Here's a strange but generally true fact about Americans: We don't like it when you ask us who we're voting for.
"That can't possibly be true," you're saying. Americans post signs in their front yards, they slap bumper stickers on their cars, they wear T-shirts and badges and hats with the name of their chosen candidate gaudily emblazoned on them. They spend hour after hour after hour consuming incessant political coverage and writing MISPELED ALL CAPZ RANTING on internet message boards.
But, see, no one's asking them to do that.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Americans like to think that we are somehow above the political fray. So it is traditionally bad form to ask an American point blank who he or she will vote for. You are asking him or her to pick sides. You are asking him or her to no longer be an American but a certain kind of American. It's part of that "all men are created equal" thing. Our sentimental attachment to ideology. Our ridiculous beliefhope that we can actually live up to the stuff we promised ourselves 232 years ago.
Give us three minutes in a conversation and we will happily place ourselves in countless little defining boxes, but ask us who we're voting for and it makes us uncomfortable.
Our friends in the Home Nations, though, tend not to get this. People keep asking me who I plan to vote for. That information is readily available in this journal, on my Facebook profile, and in the way I will say things like: "I like candidates who want to set actual carbon emissions targets, rather than being sort of vague and asking people to take a totally ridiculous and non-binding pledge to reduce global warming, or simply ignoring the issue entirely." But I don't feel comfortable sharing that information with someone who asks. Yes, I'm being duplicitous. I don't care.
With around 9.5 months to go before the election, and a good seven months before I actually know who I will vote for (I know who I want to vote for now, but the outcomes of the summer conventions may change my options) I am already having to deal with the trick of constantly answering a question that is to me uncomfortable.
Generally, I am choosing to give people a tedious explanation of American etiquette rather than uttering a three-syllable surname. But Monday I found myself forced to answer the question, under the strangest of circumstances: an Irish exam.
Actually, the exam managed to squeeze in two questions that I find uncomfortable.
The second question is one that asks my opinion of George W. Bush. I'm probably in a minority on this one, but I am of some ancient mentality that the U.S. president deserves some level of automatic respect. Plus he's a fellow Texan. And I tend to mentally separate the seemingly likeable man and his insanely stupid policies. So when faced with the question: "What do you think of George W. Bush?" I usually try to answer with something along the lines of: "Well, he is the fairly elected president of the United States. And whatever I might feel for the individual, I respect the system he represents."
But I don't know how to say these things in Irish. So, when I heard Bushy's name wrapped in a string of soft consonants I knew the question that was being asked but not how to answer it.
"Well..." I sighed.
Then I realised that failure to answer the question would convey not a desire to maintain a facade of political ambiguity, but a lack of language comprehension. And I thought about the fact that my Irish teacher had said that if the examiners strayed from the set list of questions we were given to study, it was a sign things were going well and the examiners were trying to convince themselves to give the highest mark. With this kicking I my brain I forced myself to spit out an embarrassingly simple answer:
"Ní mhaith liom George Bush" (I do not like George Bush)
"Damn it," I thought. "I've sold my integrity for a high mark. I have no shame. I hate this. I just want to get out of here."
But then the other examiner, my Irish teacher, hit me with one last question. I was already in the mode of mentally shutting down, so I understood only two words. The question sounded like this: "Lafafa fahahafaha Clinton nó faha wahafa Obama?"
I answered the question, thanked the examiners and then left the room knowing that I had simultaneously passed a course and let my country down.