When your co-worker's country is in the news
As an American, I sometimes get asked what I think about some happening in the US that has made the news in Norway. What it is about Americans and guns? Or all the whining about increased gas prices? These questions are fairly general and therefore comfortable. Being questioned and criticized as if I was directly responsible for whatever unpopular man got into the White House, was and is not comfortable.
Currently, we are in a project at work that involves an Indian company, and so I have spent two weeks listening to the lilt of Indian accents and English spoken with rolled R's and thick L's and have another week to go. At the same time, the news from India reports two sisters have been sentenced to be raped by a local, unofficial village council because of something their brother did; the sisters are from a rural town outside Delhi.*
I have chosen not to bring this up. As friendly as we are with each other, I know from personal experience that what gets into the international news does not necessarily represent reality as the natives know it. A government is not its people and vice-versa. I also know that it is natural to want to defend one's nation even if one doesn't agree with everything it does. I don't want to put our Indian guests and colleagues on the spot. Unless you're there, unless you live it, it's hard to explain why Americans do what Americans do. Or why Norwegians do what Norwegians do. US history is so different from Europe's. And India's history and challenges are also so different from the West's.
A Norwegian co-worker did ask me how it was going, with us two women from Norway dealing with three men from India. And I could honestly say that absolutely nothing in their behavior suggested they had any issue working with women. I reminded my co-worker that the Indian company had also sent female employees to Norway. The men's manners are somewhat old-fashioned, so I have to let them hold the door open for me, but I've noticed they are getting the hang of Norwegian customs; they let me open the door myself more often. (I'm never sure if I should be happy about that.)
Never mind what gets into the news. I don't feel that bringing that up is my place to do or appropriate in our work situation. We have a good work relationship, with a lot of ideas and knowledge moving back and forth—and some laughs too. Good enough.
*) I was happy I didn't bring this up, because it turns out that we may not have the whole story.