Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You know, it's none of your business who is maith liom

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.


Unknown said...

I actually don't really know WHERE the big deal about talking about your actual cast vote comes from, but I agree that it's a very strong U.S. tradition. I got this from my grandparents. My dad's family really didn't discuss politics at all - it apparently had already been established that my father had become a hopeless 60s hippie. There was occasional debate of foreign policy issues and definitely of historic events, but party affiliation and support of particular candidates was unspokenly taboo. This was how I completely failed to grasp that my paternal grandparents were Republicans - they were rather intellectual, internationally travelling, Michiganite FARMERS, and I had learned to associate none of those characteristics with Minnesotan Reagan supporters.
On my mom's side in South Dakota sentiment was more clearly to the left and admiration for the New Deal, as half the family would have likely starved during the Great Depression, and found work with the TVA or WPA. However, although there was much more impassioned debate amongst the Evans clan, there was no baldly stated support for a given candidate.
I once asked my mother, after one of her comments despairing about Bush the first, who she would vote for, and she told me in the U.S. we cast a secret ballot, because if you have to declare your allegiance out in your community, it increased the potential to be intimidated before the election or punished afterwards, if your ideology didn't align with the majority.

If all Americans were really so against declaring who they planned to vote for, the annoying-as-hell polls would have no data.

Bugail Aberdyfi said...

Does this post eminate from my wall posting on your facebook profile and my questions on Friday night at the Fari Lwyd perhaps ?

Good to meet you again and the child bride. Apologies for a drunken friend as well. You were not the only victim of his drunken ramblings that night.

Anonymous said...

Yo, it IS traditionally considered terribly bad manners in Britain to ask who someone is going to vote for. To this day, I have no idea which party my parents favour, and I don't discuss who I'm voting for with anyone except the boy.

Sadly, you're right; lots of people nowadays don't seem to know this and ask outright in awkward situations. I usually smile politely and say 'I haven't decided yet.' So rude!

In other news: Im in ur country eatin ur snackz. And they are ruddy fantastic.

Chris Cope said...

Jenny, I sincerely hope you will return with Fritos.

tanita✿davis said...

I'm glad people ask you that, too; we thought it was just us - like we were giving off vibes that we were somehow amenable to answering!

Of course, people also ask us if we have guns. Go figure.

Annie said...

I think it's ridick.