DEAR MISS MANNERS: A relative of mine will soon be moving to Europe. She is unhappily anticipating all kinds of disparaging questions about American politics, having had these unpleasant exchanges when she lived in Europe before.
The questions typically run along the lines of “How can Americans vote for that candidate?” or “How can they support such a policy?” -- delivered in such a way as to imply that Americans are stupid or naive.
We were hoping you could suggest a way to respond to unkind opinions masquerading as curiosity, which would neither indicate that she agrees with the opinions nor open the subject to an unpleasant disagreement about politics.
GENTLE READER: Your relative should be studying the politics of the country in which she will be living. This is not only a responsible thing to do, but it will doubtless provide ample material for a more general discussion of controversial voters and politicians, on whom no country seems to have a monopoly.
This should turn the conversation into what Miss Manners would consider a not-unpleasant examination of political problems. But that requires others to speak realistically about their own issues. If they do not, but insist on bashing America, no American should accept that, any more than the bashers would accept insults to their country.
Politeness does not require accepting insults. To admonish them without creating a scene, she should say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way. We Americans have our problems and our differences, as do all countries, but I’m proud of being an American.” A stiff delivery should at least lead them to backpedal and apologize.