hours I have spent reading for the shear enjoyment of it. In addition, I try my best to read newspapers and publications to keep abreast of the latest happenings, and NPR has found its rightful place among the Favorites in my car.
Yet, even so, I am completely unequipped to hold my own against the Europeans when it comes to dissecting politics. Armed with their fact-based arguments, (so annoying) they are formidable opponents. Furthermore, Europeans are acutely aware of our political anemia and they won’t think twice about exploiting our weakness to exercise their own political prowess.
Therefore, when abroad, one must be prudent when wading in the shifty sands of political discussion, especially on their home turf.
All too often, when confronted with a world-view topic, it’s like all of the information that I have spent years filing away in the deep recesses of my brain suddenly evaporates, leaving only an empty vacuum. So, as a general rule of thumb, when all that hard-earned intellect fails you miserably, I find it best to sidestep current event discussions all together.
I discovered that it is far wiser to drink your wine and keep your mouth shut, because it is inevitable that you will lose, and you will be left feeling like an intellectual leper for the remainder of the night. But it won’t end there. In order to compensate for your political ineptitude and bolster your flailing ego, you will drink far more than your tolerance can tolerate, getting slightly more belligerent as the evening progresses, before slurring incoherently about Neil Diamond landing on the moon, and finally passing out in a murky puddle of your own self-pity. (Or so I’ve been told.)
As an alternative, I find it is far better to stick to the topics we are good at, such as binge watching on Netflix, or how to take the perfect selfie…………………………………………………..
Ok, I know there is something else, just give me a minute……………………………………………..
OK, I give up.
Another important fact to point out is that unlike Americans, Europeans have mastered the art of speaking about politics over dinner in ways that don’t leave fellow guests all bent out of shape. Sure, the debates get heated and passionate. They just don’t get so personal about it. They tend to keep to the facts, mostly leaving personal attacks on the sidelines.
I have often admired their practical, detached approach, and believe me, I’ve been practicing, because in this current political climate, I will need all the help I can get. My only saving grace, is that it seems at the moment, pretty much every political arena today is fraught with its own upheavals and head-scratching catastrophes…..please Italy, do not leave the EU.
So in preparation, I have formulated a few key conversational deterrents when confronted with a litany of political questioning that is guaranteed to ensue:
BREXIT. Done. Too easy.
Americans’ total lack of control over their caloric intake. The only thing Europeans like to talk about more besides their superior wine, food, clothes, cars, and political systems, are their trim waistlines. So if the conversation gets too heated for your liking, and you are blanking on the name of that Pervy President from France – the one married to the actress in Midnight in Paris starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams (love her!), and whose brother married one of the Olsen twins, (like it matters which one), you can always switch the conversation quite effectively by saying things such as: “How do all y’all stay so slim and still eat all that cheese?” Not only will this lessen the intensity of the moment, and inflate their egos, they’ll think “all y’all” is ever so charming. They will then tell you how American food is unhealthy and processed, how we don’t exercise enough, we’re stressed, work too hard, etc., etc.
Embrace this. Sure, it’s everything we already know, but it will allow you time to finish your second cannoli and try to catch the coffee beans, (or mosche, which means flies in Italian), floating in the glass of sambuca with your tongue.
Our crumbling public transport and infrastructure. This is a brilliant conversational deterrent. If there is one thing that Europeans pride themselves on, it is their public transportation. Bragging rights are well-deserved, as any of you who have ever taken a fast-speed train from Munich to Prague in like fifteen minutes, can attest.
They will go on and on about their high-speed trains, and tell you the travel time from every major city. They also love to appear astonished at the fact that we only have subways in a handful of cities, and that airplanes are the only feasible mode of transportation from state -to- state, if you wish to avoid driving in your car for a week.
So expect the usual, “What do you mean you can’t make it from Dallas to NYC and back before lunchtime?”. Just try to remain calm and not say things like, “Maybe because the entire country of France can fit inside of Texas, you geographical genius”.
There are days that I have had enough of the news and the horror stories, and I just want to turn the world off and revel in blissful ignorance. There are other days I feel the pulse of anger and utter helplessness at the current state of affairs, both here and abroad.
But I know that apathy is not the answer. Neither is blind fury. Instead, I try to find a middle-ground and not get caught up in all of the drama and pulse-quickening news blips and tweets that assault our lives on every level. I try to stay focused on the important, long-term implications that policies have on this world, mostly for the sake of my children, and try to weed out all of the extraneous mental pollution that stains my soul and compromises my happiness.
After all, there is nothing new. Everything has happened before, in one form or another, and will continue to occur for who knows how long. We have always been on a hamster wheel of politics, power, money, and survival. The trick is… actually, I have no idea what the trick is. Don’t overthink it? Live in the moment?
Those all sound like good ideas. So does a glass of sambuca. Here’s to catching those three coffee beans in your glass that can be so elusive at times: Health, Wealth, and Happiness…and finding a common ground.