In honor of elections in the US taking place tomorrow I wanted to explain the Australian response to American politics, particularly during the Presidential election. There were few “culture shock moments” over the last six years living in Melbourne since the Aussie and American cultures are a lot alike (please don’t tell them I said that), however the Australian relationship with our politics did take me by surprise.
Close to the end of the last Presidential election between Barack Obama and John Mccain I was having coffee with some missionary friends one morning. After being there about an hour we were getting ready to leave when a man at another table asked, “Hey who are you going to vote for, Obama or Mccain?”
This may seem like a strange occurrence but that didn’t faze me a bit since Australians love to ask questions about American politics. Part of this is because they like giving us a hard time, but what happens in the States directly affects what happens there.
This interest is only strengthened by CNN and Fox News on cable, and the fact that Australian soldiers have been fighting with our troops since Word War II. The people of Melbourne have a sense of ownership when it comes to what’s going on in America so the questions aren’t about giving us a hard time, but grow from genuine concern about what’s going on.
These questions by themselves could probably be a culture shock experience; but the real surprise comes from the fact that they demand an answer.
That morning in the coffee shop we all tried to give vague responses to his “who are you going to vote for question” so the stranger proceeded to tell us who we should vote for (Obama) and why. Now granted this is an extreme case but whenever an Australian asks you a political question it’s almost impossible to escape without giving a real answer.
My patented conversation changer “how about those Yankees” has no effect. Pointing in the opposite direction and saying “is that a rabbit over there” doesn’t work either. Editors note: If you don’t get that joke go watch Ernest Goes to Camp right now…no seriously stop reading this and watch it right now, you will thank me later. Even the “well who are going to vote for?” response doesn’t work because Australians don’t vote in the US elections.
Of course it is possible to just tell them you aren’t comfortable answering that question and in most cases that will be the end of the conversation, but I have actually learned to enjoy and even appreciate these political conversations. There is an idea in the States that talking about Politics and Religion is taboo (you can’t do it) and I totally understand why this is true; these are probably the most controversial subjects in the world so conversations about them can create hostility.
But at the same time these questions force us to think about who we are going to vote for and more importantly WHY we are going to vote for them. After getting over the initial shock of people asking who I was going to vote for I found answering these questions helped me solidify those reasons in my mind, and explain them in a way that was clearly understandable. Being able to defend my political views calmly was definitely worth a few culture shock moments.
I don’t answer all the political questions because sometimes people are just trying to give me a hard time (like my new friend at the coffee shop). But those discussions eventually became huge opportunities to develop relationships and share my own opinions in a way that Glorified God.