For those lucky enough to be spending a few weeks in the sun this summer many will be brushing up on their holiday etiquette.
On page one of any holiday etiquette guide are the basics – tip those providing a good service, don’t reserve your sun lounger at 6am with a well-placed towel and at least try to learn a bit about the local language and culture.
What’s probably not on any holiday etiquette checklist is a guide on how to deal with awkward political conversations at the poolside or in the hotel bar over cocktails. Back in the UK the agreed wisdom is that talking politics or religion in social circles is a bad idea but so why do I find that such notions haven’t quite made it abroad to a holiday setting? What applies to the dinner table should perhaps be applied to the sun lounger too.
While in Mexico recently I often found myself next to vacationing Americans who were all too eager to start talking politics. One conversation differed to the next – some disconsolate about Hillary Clinton’s failure to secure the Presidency, others disappointed with the performance and utterings of President Trump, to others absolutely fed up of politics but still engaged enough to think I wanted to chat about their political peccadilloes at the poolside.
A trip to the pool often became a minefield. How can I say as little as possible without seeming disinterested, as opposed to saying too much and risk getting myself into hot water by expressing a different opinion? All the while being cognisant of my surroundings and that any locals overhearing conversations about illegal immigrants and massive border walls might feel a little threatened.
So this got me thinking about some of the rules to abide by when getting dragged into a political conversation against your will.
The first rule should always be not to make any assumptions about who you are talking to. So in American terms, don’t think everyone you meet from California is a Democrat, and likewise not everyone from Alabama is a Republican. Don’t always presume someone agrees with your political outlook – or disagrees, for that matter. That means it’s always a wise strategy to stay away from anything too personal, opinionated or judgemental – until you’re at least a little more familiar with who you are talking to. Just because your audience is bearing their sunburned torso in swimming trunks doesn’t mean you should bear your political soul to them in return.
If you do decide to stick with it, the other question you have to ask yourself is what are your objectives for remaining in the conversation? Are you there to learn? Are you there just to appear polite? Or are you there to try and change someone’s mind? The latter is clearly much harder and could land you in a lot of hot water – especially if poolside mojitos have been a part of your day up to that point. Unless you’re committed enough to try and change someone’s mind then perhaps all other courses of actions aren’t particularly productive and could land you into an argument that you don’t particularly want or need to be in.
And if you do find things getting a little heated, ask yourself whether you have an exit strategy. Remember it takes two people to start an argument and if you want to bow out gracefully then perhaps using a few tactical phrases such as ‘let’s agree to disagree’ or ‘you make some good points’ are often a sure fire way of taking the heat out of a conversation. One of the joys of holiday conversations is that the chances are you’ll never see the person again, so what is there to lose by compromising?
And if you can successfully navigate through all the pitfalls of a political conversation, you might actually learn something – or at least avoid a holiday punch-up! The best outcome is a productive and non-threatening discussion where both parties learn something and come to a better understanding of the other’s viewpoint. Or perhaps it’s even better to cut the political chat for a fortnight!
Colin McFarlane is a Senior Account Manager at Indigo