Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Art of Conversation

There’s a great saying I’ve heard that goes, “People who want to share their religious views with you, almost never want you to share yours with them.”

I’ve found that the same is true about politics, especially overseas. M and I often find ourselves the unwilling recipient of various diatribes about what a piece of shit country the US is. Usually these unsolicited comments come from someone that we just met, who to their delight, has just found out that we are Americans. So they take their opportunity to explain to us how their country does things so much better and how they could run the US if only they had the chance. But as the saying goes, they really aren't interested in hearing our opinion, they simply want to share theirs.

Before I go on, I just want to mention that I won’t engage in political debates here. This isn’t even a political post, but rather, a post about respect and common courtesy.

Some people are generally just curious, or want to have a respectful, two way discussion. That’s fine, regardless of their opinion, and that’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m referring to the “Oh, you’re American? Well let me give you my opinion about how crappy America is” monologue that starts the moment that someone finds out we are from the US.

I think having an opinion is great. I think that when it’s an educated opinion, it’s even better. Sometimes I may even agree with some of what they are saying. But here’s my first point - I didn’t put a quarter in them and ask for their opinion, so the appropriate thing to do is to keep it to themselves. It's like if I were to walk up to some stranger in a restaurant and proceed to tell them how ugly their outfit is. It seems that there is some sort of unwritten rule that common courtesy and respect aren’t necessary when talking to an American about their own country. It’s like they feel that they have free license to share their dislike about the US, since we are American and all, and quite frankly, that’s just not what M and I signed up for when we walked in the door of the pub.

It’s not like we think America does no wrong or anything like that. There are certain things that America does well, and certain things that America screws up. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don’t. It's the same with any other country. Which brings me to my second point - I would never, ever, in a million years presume to tell someone what a shitty country they are from. How tremendously rude. I’m sure most people would be offended, and rightly so. So why don’t the same rules apply for the US? It seems that once people find out we are from the US, it’s an open invitation to criticize our government, our lifestyle, our food, whatever. I struggle with how people think that this is acceptable behavior.

There is no way I can win in these situations. When this happens, people aren't interested in having a real discussion. They aren’t asking questions, or trying gain an understanding...they’ve already made up their minds. It’s a lecture cloaked in the appearance of a conversation.

Sometimes, I wish we could just talk about the weather.


At June 11, 2007 at 6:03 AM , Anonymous triad 1 said...

How about a nice "You know, I really am just here to have a drink. Let's talk about the weather, shall we?" :)

At June 12, 2007 at 2:34 PM , Blogger La Niña said...

That's why I don't bother talking about politics, it's a tiring and messy topic. There are more interesting things in life than that... and it'll only end up in a debate/argument.

About the religion... it reminds me of my deepy religious colleague S who shares the same religion as my other colleague W. W is unconventional, doesn't pray much etc. S sends this email link to W saying "check out this link... this is the punishment for people who don't pray".

At June 13, 2007 at 5:42 AM , Anonymous reese said...

Can I get an amen? LOL

I am a *little* surprised you experience this in Malaysia because my own experience has been that folks don't like to rock the boat--the whole "face" issue, etc. It's interesting to hear you've had examples of what is, in essence, fairly blatent assertiveness/aggression.

I love peeps who like to talk in terms of "hey, let's both see what we can learn, and get to know the other person's position better." Unfortunately, it seems those kind of people are far between and few to find :(

There is much I don't like about the US...but I also don't appreciate overt negative commentary from non-US folks about it. It's like...I wouldn't walk up to a Malay and start ranting about the idiocy of their bumiputra laws.

I'll have a bit more to share when I get there...there are a few different class systems in Malaysia, and the class system one is in tends to dictate the level of passivity or geniality versus abrasion, etc.

I think you and hubby would enjoy some of Jason's friends there. Very cool, smart guys who wouldn't dream of going off on you about where you come from. :)

At June 16, 2007 at 10:38 AM , Blogger Sarah said...

I should clarify...we have only experienced anything like this with a Malay once. Generally, this topic is avoided when chatting with a local.

The offenders are other expats, generally European or British.

At June 20, 2007 at 5:42 AM , Anonymous reese said...

Thanks for the clarification. That makes a *LOT* more sense. (Unfortunate, but true). I've run into that problem a lot abroad (anywhere, not just Malaysia) w/ europeans and British. I'm sorry you have to deal with it.


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