Thursday, July 14, 2016

Politics on Vacation

By Annabeth Leong

I'm on vacation at the moment, and I have to say I've been enjoying paying hardly any attention to the news. I thought about leaving it at that and telling you all that I was going to skip this fortnight's post, but I think I can muster a few quick comments (and apologies that I haven't really been keeping up reading posts—I will catch up when I get back!)

First, though I haven't been reading the news I'm still aware of politics, just in a different way. One thing I pay attention to at home is the state of refugees. I'm ashamed that the US has taken on so much anti-immigration rhetoric, and I'm ashamed that we're not welcoming more of the people who need refuge from war and oppression.

So I've been very interested over the past couple weeks to pay attention to the attitudes toward immigrants in other countries. I spent a little over a week in Germany, and I can read German with the help of a dictionary and the Internet, so I picked up a book that is a bestseller there: Ein Araber ind win Deutscher Müssen Reden (An Arab and a German Need to Talk), by Hamed Abdel-Samad and Hans Rath. It's a series of letters between a German writer and an Egyptian political scientist in which they discuss on the refugee crisis. I've translated a bit of it, and I'm surprised by how their conversation is both combative and productive. That's a type of discourse that seems largely absent from what I'm used to reading at home in the U.S.

After leaving Germany, I came to Copenhagen, where I am now. My Danish is considerably better than my German, and today I picked up Farvel, mit Syrien: Fortællinger om Krig og Flugt (Farewell, my Syria: Tales of War and Flight), by Sanne Gram Fadel. It's by a Danish journalist and follows the experiences of several Syrian refugees, covering the time before they leave their homes up to a time after they settle in Denmark. I haven't gotten to read it yet but I'm very hungry to know about how they will be portrayed by a Danish person.

I appreciate being able to read in languages besides English because that's one way to escape the perspectives that usually surround me. That said, it's not a utopia elsewhere. I know there has been a lot of tension in Denmark surrounding refugees, and, as I said, the German book seems to be partially about airing out built-up hostility.

So that's been my way of paying attention to politics recently.

Normally, though, I'll just say this. I was told for a while that I shouldn't be political on social media. Then I realized that my writing is political. It's absurd for me to keep my politics off social media. If you don't like my politics I can't imagine you'd like my writing. In general I am trying to be myself more. I know we are selling a product, but I'm also told that I need to be authentic. Currently, I'm trying to shift that balance toward speaking up a little more bravely.

Anyway, I look forward to conversing with all of you more when I get home!


  1. Living overseas, I resonate with your comments about getting a glimpse of the politics in other countries. It's really quite hard to get a clear view of the rest of the world from inside the U.S.

    And this is a great comment: "If you don't like my politics I can't imagine you'd like my writing."


  2. Random weird confession: I just realized I have a quasi-Pavlovian association in the back of my mind between Annabeth/Giselle and recharging my electric razor (which I do every Thursday). (:v>

  3. I am awed by people who learn multiple languages. Yet another thing that makes you awesome, Annabeth. Languages don't come easily for me. When in other countries, if I can find a bathroom and get something to eat, that's usually good enough.

    Have a great vacay, Annabeth.

  4. Oh yes, have a great time. I'm glad some people in the European countries now besieged by refugees are seriously trying to find ways to reconcile everyone's interests. A sudden influx of millions of people is bound to cause all sorts of turmoil, but letting refugees drown or locking them out looks unreasonable by any international standards.

  5. Long ago when I was young I was sure I'd manage to travel widely, to those faraway places I was reading about--just like in the song. Of course most of those places were faraway in time as well as miles, and I never managed much. Three trips to the UK and several to Canada. But on even that sparse mount of experience, I've had the notion that you learn not only about other people's lives and cultures, but about how other people regard you and your culture (for want of another term for it. "Life-style" is right out.) Many years ago when I traveled with kids between modest Bed and Breakfast establishments in rural England and Scotland, several times our hosts thought we must be Canadian, and I hesitated to set them straight.

  6. My late father used to send me links (he was on-line before I was!) to The Guardian pages of political analysis. He told me that way I could read "the truth" instead of the party-line that the American media was spoon-feeding to all of us. In many ways, he was right. I can only imagine how much more of a difference there is when reading in another language.

    Like Daddy X, I'm in awe of bi-lingual people, and even more so when they speak 3 or more languages. I took 6 years of French in high school and college, and was beginning to be bi-lingual, since I could speak, understand, read and write in French. But then I never went to France, or even to Quebec, or anywhere that French was spoken. Flash forward almost 40 years, and it's buried very deeply in the file cabinets of my brain. I keep trying to learn Spanish now, but it takes time to do so, even when using Rosetta Stone, which I own. Alas, just buying it didn't make me bi-lingual, nor did sleeping with it under my pillow!

    But I always tell students who speak more languages, how proud they should be, to be truly "world citizens;" as opposed to the usual mono-lingual image of the "Ugly American," who just yells louder at the "dummies" who don't understand English, but then complains about how rude the people were in that country.