Keeping It Professional

Political differences do affect our thinking, but there's a time and place for everything

By: M.J. Smith

Like telemarketers and jokes about President Clinton, the French-bashing that has been going on in recent months just refuses to go away.

Recent political differences over the Iraqi war notwithstanding, France has been a favorite of U.S. travelers for years, usually holding the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in annual tallies.

It certainly didn’t earn and keep that rank because Washington and Paris were in closer agreement at the time.

During the run-up to the invasion, several travel-agent chat sites discussed efforts to steer clients away from France in the name of patriotism.

Given the heated public debate going on at that moment, the debate on the Web wasn’t unexpected.

What I didn’t expect, however, was a pale version of a similar situation just last week.

I called this publication’s corporate travel agency to arrange a reservation on France’s high-speed rail system, a truly exemplary travel operation if there ever was one.

The agent, whom I had never spoken to before that minute, responded with a comment about how “they” certainly have a difficult schedule, followed by a couple of other slighting comments about the French and “their opinions.”

At first I was just plain surprised. Then I weakly tried to steer the discussion back to the business reason for my call.

In hindsight, I wish I had responded differently.

Politics and patriotism are a personal matter, although there are times and places where they can be expressed and even when they should be expressed, civility be damned.

But a call seeking professional travel assistance doesn’t fit into either category.

If an agent declines some business because he disagrees with the destination’s political climate, that’s his choice to make.

But when TravelAge West pays the service fee for this call, I wonder if the political commentary will be listed as “2 cents worth.”