When some left vs right American cultural battle made the news, friends abroad would either ask for an explanation from my husband and me, both known conservatives, or offer advice for our cultural wars. Almost always, the conversation was cordial but premised on an assumption that the American right held the extreme position.
Europeans made reasonable assumptions based on the tenor and headlines but rarely did the news or dinner party discussion cover the details. So few knew that American conservatives rarely held the extreme position. And American expats often endured some unexpected culture shock, especially concerning matters of race, sex, and immigration.
Abortion provides an excellent illustration of the problem. When the subject came up in the 2008 election, when Europe loved Obama (how times do change) and couldn’t stomach pro-life Palin, one friend advised that we could avoid all of our abortion drama if we allowed for reasonable rules making abortion legal during the first trimester with a committee of doctors to determine case-by-case availability of abortions in the second trimester, like they did in Denmark. Trying not to scoff at just how unreasonable those rules would sound to the American pro-choice movement, I asked for her opinion on later abortions. She was taken aback. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. Another time, Italians looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked about parental consent for minors. Of course a minor needed parental consent! Was I mad? And wasn’t I the American conservative?
Stories aside, we can easily compare the regulations.