Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Front row seats to the crazy show.

Over the last year, I have answered countless questions from students, friends, neighbors and fellow expats about this year's big event.  Yes, I'm talking about the POTUS poll, the vehement vote, the exasperating 2016 election!

The most asked questions were generally about how it works.  In Switzerland, it is a direct democracy.  Every single vote is counted and the majority rules.  It also seems that politicians in Switzerland don't have a deity-like, popularity status.  They keep their day jobs and it really is civil service.  I was told by my German teacher that they are even affectionately called "cervelets"- after the iconic Swiss sausage beloved by all.

With this being the way things function in Switzerland, laws and referendums can change very quickly in comparison to the US system.  And nothing quite like the circus of the campaign season is evident.  It is just mind-boggling to a Swiss person - it's too complicated, inefficient, and just...too much insanity.

And I couldn't agree more.

It was one thing to watch from what was essentially the sidelines for the better part of this year.  Sure, we kept up with the news everyday.  Sometimes the Blick am Abend or 20 Minute would even publish some of the bigger pieces.  Once we were informed, we could walk away from it and join society for the rest of our day.

Being back on American soil, especially in Washington D.C., it is impossible to escape.  It's everywhere - every sentence uttered and every tweet is breaking news.  It's exhausting.

The bombardment of constant election reports is further exacerbated by people actually asking me who I'm voting for.  I didn't mind being asked questions from my Swiss friends and students - they were curious about the election.  They all had a pretty good idea of which side of the fence I was on before asking anyway and were very tactful about how they went about asking - knowing it is a touchy conversational topic.  Cultural fluency for the win.

I was very surprised to be flat out asked by fellow Americans once I got back to the US.  Especially strangers.  When did this become a polite, small-talk question?  Would you like to know my blood type, email password, and PIN as well?

One of the most poignant lessons I learned when talking to people abroad is that you shouldn't share such personal information so freely.  Many of the people I spoke to had survived wars and genocide; were forced to emigrate or potentially die.  They were understandably confused as to why many Americans freely share what their political affiliation and religious views were.  And rightfully so!  So now I personally am of the mindset that who you vote for and what you believe are very private things indeed.

There also seemed to be some confusion among Americans as to what rest of the world really is like. It's like there is a bubble.  They believe everything inside the bubble is greater than what's outside. This is why I think it is so important for people to travel, and if they get the chance, live abroad.  It really opens your mind to new ideas as well as understanding your own culture in a new way.

Sadly, someone said just the other day that they bet I was glad to be back in America where it was safe.  Wait, what?

Another person said that they bet I was glad I was able to vote now that I was back. WHAT?

Just to set the record straight - expats CAN and SHOULD vote.  Both major parties have overseas organizations to join and you can complete a mail-in ballot.  Furthermore, I rarely felt threatened or unsafe the entire time I was in Europe.    But I can tell you that after watching the news showing radical rallies, police shootings and the general xenophobia being exhibited by some Americans in this election, I can see why many Europeans think that America is a violent place.  Thankfully, it isn't usually so, but I now understand where that idea comes from.

Here's to all of you who voted, survived this stressful election season and cheers to working toward improvements in the next four years no matter the outcome.