Letters from Europe
We have received many emails from our European friends expressing a concern that Americans may misunderstand the European opposition to the unilateral American action in Iraq. We thought we'd share these three particularly thought-provoking greetings:
A Letter from Belgium
|In the Low Countries, B&B hosts still share their bikes with American guests.|
Hope you are fine. Although we cannot complain, it's clear that a lot of Americans have stayed home this year especially. Of course it's because of the dollar/euro. But we also think that because many Americans are not well-informed about Europe, that they are also afraid to travel.
Since most Europeans understand English, we can via internet, cable TV and satellite follow and read what is going on in the US. In the US most people only have their information from the American newspapers (plus a little British info) and television since it is "not possible" to follow the different European countries via newspapers or on the internet because of all those different languages......
We hear from American travelers that many people in the US think that we Europeans have something against Americans (because of Iraq). They don't know or understand that we have nothing against the American people but that many Europeans have maybe their doubts about the White House. Here are some responses from Americans we talk to:
..."We shall not go to France or Belgium because they didn't support the war on Saddam."....
..."Holland and England have troops in Iraq, so we should go to Amsterdam and London."....
..."We should go to France and Belgium because they didn't support us; so terrorists will not attack those countries."....
...."We will not go to the UK or the Netherlands because they supported us in the war in Iraq, terrorists will try to blow up those countries."...
You see Rick, we Europeans have our own political reasons too:
You know that France didn't want to go to war because of "aquatine/elf oil" and other commercial interests.
You know that Belgium Prime minister Verhofstadt was following France because Chirac "promised" him to become the new president of the European Union....(Verhofstadt didn't become because Tony Blair took his veto against him).
The Dutch supported the war because they wanted Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to become the new Secretary General of NATO; they needed the support of Bush and Blair.
What can Europeans do to teach the people in the US that we have nothing against them; that they shouldn't be afraid or ashamed (some people covered their "Rick Steves book" with paper and said that they were Canadians!). We want and we need American tourists...But too many are staying away.
Thank you for being honest in your writing Rick. We know that you are doing a lot to get people out of their homes and motivating them to go to Europe. They listen to you; they believe what you say.
You and your team have the possibilities and the power of persuasion! We in Belgium — like people all over Europe I think — want to tell the people of America that because our governments might argue, we respect and welcome the American people. I just felt that I had to write you. I am proud and happy to be in your guidebooks and hope to see you again in the coming year.
Editor's Note: Frieda and Benno rent rooms B&B-style to our travelers in their wonderful 400-year-old home in Bruges. We've recommended them from many years in our Bruges chapter.
A Letter From Florence
Dear Rick Steves and friends at Europe Through the Back Door,
I am sorry that those of you who live in the United States cannot see and feel the current mood here in Europe. The atmosphere is very somber. While life naturally goes on, you can definitely tell that everyone is serious and worried. It feels like history has taken a sad turn (or I should say re-turn).
To my surprise, I have yet to see one residential building in Florence without one or more flags hanging from people's windows. I have learned that most of the households which display the flags are homes where school-age children live. They are not patriotic EU or Italian flags: they are the International Peace flags. Our European history, so violent and senseless until 50 years ago, has after all taught us something. Too sad that the same can't be said of what is now my adoptive country, the US, where dangerous leftovers from the age of brute force are still too present, where not even one million lives lost in Vietnam as recently as 25 years ago have taught much, and where even in our daughter's progressive school, teachers have received a note from above "encouraging" teachers to increase patriotic activities in the classroom.
Here in Italy while we love peace, we also love Americans. Please do not think that our peace signs are a form of anti-Americanism. We just think that when your only weapon is a hammer, you are inclined to treat every problem as a nail. I send you all a big hug and many peaceful thoughts. We look forward to seeing you soon.
A Letter from France
|Vive la différence! Americans enjoy celebrating those differences in France.|
Dear American Friends,
These last few months, politicians and the mass media on both sides of the Atlantic have been bashing us with two versions of the same story: Frenchies are arrogant traitors poking America in the eye! Americans are a bunch of war-happy loonies looking for world domination!
Folks, let's put the show on hold, and think together for a minute: who is holding the microphone for dear life, and pounding the message with a tremendous whack?
Not you, not us. Not the little people. But journalists and politicians.
Politicians will always put their own interests before yours — remember 'Follow the money trail — and journalists love the sound of their own voices, and a good controversy — whether rooted in fact, or totally fabricated.
The truth is we, French people, like American folks. Beyond our pride of being French, we greatly admire the American people. We always have.
We know that we owe your parents and grandparents a great deal of gratitude. They paid the price of war with their lives on our beaches, and on our land. We are deep in their debt, and our streets will long carry the names of American generals.
But our admiration goes way beyond, extending to your entire culture.
We love your music — blues, jazz, musicals, rock, hip-hop, what-have-you. New Orleans' legend Sidney Bechet was our hero when he was still little known in America. Louis Armstrong is arguably the best-known black musician in France. Jessye Norman, one of your greatest opera singers, sells out concert halls when she graces us with her presence. And Elvis still reigns as king in the heart of all those who listened to him in the fifties and sixties.
We love your cars and motorcycles. Ask about Cadillac and Harley-Davidson around here, and you will get an instant smile.
We admire your movies, as witness box office successes such as Saving Private Ryan, Back to The Future, Casablanca, and Unforgiven in France. And in our minds, John Wayne and Gary Cooper are still true heroes.
Our teenagers adopt your casual wear, just as their parents fell for Levi's jeans.
We also smoke more Marlboro, Philip Morris, and Camel cigarettes than you do, guys!
Cheeseburgers and Coke did not originate in France. Yet, judging by sales of sodas and fast food here, we are addicted to them. So much for the journalistic myth of snooty Frenchies only eating French cuisine.
And English is still the first of our second languages.
The truth of the matter is, we simply adopt a lot of America's goods and customs.
And another truth is we like to receive you folks amongst us.
Over the years, we took notice of your commendable efforts to speak French. Yes, some of us won't tell you, but we generally appreciate your efforts to address us in our language. We also try to better our English skills (please don't laugh at our accent).
We appreciate your polite, non-intrusive behavior when you come to visit. We cannot say that all of us Frenchies behave as well when we visit you. We gotta try harder.
All of us who have traveled abroad know that the cultural differences which exist between Americans and Frenchies can be resolved with a smile and a good word. There cannot be any lasting misunderstanding between two peoples of goodwill.
You are very welcome in our country. We have many good things to offer, we hope some of them appeal to your hearts and interests.
You are welcome in France. Don't listen to tall tales to the contrary. We the people are not our 'governing elites.' You folks are not your government or the press.
Let's remain friends.
Reprinted by permission from www.paris-eiffel-tower-news.com