Traveling to France: Political Sensitivity


'By Melissa Mayntz.'

Political sensitivity is important when traveling to any country, but it is extra important when traveling to France. Every traveler knows that different countries have different cultures and customs. In today's politically stressed world, however, travelers need to be especially cognizant of political tensions to avoid unpleasant situations on vacation. Because of many European nations' apprehensions about the United States' foreign policy actions, individuals traveling to France need to be exhibit extraordinary political sensitivity.

Political Sensitivity: Discussions to Avoid When Traveling in France

French citizens are often curious and unrestrained when asking foreigners, especially Americans, about their political leanings. While it is perfectly acceptable to describe your viewpoints as an American citizen, it is not wise to vehemently express controversial political opinions, particularly as they apply to foreign situations such as conflicts in Middle Eastern countries or possible sanctions against non-cooperative nations.

France and the United States, though both similar republics, have very different systems of government and the French people do not typically feel as empowered as Americans. Because of this, tourists who openly flaunt political activism may face resentment and mistrust. As a tourist in France, avoid speaking of political rallies, demonstrations, or other civil protests.

Both nations also have very different religious traditions. While the United States has a wide variety of Christian sects including Protestantism and Judaism, the majority of France is Roman Catholic with a significant percentage (nearly 10 percent) of Islamic citizens, making them particularly sensitive to outlandish religious comments and interference with Muslim nations. Discussions about current foreign influences in Arabic and Muslim nations should also be avoided.

Political Sensitivity: Topics Open to Discussion When Traveling in France

Because many tourists eagerly anticipate the opportunity to converse with people of different cultures, political topics often arise in the course of normal conversation. It is perfectly acceptable to be fond of one's country, to express opinions about current policies, and to discuss past political events in great detail. To remain politically sensitive, however, American travelers should limit their vehemence about particularly volatile topics. Expressing an opinion is fine, even expected, but if the discussion becomes too heated, simply change the topic or agree to disagree and move on to different subjects.

Certain political and cultural topics always create interesting discussions that reveal differences between the two countries: state-sponsored health care, federal retirement programs, educational systems, and crime prevention are generally safe topics without great political sensitivity.

Unconscious Political and Cultural Behaviors to Avoid

Many American tourists are unaware that certain behaviors can be perceived as arrogant and offensive, particularly in France, where the United States currently enjoys a less than stellar reputation. To prevent unintentional misunderstandings and awkward situations, tourists should equip themselves with guidebooks that feature cultural tips and tricks as well as explanations about different behaviors. Furthermore, using a French phrasebook or dictionary to attempt to communicate in the country's official language demonstrates respect and honor to French citizens, making them more inclined to offer assistance when necessary.

Unfortunately, American citizens are often unjustly tagged as insensitive, overbearing, and insolent. While in some cases these negative labels may be well deserved, travelers would do well to remember they are guests in a foreign nation and should behave accordingly. While patriotism is one thing, flaunting pro-American clothing or accessories brandishing American flags is considered in poor taste. Similarly, tourists should remember that they are outside the bounds of American laws and are subject to the rules and regulations of the country they are visiting.

No homeowner appreciates a houseguest who ridicules their décor, insults their family, and belittles their beliefs and traditions. Tourists are in a similar position: they are guests in a foreign country and should behave accordingly, particularly with respect to sensitive topics and political differences. Travelers to France, in particular, should be aware of the social and political tensions between the France and the United States, and should avoid insensitive or offensive behaviors and discussions. Every nation is different, and while France and the United States share many similarities, they also harbor distinct differences in political values. By embracing political sensitivity when traveling to France, tourists avoid unpleasant and potentially hostile situations and can instead focus on true relaxation and enjoying an unforgettable vacation.

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Traveling to France: Political Sensitivity