Political talk

A British journalist makes a salient point. There is a tradition in this country of politics not being a topic of polite discussion. In England, conversations are much more pointed and discussing politics is fair game, and a fun game (as long as you keep off the Irish question). I have had good conversations with Brits about politics, but many have just devolved into what I saw as a volley of insults, at which time I just backed off, lacking the desire for a fight. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken it so personally when my opinions were summarily dismissed as "nonsense."

Yes, vigorous debate is enjoyable--but only if there's a little grin on everybody's face. In England, that little grin is implied. Here, vigorous debate might end up with somebody stomping out of the room, or breaking into tears, or declaring that you are going to hell, or something of the sort. And that would be a breach of protocol.

Our family had some pretty vigorous debates around the dinner table when I was growing up. I think it made me more conversationally combative than my friends. But that doesn't take much in northern Minnesota where the tradition is to not raise a peep. If I am combative and a little loud here, when I get out into the broader world I come across as a pushover, a nice little midwestern boy.

In 1986, I spent a summer in Cambridge, England on a summer program studying history. For the most part, I kept my mouth shut. The easterners dominated everything. I didn't mind. Well, one day I got wound up about something in class and gave a little monologue on the topic at hand. One of the Ivy Leaguers looked at me in amazement and said, "I thought you were just a wallflower!"