Politics is an extremely tricky subject. Everyone thinks they understand and no one actually does. However, politics and its close cousin religion are quite often impossible to avoid in your day-to-day interactions.
However, in all cultures, politics is highly personal. Passions can easily run high, and for some people, it is a subject worth destroying relationships for. Of course, you always have the option of not engaging in any political discussion at all, though that’s sometimes easier said than done.
There are good arguments both for engaging or avoiding politics. Here are some of them.
Arguments for openly discussing politics
1.) It allows you a better understanding of the local culture
In most instances, it can be advantageous to understand what makes your host culture tick. Not only will you avoid social pitfalls and find it easier to be accepted, you may also find that your host culture’s ways of thinking have much to offer you. You might even find that it makes more sense to you than how your own native culture tends to see things.
While you can learn much simply from observation, it’s impossible to truly understand any culture without examining how power relationships are handled in it. For that, engaging in respectful political discussion is necessary.
2.) Discussing politics allows you to better understand events as they are
Current events are quite often tied to politics and your fate as an expat may very well hinge on your understanding of the local political climate. Events on the international and local level often have consequences you may not have considered unless you actually talk to a person on the ground about. Sometimes, it’s only because of these discussions that you can weigh correctly whether you should stay in the country, or leave altogether.
Arguments against openly discussing politics
1.) You don’t necessarily need a perfect understanding of local culture to be productive
Let’s face it. Many expats know almost nothing about their
host country’s history and culture even after years of living in it. If you
yourself are an expat, you probably know quite a number of these people. They
probably manage to still be productive and happy without engaging in politics
or understanding whatever is going on around them.
While some of us may be repulsed at the idea that not everyone feels that they need to know everything that’s going on, it’s a perfectly valid decision. This is especially true if you do not feel that you have the energy to spare discussing politics or understanding your host culture in depth. There are some drawbacks, sure. It rarely pays to be ignorant. But at least you can spend more time doing what other things you decide are actually more important.
2.) Locals may see you as meddlesome or condescending
It can be difficult to avoid sharing your own perspectives once any political discussion has started. And when you do, locals may see it as you being a pushy know-it-all foreigner, even if that isn’t the intent. This can be especially true if your own culture handles political discussions differently from your host culture.
If your country also has had a rocky history with your host country, there may still very well be a lot of people who will only tolerate you so long as you don’t step out of line when it comes to political discussions. In these cases, it may be prudent to avoid discussions altogether.
Regardless of what you think about politics, it’s best to get expat health insurance before leaving your home country for an extended period. You may not always know what the situation in your host country will be a year from now, but it’s important to at least be prepared as far as your health is concerned.