IN A WEEK when elections have figured large both here and abroad, it made me think of how holidays and politics often collide.

I don't mean the ethics of going to dodgy countries or the rights and wrongs of a tax on jet fuel.

It's more about how seeing politics happening abroad can help you learn about more about where you are - and change the way you think about home.

Anyone who has ever got stuck behind a blockade of French farmers at a channel port will know what it means to have a crash course in how politics is done elsewhere.

But it's not always a frustration. It can be give an entertaining lesson in the politics of a country, and how people behave.

Once, when walking through Madrid, my partner and I were given a display of agitation Spanish style. Fifteen years ago, demos here still tended to be more dour affairs, but this saw hundreds marching behind a jaunty-sounding band, and alongside trade union banners and flags, brightly painted papier-mâché effigies were carried on poles.

My efforts to find out what the demo was about were hampered by my basic Spanish - I think it was something to do with pensions. There are other places, though, without such language barriers where the directness of politics can be fully appreciated.

A friend's year spent working in Australia coincided with a general election. He told me one of the more memorable ads by a third party in a bruising campaign, promised to "keep the b**s**ds in line'.

What is moving is being in country new to democracy. In Prague during one of the Czech Republic’s first elections, it was fascinating to see new parties sprouting after the country was freed from Communism’s iron grip.

The lack of cynicism, so common here was palpable. Posters, some slick, some not, festooned lamposts and were plastered over hoardings.

The occasional flag-waving demonstration by extreme right-wing parties were countered by angry protests but showed that democracy wouldn’t solve all the ills of the country.

After seeing such exuberant political campaigns, you can’t help but view your own system in a different way – and value a freedom, so often neglected here, that is so cherished elsewhere.