British voters may be glad to know that this event befell me during a Canadian election. Apart from a few posters here and there, the election campaign that was going on at the time passed me by. In any event, knowing nothing about Canada's electoral traditions I blithely went into a restaurant and ordered a meal and a glass of wine. The polls in Toronto had closed an hour earlier, but because voting was continuing in western Canada the restaurant was not allowed to serve alcohol. Presumably the fear was that drunken Ontarians would ring their cousins in Vancouver and persuade them to change their voting intentions. But this example of how political events can seriously affect your holiday enjoyment is by no means isolated.
A year later I was in Venezuela, just before a general election, and found that the sale of alcohol was banned from 12 hours before the polls opened. I pointed out that as a foreigner I couldn't vote anyway and shouldn't be bound by that rule, but that made no difference. I did eventually find a cocktail in the rooftop bar of an international hotel, but the sky-high prices would guarantee that only the wealthiest of voters could afford to get drunk there.
As the long British election campaign begins, it is a relief to know that we won't be deprived of a drink. Indeed, by 1 May many of us may be so fed up with politics that we'll want to leave the country. But before you start searching for your passport and heading for the airport, think carefully about where you might go.
In many countries, 1 May has not traditionally enjoyed the status of a politics-free zone. It first became a holiday in 1890, after a vote by the Congress of World Socialist Parties designated it as such in support of workers' demands for an eight-hour day. The Russians adopted it after the October revolution of 1917 and, despite the fall of Communism, it is still a popular holiday in Russia. These days there are no military parades in Red Square - you need to wait until Victory Day on 9 May for anything faintly political, and even then you are only likely to see veterans marching past the Kremlin; but sporting events of various kinds are held there, and in parks and squares across the country on International Workers' Day.
The first day of May remains a public holiday in other parts of the former Soviet Bloc. This is presumably on the basis that under any regime increasing the number of holidays is popular, but cancelling them could cause a revolution. But in countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary, any suggestion that a military parade might be held is greeted with a mixture of horror and derision. A Hungarian friend shudders as she remembers compulsory parades in front of trade union leaders when she was a schoolgirl; now, she says, Labour Day is commemorated more sensibly by not labouring at all, and people treat it as a private celebration of spring.
One country where you can't avoid politics on 1 May is Cuba. International Workers' Day is celebrated with a big military parade in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, beneath a huge poster of Che Guevara. While you're watching it, you can nip in and inspect the Jose Marti Memorial, which has recently been opened - at $10, Cuba's most expensive tourist attraction. Maybe the entry fees could go towards funding the parade: in the last few years, the economic situation has been so bad that the military couldn't afford to show off their tanks and were forced to parade in front of Fidel Castro on bicycles.
If you want to avoid the election completely, you need to do more than stay away from countries where 1 May has political overtones. CNN's London bureau says the network regards Britain's election as a very big story, so steer clear of televisions in hotel lobbies and airport lounges.
What about the traveller's trusty ally, BBC World Service? Surely there are some parts of the world that even the voice of London can't reach? Not so, according to a spokesman at Bush House, who explained patiently: "That is why we are called the World Service, madam." He did make one very helpful suggestion, though. "If you don't want to hear about the election, you could always go away and leave your shortwave radio at home."
There is always a possibility that after 45 days of non-stop campaigning, some may experience withdrawal symptoms. So to keep your swingometer moving, fly off to Bali for the Indonesian election on 29 May. Closer to home, there will be a general election in Norway on 15 September. No cliffhanging waits for prime ministerial announcements from Oslo: as soon as one election is over they fix the date of the next one, four years later. But beware - Norway is another of those places where you can't get a drink for a day before they start votingnReuse content