A couple of weeks ago, I was in Edinburgh for a wedding. More specifically, I arrived there on Friday, September 19th. One day after the Scottish vote for independence. Not surprisingly, this vote was huge news just about everywhere in Europe. And even those of us who do not live in Scotland and, therefore, didn’t have a vote had definite opinions about how we would vote if given the opportunity.
This got me thinking about the privacy of voting in general and how differently it is regarded here and in the States. My political leanings and affiliations are fairly obvious with just a cursory view of my Facebook page. One can probably predict with a good degree of accuracy how I have voted in the past few Presidential elections and how I will vote in 2016.
But, what struck me when I moved to Europe was how okay it is for complete strangers to ask you how you are going to vote, or how you voted. I had been living in Dublin for just days when the 2012 Presidential election took place and, once people heard my accent, their next question to me was who I voted for. Taxi drivers, hotel reception clerks, waiters – just about any stranger I met felt perfectly okay asking me a question that most Americans consider nearly as invasive as asking how much money one makes. I didn’t mind answering – mostly because I knew that most everyone I met probably would have voted the same as me, given the opportunity. I knew I wasn’t going to get into any lengthy, uncomfortable debates about American politics. I’m not sure a Romney supporter would have faired the same way.
And it isn’t just Ireland that inquires so openly about one’s vote. Back in November 2000, I was visiting Paris for Thanksgiving with my BFF. Though the election had been held more than two weeks ago, a winner still had not been declared and, of course, this was huge news in Paris (and, I imagine, just about everywhere). We were in line to climb the tower at Notre Dame where a slightly grizzled but still friendly Frenchman was taking tickets. He heard our accents and before letting us proceed asked in heavily accented English – “Bush or Gore?”. Our answer met with his approval and we were allowed into the tower. But again, being in Europe, we knew that our choice was the popular choice over here – had we answered “Bush” we probably would have had to save the Notre Dame climb for another trip.
I don’t get offended when people over here ask me how I am going to vote, but I’m also not really itching to ask anybody about their vote when I am in the States. In America, who you vote for is a private thing unless you choose to share it. It’s a line you don’t cross unless invited to do so. And here in Europe, at least in my experience, who you vote for is a perfectly acceptable form of small talk. I don’t think one way is better than the other. It’s just yet another way European and American sensibilities are different.
And it’s another difference that I find quite fascinating.