Comments from Readers
The following comments are from readers responding to my European Dream article.
I read through your essay on the American Dream vs. the European Dream and have some thoughts. First I want to say that I always enjoy your shows and books and find them quite valuable and entertaining and regardless of any differences of opinion that will not change. Also, let me say I love Europe and am about to go on my first three week trip there!
However, I think you short change the American dream and American culture and people. I think your essay is quite unfair. Of course you are in love with all things European and I understand that. I grew up in a half European family. My mother came from Europe in 1945. I grew up in a house with a European accent and flavor. Wienerschnitzel and Lederhosen. Of course I always had a warm spot for Europe. Strangely, I never felt quite American until I grew up.
America is not only about material wealth. We do value self reliance. We do value the individual. We respect and admire people like you who are successful especially by doing new and exciting things. As we should.
We also value the spiritual from which Europe now purges herself. Maybe Europe is out of step the world?
You say the "American Dream feels more and more self-absorbed and perhaps outmoded." Maybe partly. Excessive consumerism and shallowness is a reasonable critique of current American culture. But that is of course beyond politics and affects people of all persuasions. You say Europe is all about community and empathy.
Americans are about community and relationships and outreach perhaps more than most Europeans. Americans are "joiners" and not social loners. Americans are also givers. Massive amounts of aid and help worldwide comes from Americans and I am not including U.S. government aid.
To speak of the European experiment one has to put that in the context of endless wars and suspicions. I applaud Europeans for uniting and think that is a natural and positive political development. But there are reasons why the European model is not applicable to a general world view. To unite Europe must have a common view or policy toward the rest of the world. That is not to say all countries should have the same view. Or that America must agree with a common European view on every issue. America is a very vibrant multicultural society from which our European friends might still learn some things. I think we are far less racist and more united on most non political issues than Europe. America is in effect fifty little countries or states united for greater good and that experiment was tested at great cost and has stood.
You say Europe is moving toward "old hippieism" which has "matured into a politically viable mix of tolerance, multilateralism, and environmental-friendly policies that governments are embracing and electorates are supporting" Europe is just as divided as America. We just don't hear it. Their electorates are almost evenly split on most issues just like we are. Of course their media feverishly whip up anti- Americanism without any checks and the people generally don't think for themselves.
Perhaps your characterization of "old hippieism" makes sense when one remembers what Hippies were really about, free love, drugs and anarchy. Remember the Woodstock Nation? Somebody had to clean up afterward.
These views have a certain childlike innocence but are unrealistic and immature, catering as they do to the whims of every new interest group demanding this or that right. Where does that process stop?
Let's talk about tolerance. Radial Greens and Socialists with essentially neo Marxist leanings are now considered mainstream and perhaps somewhat old fashioned people are considered extreme and intolerant.
In some circles to even raise the question of whether, for example, same sex marriage is a good thing gets one labeled an extremist with dangerous religious views. This is what the European dream is advocating through the Constitution. Rightly it was soundly defeated. It seems the even the European public are being led astray by the idealists and radicals among them but they are beginning to wake up.
Let's talk about peace. Europeans are big on peace. So big that they can't interfere when the Balkans burn. They can't help or do anything or save anybody by doing a possible military act. It took American leadership to save Kosovo and end the Balkan wars. Yes they are big on peace as long as they don't have to pay for it in money or blood. Europeans want cheap peace paid for by someone else and then they will condemn those paying the price.
Lets talk about Europe's failed economic policies. France retracted its 35 hour work week. Unemployment is very high. Why? Failed government "guidance" as you called it. Try relocating your business to France!
Lets talk about "multilateralism". The number of issues the U.S. is at odds with much of the world is small. Even over Iraq we were not truly isolated unless one assigns far more importance to Western Europe over Eastern Europe. This betrays the real issues behind European "multilateralism" which boils down to national power and advantage.
Kyoto is a badly negotiated treaty which even President Clinton paid only lip service to. While the rest of the world falls prey to a simplistic solution which interestingly makes the U.S. pay the highest cost and gives a free pass to China and India. And I found it funny how just after Bush took office in 2001 I started hearing the mantra "The United States, the worlds largest polluter..." pop up everywhere like a major talking point. The real politics here was economic self interest and we were just out negotiated. Bush was just being honest. Besides, what does multilateralism mean when two parties have an honest disagreement? America spent a year with the U.N. on Iraq.
Listening to the Left, it seems to mean giving in to the other party and do what they want. It would be truly interesting to see how multilateral Europe would be if the rest of the world disagreed with them. My friends on the left seems to think that if Europe takes a policy the U.S. has a duty to agree. Multilateralism is another name for Totalitarianism of the Consensus View. Anyone who has the gall to disagree must be an extremist and should be marginalized to the fringes of society. Or so it seems. Of course there are times and circumstances where it is good to agree with Europe and others and we do on more issues than not. But to wave a banner with the word "Multilateralism" on it as your web site does is just a mindless assent to some nebulous world opinion before you even know what the issue is. Multilateralism for Multilateralism's sake. I'm sorry but some of us here don't think we should just wave away the interests of everything we stand for in the name of some screaming Euromob.
Or even worldmob.
When I travel I will not bring up politics with people but if they harrang me with mindless Bush Bashing I will listen and then politely respond. I will empathize but not apologize for anything to anyone. Perhaps they may hear a different perspective.
Rick, I respect your views but I think you tend to see the best of Europe and the worst of America. At least that is how your essay comes across. Both societies can learn from each other but I think the expectation here is that it is only the Americans that need educating and that is just not so in my opinion.
Thanks for letting me have my say.
P.S. Ever think about a book or show regarding Americans retiring in Europe?
The article is wonderful and should be widely distributed. Send it to David Bronchatio (sp?) on the PBS NOW program if you want to appear on his show. I think he may be interested in what you have to say. David has taken over the show for Bill Moyers. Recently a conservative legislator critized PBS saying that it is too liberal and should not receive tax funding. He had a consultant document the topics on several NOW episodes to in an attempt to prove his claim. I guess he doesn't listen to any other PB shows! PBS is about the only avenue for opposing views to be heard. You have accomplished the same in your articles. I am reading your guidebooks (from the library) and will purchase my own copies very soon. I will be traveling to Europe in September and will use you guidebooks for Germany, Suisse, and possibly one or two adjoining countries. After we decide which countries to visit we will most likely order rail passes from your company. Thanks for being a human be!
ing concerned about the world. You are not alone. I hope you don't mind if I email your web-site address to my like-thinking European friends. I think they will enjoy it.
My husband and I are Americans living in Germany. My husband is a US Army Blackhawk pilot. In the four years that we have lived in Europe, we have come to love the casual approach to life that the Europeans have. We love America, but are seriously considering staying in Europe after we retire. Your article really rang true for me. America is very quickly isolating itself from the rest of the world. The economy is going to pot and poverty and unemployment are rampant. We love the fact that the Germans work less, live longer, and spend more time with their families and still manage to make ends meet. America is a great country, but it needs to realize that the "we know everything" approach won't last much longer. We live in Leutershaunsen, about twenty miles from Rothenburg. Thank you!
I have had the wonderful opportunity of working long-term assignments in several different European countries with my company. Actually living and working there among the population allowed me to experience the local culture to a much greater depth. While the differences you and others highlight between US and European cultures are certainly valid, I have found that the more I am exposed to different cultures, the more I see what we all have in common. There are definitely differences between the two sides of the Atlantic. In my opinion, certain aspects of European culture are superior to US culture. But in other aspects, the reverse holds true. What I have found is that at the end of the day, we are all trying to do what we can to support ourselves and our families and live happy and meaningful lives. We may have different ways of achieving these goals, but we are all striving for the same thing. That is what really struck me from my time in different cultures.
Thanks for sharing your insight into global concerns, and for understanding that each of us needs to care enough to get educated and take a stand (whatever that stand may be) in order to help shape a better world.
I grew up in Europe, first as an Army brat and then with NATO, and the differences in attitude toward work and living life were obvious. I was 9 years old when we were stationed in Paris for the first time, and well remember what we were taught: you are a guest in this country. Learn about it, respect it, and value the differences. The war had been over for 14 years, Europeans still celebrated America's help in coming to their aid, and we respected each other. Then, America stopped respecting, and started pushing, and Europe rebelled against the arrogance and unwillingness to value differences. Enter the ugly American. As teenagers, my friends and I were embarrassed by the loud Americans who wanted everything to be just the way it was at home. Why take a vacation to another culture if you just want the same? Europeans didn't forget America's help in the war; they just could not go on being slaves to the memory.
In America in the 1950s we supposedly were inventing ways to make work easier (remember all the labor-saving devices that were going to fill our kitchens?). What did we do with the saved time? We worked more. We didn't increase our leisure time, or enjoy our families more, or better the quality of our lives. We worked. We don't sit down to dinner with our families. We race from meeting to meeting, or soccer game to ballet lessons, we are stressed out and have more heart disease that any other nation. Are we happy? We have a lot to learn from Europe. They have learned a lot from us. Can't we share all the good stuff and create the best possible world?
I've happily lived in the US for the past 30 years, visiting Europe often. Growing up with a foot in both worlds, I could easily live in Europe. I would still be an American, but, oh, I could embrace a 35 hour work week, shopping for fresh food daily, leisurely meals, being with the people I care about! I could live with the turmoil, also, just the way I do here every day.
I continue to be sadded and appalled by the current lack of understanding that as American citizens, we live in a unique environment that allows us to freely express our opinions, but still there are those who persist in villanizing anyone who disagrees with them. Pity the poor fellow who is not going to avail himself of your tours in the future because you dared to express yourself! He's the loser two ways: one in cutting himself off from something he obviously enjoys, and then by not understanding and practicing that which is provided in his own constitution: freedom of speech! Get real people! Dialogue about idealogical differences is not threatening, it is exhilarating! What better forum for a dialogue on this subject than from people who travel and see and experience the differences. As the French say, vive la differance!
Keep it up, Rick. Remember, your business is based on "Ëurope Through the Back Door," dedicating to seeing all that is there, not just the surface or the tourist spots.
So many knee-jerk reactions, on both the left and the right!!
Was Rick saying that the European Union's vision of government is better than the US vision? Yes, the article could read that way. Is he hard on the US about its opinion of itself in the world community? Definitely. Does he explain the European attitude toward self, country and each one's place in the world? Yes and pretty well, too. Does he sound wistful, wishing the US was more like the EU? Maybe...
But, people, Rick is making us THINK. Exactly what he delights in doing! Why are any of us using his videos and books anyway?!?
The reality is that the EU is embarking on a great experiment, much like the good ole US of A did in the late 1700's. Will it work? Don't know - there are trememdous strains developing as they grow beyond their original vision and include more diverse countries in their union. But why shouldn't we applaud them, encourage them? Their sense of national boundaries, physical and psychological, is becoming even more different from ours. (Europeans ABSOLUTELY see the world, and see us, through a different lens than we use.) We will have to stretch our thinking to deal with a unified Europe because we will have to deal with them, financially and in the halls of the UN, the World Bank, the World Court, etc. That's one of the major reasons the EU exists - to provide another major voice in world events.
We all know there are problems in the US - we have no delusions about this fact. But we've always been clever enough, entrepenurial enough, hard-working enough to muddle through our problems. I'd hate to think my country is now too egocentric or too ethnocentric to change where needed, and, yes, to help Europe change where they need it.
Theresa, Petaluma, CA
Great article, Rick! There are other ways of thinking and living than working 80 hours a week, having 2.5 children (who are nearly strangers, raised by others), having a trophy house in the suburbs, having 2 or more 5000-lb, V8-driven, road hogging, gas-guzzling SUVs.
I personally have changed my life in the past few years to a more European way of living and am much happier for it.
Anyone who has travelled to other countries, and not learned and improved oneself from the experience, has not truly travelled or has travelled for all of the wrong reasons (to keep up with the Jones's?).
The type of religious/political/social intolerance, discrimination, and bludgeoning that is increasingly going on in the U.S. is not representative of the America in which I grew up, the values of which I was taught to cherish.
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln said it best:
"When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty --to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic]."
Source: August 24, 1855 - Letter to Joshua Speed
--Bill from Oklahoma
In general, I agree more with Rick's analysis than the alternatives provided by those who seem troubled or even angered by it.
For some perspective, I'm an American who has spent a lot of time the past three of four years in Europe, primarily Germany and The Netherlands. Here's my take, FWIW. "Old Europe" does have much to learn from the USA (and Great Britain, for that matter) namely, that the global economy is a reality and retreating into some romanticized "social" model as the French seem to want to do is a prescription for disaster. Moreover, one can argue, as Tom Friedman does, that Europe is at least as much in competition with India or China as the US and that if we are too protectionist in our outlook, the emerging nations will eat our lunch in the 21st century.
At the same time, the US needs to grow up, at least in terms of social issues. The obsession of some Americans (and the current president and leaders of the GOP in both houses) with gay rights, opposition to stem cell research, attempts to impose a fundamentalist, theocratic vision on our culture is not only short sighted but dangerous. My wife and I just sat in a church in Munster, Germany yesterday and heard an Oratorio written in the 30s. It was very popular among Hitler's followers because it used themes of the book of Revelations, a popular theme among the Nazis of the day. I suspect fans of the Left Behind serious of books, who support Bush's vision of America would find those themes to their liking. No, I'm not suggesting that Bush is a Nazi, so take a deep breath. What I am suggesting is that those in America who embrace this theocratic vision of reality are a danger to the future of the nation.
Moreover, it isn't an accident that the Dutch have early sex ed and phenomenonly lower rates of teen pregnancy, STDs and abortion than do Americans. Try to teach sex ed in the US and you will have some group from the Religious Right arguing that you are promoting early sexual experience. In other every area (well, perhaps not biology, given the assault by some of the same folks on evolution) we assume knowledge is a good thing.
So, in short, I would argue that we have a lot to learn from each other and that jingoistic slogans and protectionist, nationalistic policies won't help either Europe or the US and we confront the challenges of the 21st century.
As we become mature, we need to use our intellect and experiences to form our attitudes. If we don't speak out on how we see the world and our country changing, we are simply part of the (head in the sand) herd. Many of us don't like what we see from our government, but lack the exposure that you have. Thank you for speaking for us. While doing volunteer restoration of a medieval castle in France, I met fellow volunteers and students from all over the world. I too braved the conversational no-no and brought up politics. Amazing that the United States was not first on their minds. Also amazing was the fact than none would change places with an American. How egotistical us Americans are to think our lives are better than theirs. How much we can learn by traveling and listening to other cultures. Keep up the conversational no-no. Perhaps one day those who are afraid to bring politics and religion into conversation will see the value. Or maybe not. We will continu!
e to travel through the back door with open minds and use your valuable writings to guide us through our experiences.
Kip and Wanda
I would think after the recent NO votes on the EU constitution you may want to rethink your pro-European position. Contrary to your apparant love of the pro-socialist vision of the EU, I believe the recent votes show that Europeans are stuck in their socialistic mentality to a level that will eventually lead to their complete irrelevance economically, socially and militarily. I go to Europe 4 times a year and I have immersed myself in the local cultures. I am not terribly impressed, overall, with their cultures or societies. That is not to say ours is perfect, but I rarely, other than public transportation, find anything of substance in Euporope that I would want to emulate here. The social welfare state is a failure, and that is why the EU leaders tried to pass the Constitution because they know it is unsustainable and they need to compete on a global level and won't be able to if they have to keep babying their citizens. France has had an umemployment rate of 10% for ten years and most people who are unemployed are welfare "whores", as is also the same in Germany. There is no incentive for them to work. I also have friends over there and I am amazed at how illiterate they are in anything religious, or spiritual or even philosophic. They have been completely brainwashed by the religion of secular humanism, and can't even hold an intelligent conversation about such subjects. They talk about surface stuff. In fact, I just broke off a relationship with an American friend who is married to a German and lives in Berlin because after the travel, museums and dinners together, I discovered there is nothing, that we hadn't had a meaningful conversation about anything of any depth in 10 years. When I tried to bring something up with him or his wife or their friends, their feet start shuffling like they are in pain. I am afraid you have fallen prey to the myth of the European vision. My attitude is that culturally and from a societal standpoint it is rotting. I go because we love the beauty of the Highlands and we enjoy new experiences. But I find London, after 20 trips, incredibly dirty, vulgar and full on hysterical anti-Americanis simply because we don't do things the "European way". I have no desire to do so, and your negative comments about our country and your "cowboy" comment, which is so European (and so ignorant of what the Cowboy life was) I believe, shows a lack of understanding about what American and the American dream is really all about. I am a High School graduate, I make 6 figures, I have a half million dollar home in SoCal, I have been married to the same woman for 30 years (happily), have 4 great kids and enjoy a vibrant faith in my God, and I got almost everything I have by really hard work and perseverence. It may be just coincidence, but I haven't met anybody in Europe who can say the same.
PS: we are going to Inverness, Skye and Edinburgh in September.
I am saddened by the defensive and argumentative tone that some readers have taken. I, too, have lived overseas (although not in Europe), and I agree that there is no such thing as a perfect society. However, that does NOT mean that America has all the answers or can do no wrong. I am also amused to see readers accusing Rick of "liberal bias," when they themselves have an obvious and angry conservative bias.
Anyway, Rick, your observations of Europe gibe with what I observed in the country I lived in. I long ago concluded with sorrow that America has lost its way and is headed for disaster if it stays on its present course.
Thank you for sharing your observations.
Rick, Thank you for your article. I agree with you in almost every respect. I also read the comments from your readers. I hope that those who were offended or biased come to realize that America is the country where we must speak out to preserve our freedom to choose. We have been one of the most prosperous peoples on earth, not because we are dogmatic, but because we are free to speak out. Fear not for loss of business; your new friends will fill those empty spaces.
As usual, George Will has the correct take on this Eurotrash stuff you're spouting off about --
The European Union, which has a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows, now seeks ratification of a constitution few have read. Surely only its authors have read its turgid earnestness without laughing, which is one reason why the European project is foundering. On Sunday in France, and Wednesday in Holland, Europe's elites -- political, commercial and media -- may learn the limits of their ability to impose their political fetishes on restive and rarely consulted publics.
The European project is the transformation of "Europe'' from a geographic into a political denotation. This requires the steady drainage of sovereignty from national parliaments, and the "harmonization'' of most economic and social policies. But if any of the EU's 25 member nations rejects the proposed constitution -- 11 have ratified it or are in the process of doing so -- it shall not come into effect. And if French voters in Sunday's referendum reject it, Dutch voters will be even more likely to do so in their nation's first referendum in 200 years.
France and Holland are a third of the original six members of the EU's precursor, the European Economic Community. The most important treaty in the transformation of a Europe of states into a state of Europe was signed in 1992 in the Dutch city after which it is named -- Maastricht. The proposed constitution, which is 10 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, was written by a convention led by a former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
So why are these two nations being balky? Partly because, unusually, they are allowed to be. The European project has come this far largely by bypassing democracy.
Many French voters will use Sunday's referendum to vent grievances against Jacques Chirac, who has been in power for 10 years, which would be excessive even if he were not overbearing. Some French factions, their normal obstreperousness leavened by paranoia, think the constitution is a conspiracy to use "ultraliberalism'' -- free markets -- to destroy their "social model.'' That is the suffocating web of labor laws and other statism that gives France double-digit unemployment -- a staggering 22 percent of those under age 25.
Furthermore, with a Muslim presence in France of 8 percent and rising, there is a backlash against Chirac's championing of EU membership for Turkey, which would be, by the time it joined, much the most populous EU country. Admission of Turkey would further reduce -- more than did last year's admission of 10 nations, eight in Eastern Europe -- the EU's output per person, which according to one study already ranks below that of 46 American states.
The 16 million Dutch, the largest per-capita net contributors to the EU, live uneasily with a growing population of Muslim immigrants. The Dutch immigration minister says "we have about 700,000 people who have been here for years but who don't speak the language or have a clue about our most basic rules and values.'' Many Dutch regard the proposed constitution as a device for sweeping their little nation into a large, meddlesome entity of 450 million people, with consequent dilution of self-determination.
The proposed constitution has 448 articles -- 441 more than the U.S. Constitution. It is a jumble of pieties, giving canonical status to sentiments such as "the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen'' should be protected. It establishes, among many other rights, a right to "social and housing assistance'' sufficient for a "decent existence.'' Presumably, supranational courts and bureaucracies will define and enforce those rights, as well as the right of children to "express their views fully.'' And it stipulates that "preventive action should be taken'' to protect the environment.
The constitution says member states can "exercise their competence'' only where the EU does not exercise its. But the constitution gives EU institutions jurisdiction over foreign affairs, defense, immigration, trade, energy, agriculture, fishing, and much more. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair is scurrying crabwise away from his vow to hold a referendum on the constitution even if France rejects it. But, then, how could any serious prime minister countenance a constitution that renders his office a nullity?
T.S. Eliot, a better poet than philosopher, wrote: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.'' Nonsense. If the French and Dutch reject the constitution, they will do so for myriad reasons, some of them foolish. But whatever the reasons, the result will be salutary because the constitution would accelerate the leeching away of each nation's sovereignty.
Sovereignty is a predicate of self-government. The deeply retrograde constitution would reverse five centuries of struggle to give representative national parliaments control over public finance and governance generally.
Cowabunga, Dude, you are far and away the best travel writer I know, but I fear you stepped in it this time. Aside from a couple of legitimate points, it appears ol' Jeremy Rifkin has seduced you over to the Dark Side of the Force and gotten you to sign on to his characteristic anti-capitalist, anti-individualist (and clearly pro-altruist/socialist/collectivist) world-view.
The point that the rest of the world fears the U.S. is partially true. I claim they actually fear the specific Chief Executive currently in office. No great surprise, since his OWN PEOPLE fear him, and for good reason: he scorns not only his nation's Constitution but the Geneva Convention in unprecedented ways: asserting the power to imprison any person for life without parole or judicial review by simply calling him an "enemy combatant"; soliciting legal advice on just how far he can authorize torture of prisoners without risking abduction by U.N blue-helmets to the Hague for a war crimes trial; claiming the right to unilaterally "first strike" anywhere, anytime against countries that might be planning to attack; etc.
None of this has really ever been part of the "American Dream" or even typical of American behavior. After 9/11, I put it in the category of an assault victim who now only goes outdoors with a beefy bodyguard and keeps a pistol by the bedside. It should moderate with time, or at least with a new administration.
The point about Americans getting too little time off from their jobs for recreation is well taken, but readily fixable without sacrifice of liberties or buying into the rest of the tired statist/socialist cliches the article rehashes: simply elect to take unpaid leave of absence in conjunction with your vacations; I routinely did that for years, even in the aerospace industry, by just taking the time to coordinate scheduling with my management. There were times when my action was welcomed, as projects were temporarily scarce and I helped keep the overhead rate down.
As for the rest of the article, however let's look at some quotes:
"In democracies, governments provide for their societies what their electorates expect." Sometimes what the electorates expect is horribly evil, as with the Aryan electorate in 1930's Germany, which makes most of us grateful we are NOT a democracy but a republic. Democracy can also be two wolves and a sheep voting on plans for dinner; or 51 beachcombers and 49 workers voting on a "fair" guaranteed annual income welfare rate.
"When rated for healthcare fairness among developed nations, the United States was dead last." Fairness is undefined, but apparently disapproves of the fact that health care, like every other good or service, requires that its suppliers be paid for performance.
"With more than two million Americans in prison (a quarter of the world's prison population), we have over seven times as many people in prison per capita than Europe." This would have been a good time to throw a bone to the libertarians gritting their teeth through the chockablock paragraphs of collectivism by pointing out that most of those prisoners are there because of simple possession, on private property, of small amounts of plant leaves, or even tinier amounts of white powder.
"Europeans, on the other hand, see the value of compulsory 'charity.'" Compulsory charity. What a lovely bit of imagery! Picture the Salvation Army santa claus with a gun. The passer of the church collection plate holding a razor at your throat. Here of course we see the final argument against those who don't recognize their "duty" to be altruistic: the armed force of the tax collector.
"The typical high-income earner in the United States earns over five times that of the low-wage earner, by the same measure in Europe the ratio is 3 to 1." Which means that having SOME kind of marketable skill, talent, or ability is almost twice as valuable in the U.S. as in Europe. Can you say "brain drain?" And the line about "the grain that grows taller will be cut first." Have you ever heard a more corrosive, anti-excellence, anti-LIFE turn of phrase? Don't even strive for greater success than your fellows, lest they strike you down! Enough people take the message to heart, of course, and there won't BE any excess wealth for government to redistribute downward, at which time things should get interesting . . .
"The United States is one of only three industrialized nations that doesn't require paid maternity or paternity leave (even unpaid)." This is a puzzling complaint. Rifkin spends much of his time yowling about how many resources every American uses up, so by his own standards every American left unborn should be a good thing. Now the whining is that we do not create incentives to make lots of little resource consumers by paying parents to produce them! And where is it written that one's employer should bear the burden of compensating the practice of DNA-reproduction in the first place?
"You can't lock modern hotel room doors without taking your key out of an electricity slot, which turns off all the lights in the room." Absolutely true. It also turns off the freakin' AIR CONDITIONING, which you may be paying a hundred bucks extra for! So after a long day sightseeing, your room is a bloody oven for a couple hours, at least until you learn how to hack the "off" switch before going out. On this one specific question, Rick, I would say your politics are not merely irrelevant to your readers' travel needs but openly hostile to them.
"Rather than championing private property, the EU constitution promotes sustainable development, fairness, protection of the environment, peace, social justice, women's rights, children's rights, and even animal rights." Private property comprises (among other things) the means by which one earns a living and sustains life: the farmer's wheat, the land it grows on, and the bread it is milled into, for example. When Stalin forcibly confiscated and "redistributed" enough of it belonging to Ukranian farmers (in the "public interest,"of course), they starved to death.
I've gone on long enough here. I'm still a fan of Rick and of Europe, though I imagine some others may not be. I appreciate the heads-up about European thought on these questions. I'll continue to drink the night away on the Greek Islands and enjoy the unique delights of Amsterdam.
And I'll continue to feel a lot better about America's economy knowing that her chief rival is intent on discouraging entrepreneurship and risk-taking by confiscating a large part of one's "winnings" when successful; by continuing to equalize the wealth of those who work and those who don't; and by making life progressively more unrewarding for those with any marketable skills, talent, or ability. As they say, a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to work there.
People! It's only natural for someone like Rick who has studied so deeply the fabric of European society to develop a political viewpoint. To those of you who suggest that Rick "just stick to travel writing" aren't really being realisic in the sense that where he is going is completely natural. Why be so offended? Who cares if you don't agree with him. I just don't see what the problem is? Maybe it's because your deep down inside afraid to challenge what you thought was true your entire life. Just relax and try to understand where he's coming from. He's not completley crazy, after all you like him enough to be visiting his website. And to Rick I say "well done" Up with smart, liberal, forward thinking ways of looking at the world.
My thoughts. This is brilliant. Even though there are many differences between Europeans (I'm Swedish and we are not like i.e Italians in all aspects) the article describes important differences between Europe and the US. I believe that every American should read this article. I have been working in the US and there are many things that actually scare me. Political leaders using their religion to make decisions and in that way forcing it onto other people, the trucks and the SUV's that every American THINK they need (a true product of marketing that is ruining the environment, Bush rejecting the kyoto agreement, Bush vetoing stemcell research but is responsible for 80% of the weapons research (don't kill a fertilized egg, but develop really funky chemical weapons so you can kill thousands??)
ok, that's it. Great article...
Not sure what you are trying to do. Have always enjoyed your shows and guide books, but your recent outpouring of liberal garbage is getting to be very offensive. While I certainly respect your right to your opionons, I watch your shows and read your book for travel information. I could care less about your liberial ideas, and take great offense to your America bashing. While Europe has made great strides in recent years, it was us who paid the price in money and blood that privided them that chance. Though you are certainly right in saying that some people would not trade passports with us, I feel that many more would and I for one would certainly would not trade mine for theirs.
If it has become your intent to use your travel forum to expound your liberal and socialist ideas, then count me out. There are better ways to get travel info.
I am totally surprised as to how many people do not appreciate someone else's political views. Rick, you are a well-traveled adult U.S. citizen and deserve every right to express any political issues that you want. Some have suggested limiting your ideas to the travel show and not delving into other issues. That attitude is simply sad, and surprisingly quite prevalent in our society. Enough said.
It is a very well written and well thought article.
My issue is with the childish comments.
Those that have been so upset by your views that they are canceling their subscriptions seem to me to be very juvenile, sad, and just plain petty.
I think it is ugly that these Americans have allowed themselves to become so brainwashed by the media that any criticism or divergence of opinion is reacted to with extreme reflexes.
Saying that a travel writer has no business espousing his political views is the same as saying that a Texas oil man has no business espousing his political views.
These people need to realize that there is such a thing as freedom of speech.
The article is terrific! I agree with you 100%. Keep writing and expressing your views Rick! Thank goodness not everyone is blind to what is going on!
Your article is spot-on, as usual. I'm glad that you've chosen to apply your vast experience and unique insight into Europe to demonstrate some of the problems that face the U.S. I've read several readers' comments critical of your views, only to find that they invariably say something akin to "It was America that liberated Europe, and is America that is fighting terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of the rest of the world." It's statements like this that betray their narrow world view. The liberation of Europe and the "liberation" of Iraq couldn't be more different. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is that neither of them had anything to do with fighting terrorism.
It's sad that the Rightist elements seem to be gaining so much ground throughout the world. From religious extremists in the middle-east and asia, to the ultra-conservative political machine in the US, to the backwards-leaning new Pope, at times it seems that humanity is losing a little ground. And in the midst of it all is Europe - not perfect by any means; but enlightened enough to realize the value of quality living and the preservation of peace. Ultimately, I believe that humanity will trend towards Europe's vision: it'll take time, and like Europe, things will probably get worse before they get better. As America inevitably loses it's grip on world domination to the likes of countries like China, it too will be able to focus on the things that make life better - and I'm not talking about wine and cheese, I'm talking about things like environmental preservation and universal healthcare coverage. In any case, Rick, keep up the good work!
I agree with you on all of the above since I am a 52 year old retired Wall Streeter who is "out" due to cancer and then my life went golden. I have a whole new life and have been to Europe 4 times recently and visited 14 countries on these trips/ I also flew to Singapore, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. What a fantastic life I have now. I love your books and your videos and appreciate all you do for us travelers. Like I tell everyone Travel with Love and you will have a blast!
As my last venture with Merrill Lynch (I was the Rule 144 restricted stock specalist in San Francisco for 3 years) 4 years ago and what an eye opener this career switch was. My Dad is from California but I have never seen so much greed in my entire life.
America is many things to many people but I still think everytime I come home I want to kiss the ground when I fly in after being in fabulous Europe. The greatest gift my ancestors gave me was that trip across the big pond to freedom.
There are fewer and fewer children being born in Europe-of course we will not feel the effect since this will take time but it is a dying world.
Leaving for Spain/Portugal soon.
Thanks a million, Sherrill in New Orleans, La.
I'm going to keep this real short. I enjoy watching movies, but could care less about the views, political or otherwise of movie stars either Bo Derek or Barbra Streisand. Likewise, I love European travel (have purchased many books, videos, backpacks, etc from Rick Steves), but could really care less what Rick's political or moral viewpoints are.
You are a travel writer, Rick. Stick to it.
Your political stand against Bush last year angered many of us who have been loyal followers of you. We gave you a pass as you seemed to state that the expression of your political views would be limited to the last election. Your embracement of European secularlism and moral relevancy as being superior to this country has gone too far. Please remove me from your email list. I will no longer buy your books or watch your TV show. We were also considering an Eastern European trip with you next year — no more.
Barry and Kay
You say "we" in your article. Are you American? Also, once you mix politics with business, you lose. And you lost me.
My husband & I have had the privilege of traveling to Europe a number of times plus living there from 1970-1973 and most recently from 1999-2003. We have always enjoyed your philosopy of travel. Our travel and living experiences there have broadened our understanding, enriched our lives and given us the joy of learning. Thank you for your valuable information and insights.
When the article "European Dream" arrived in you last newsletter I decided to print it so that we could read it together and discuss it. We sat for many hours discussing the various issues that you covered. So much of the information that you presented was well researched and informative. We were in agreement about many of your positions.
I have forwarded the article to at least 3 people with whom I have discussed the different quality of life issues presented by American and European cultures. It has sparked some wonderful and lively discussions.
Joan & Dan
Rick, this is another one of your articles that shows that, while you understand a lot about Europe, you fail to see some of the underlying issues. Beating around for a few months a year is not the same as living here. I agree with many of the statistics that you offer and that in general, people live a more relaxed, more "social" life here. But you tend to, as you have done in your other articles that I've read, gloss over some real problems and contradictions going on in Europe. It is now coming to light that France trained Rawandan guerillas who then slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. Spain abandoned the former colony of Western Sahara, leaving them to fend for themselves and deal with Morocco. As for the environment, Spain signed the Kioto protocol and has proceeded to flagrantly violate it year after year, actually increasing its greenhouse emissions. Sure, medical care is free in Spain, but that's about the most that can be said about it. People actually die on waiting lists for operations. I lived in the US in the seventies and eighties, and I see Europe going through the same growing pains now than the US then: Immigration and racism, increasing violence, crime and vandalism, deterioration of social fabric, loss of culture and customs, etc. Your articles, Rick, tend to see Europe as the promised land and the US as the land of evil. And while you try to throw in a few tidbits to make it seem like you like something about the US, your articles don't come across as very balanced. Nothing is black and white.
Your article is spot-on, as usual. I'm glad that you've chosen to apply your vast experience and unique insight into Europe to demonstrate some of the problems that face the U.S. I've read several readers' comments critical of your views, only to find that they invariably say something akin to "It was America that liberated Europe, and is America that is fighting terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of the rest of the world." It's statements like this that betray their narrow world view. The liberation of Europe and the "liberation" of Iraq couldn't be more different. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is that neither of them had anything to do with fighting terrorism.
It's sad that the Rightist elements seem to be gaining so much ground throughout the world. From religious extremists in the Middle East and Asia, to the ultra-conservative political machine in the US, to the backwards-leaning new Pope, at times it seems that humanity is losing a little ground. And in the midst of it all is Europe — not perfect by any means; but enlightened enough to realize the value of quality living and the preservation of peace. Ultimately, I believe that humanity will trend towards Europe's vision: it'll take time, and like Europe, things will probably get worse before they get better. As America inevitably loses it's grip on world domination to the likes of countries like China, it too will be able to focus on the things that make life better - and I'm not talking about wine and cheese, I'm talking about things like environmental preservation and universal healthcare coverage. In any case, Rick, keep up the good work!
My spouse and I so enjoyed your shows on public TV. Too bad they have been discontinued here in Columbus, Ohio. In regard to your "European Dream" I must remind you that the United States is responding to the threat of terrorism from the extremists of the Islamic world. Although I cannot subscribe to all of the policies of the current administration, I have to say the the attack on the United States by the extremists called for a serious and even deadly response. Extremists are killing their own people in an attempt to "keep them in line" and the Europeans turn their back on this behavior. This is consistent with their philosophy prior to WW-II when the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews. I can't very much admire that kind of behavior. Truely, being the "biggest on the block" or the "top gun" makes us vulnerable to criticism by less affluent or powerful european and Arab countries. One of our best bets is to cut off our dependence on foreign oil. Without that lucrative cash cow, those nations could not subsidize the terrorists! There are so many things we could learn from travel. Our family has been traveling for 50 years and our world-wide travel started over 20 years ago. Perhaps Rick, you might profit by taking your European travel techniques and superimposing them on travel in your own country! I hope you would then see the real grass roots greatness, kindness, and humility of the American people. Our family has done that and we are unwaveringly convinced that it is the core American who eventually establishes policy and that those policies are humane, kind, strong and familial. They will prevail!!!
My best regards, and Rick - keep on travelin' (in the great United States.)
Well, Rick. One thing can certainly be said about your 25-year journey through the travel industry and the growth of your company......You are feeling your Oats!
I have read your article regarding The European Dream and viewed your readers comments. Each of them are accurate on many points. I have also purchased nearly every video, CD and book you have ever published and used them on countless occasions in Europe. Yet, I have been disappointed of late regarding the injection of personal and certainly liberal views within your writings. I miss the old Rick during these times. In a world where we are bombarded constantly with negative news of every sort, I feel I have lost my ability to escape within your world. Now, even you begin to lecture me and point out the failures of the only country I have ever known.
It is your corporation. You may do as you please. Yet I am reassured in knowing how deeply I love this land of ours and of the issues where it has stood tall, yet alone, on the world stage. Our mistakes are many and at such a terrible cost. Still, I have proudly served in our military, as did my father. I have heard, read and seen the actions of our heros in WWI and II, from New York on 9/11 to the battles of Iraq, despite the troubling doubts as to our mission there and loss of life.
As for me, I have stood on the beaches of Normandy, explored Waterloo and crossed Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin because of you. I am grateful. I have touched history and in turn, it has touched me. There is no question of your loyalty and love for home. You have said so many times. Your intent on these articles has been clear, of getting people to think and view life outside the box. I picture you rubbing your hands in glee as readers lambast your comments, yet praise you at the same moment. And thus, here I am.
I love Europe more than most people I know. They too have many flaws, often fatal. We are tired of being the World's Policeman. Europe, in truth, has failed often to stem the violence that surrounds them, seeking talk instead of action. That bully you knew in school never stopped to discuss issues with you.........he just liked being a threat to your safety. He enjoyed the power and the rush it gave him to control someone.
As an expert in European history, you know well the parallel to this fact. Of all that Europe enjoys and of the wonderful memories we travelers hold there, America knows that as an organized unit against a true threat, they collapse. That is the of basic truth regarding Europe and of events in the world. Work less, drink fine wines and let the wind blow where it may. Maybe if we talk enough, the problem will go away. They did not learn with the Kaiser nor Hitler nor Kosovo. They are not learning now. History will show who is right.
As for us, keep up the great work, Rick! Ease up on the commentary and allow us to slip away once in a while from the onslaught of media and strife that invades life daily. Of the many journeys we may never take, dreams are travels that will always be ours. We thank you for providing them.
Both Rick and Nick miss the point. By holding to a utopian vision of "cooperation" between nations, Europe has slacked on its global committments. When you have the U.S. playing global cop, as it should, the Europeans can have the time to experiment with idealistic visions that are ultimately bound to fail or at least profit only Europeans. If Europeans were so concerned about human rights, they'd tone down the anti-Americanism and do what's right in Iraq. The elections have been held, innocents continue to die at the hands of terrorists. The U.N. (including European nations) should be involved in the protection of Iraqi citizens. Once again, readers on this page keep avoiding the awful record of European nations when it comes to protecting the global human rights that many credit them for trying to attain. Rising nazi movements in Germany, violent anti-immigrant protests in Spain, thousands of French elderly dead as a result of heat exhaustion, Western European jobs heading to the East, etc., etc. Sounds like the European dream. The fact is that there is good and bad on both sides of the Atlantic. By over-emphasizing the good in Europe and the bad in America, Rick does his readers a great injustice. Stick to the travel writing Rick, Michael Moore is already doing a great job discrediting this great nation.
In response to Nick's arguments:
Your arguments are contradictory and hypocritical. You seem to be arguing for argument's sake. Try to open your mind to another view of current events besides your own self-absorbed high-road approach. Maybe Rick's intention was not to come across as "Utopian" but the way he chose to write certainly suggests that he considers European ways superior to American. Just the fact that he has so many readers riled up proves that people are not taking his stance to be particularly centered. High unemployment, homelessness and other plagues are prevalent in Europe. It is not just economic as you try to portray it but also social, political etc. Issues cannot be placed in conveniently exclusive categories as you are trying to do. You do a good job of taking others' points and twisting them to fit your leftist, ideal leanings. The U.S. did not have to get involved in WWII. By the way, the U.S. was practising isolationism not appeasement. The French and English were doing that just fine. So much so that Poland was having a heck of a time convincing them that Hitler was a real menace. Hence why Poland today remains a staunch American ally. They know the price of indecision and inactivity. Many Americans went overseas to risk their lives for ultimately what came to be European freedom. You are insulting to even suggest that readers have forgotten the millions of Europeans dead. Once again, you miss the point. Americans were fighting in Europe! Try to get a European to do that overseas. It only took ten dead Belgians to get Belgium out of Rwanda. Next time you reply with the same rhetoric, try to come off your leftist high horse and deal with reality not predictions and ideal circumstances that always seem to disappoint. Yes, Europeans do have "more than just fun". But your denial of the U.S.' role in the security of the West is disturbing. Without past U.S. intervention, Europe would not have been able to use "so much free time". I'll put down my freedom fries if you promise to scrap your Michael Moore v ideos!!
Just a note to the person who mentioned Gandhi. It is now widely accepted that by refusing to want to change the teachings of Hinduism, Gandhi allowed for the continued oppression of the lower castes. No one is above criticism. You are definitely looking at things a little too much on the simplistic/rosy side very much like Rick and his Utopian Europe. Europe, like America, has its problems. And one of its problems is embracing anti-Americanism in all of its ugly forms now that the Cold War is over. The reassuring thing is that they will need us again. And we will be there with our support unlike them.
Right on Rick! Its your company and its your website. I cannot believe the arrogance that people have to tell YOU what you should do and think. If they dont like it, they have a choice. I personally hope that this is your way of "weeding out" folks who aren't as open minded as you.
Point blank: Europeans are (in general) not free, and Americans are becoming less so all the time. Liberty has been on the defensive since the early 1900s as Socialist ideas of state-enforced "equality" have spread throughout Europe and the US.
Two examples to ponder:
- My father is a Civil Engineer and Professional Land Surveyor. In his career, he is constantly embattled by the petty tyrants of local municipalities who are more concerned with instituting their unrealistic Socialist viewpoints, rather than administering their duties in a manner consistant with a respect for individual rights and freedoms. Too many times have I heard my father tell the tale of the council that has re-zoned private property up for development as a "greenway" or "protected area" . . . and by doing so, robbing the land owner of the use and value of the land so reclassified. Would you like to own 500 acres, where you could sell 500 1-acre lots for $50k each, and then be told that because the township has decided it doesn't have enough land dedicated to green spaces, that you can only break your land down into ten lots, that might sell for $100k each? Truly, if a government wants to so dedicate land, it should pay the going market rate and purchase the land for that use . . . rather than, in reality, TAKING the value of an individual's land or property by fiat.
- With regard to military power . . . as a career soldier and leader of soldiers forward-deployed in the Global War on Terror, I have witnessed first-hand the "effectiveness" of our European military brethren in a variety of countries. This is best explained by a comparison of how populations react to the presence of the Euros (or other blue-helmeted UN types) versus US troops . . . typically, American troops are regarded (rightfully) with far more respect and deference, and excepting organized resistance movements, local unrest and lawlessness plummets. When replaced by Euros or UN troops, populations rapidly learn (Pavlov anyone?) that they can get away with far greater lawlessness and a much greater degree of uncivility in the presence of EU/UN troops than American.
What do these two different, yet connected (by the American experience) vignettes tell us? They merely give the lie (in the REAL world or cause-and-effect) to Rick Steves' ivory tower ruminations on the superiority of the "Third Way" or "European Dream" or whatever you want to call the thought process of Socialists who live in a world of theory and tax-funded comfort, and never dirty their soft hands with the the spear-tip of national security policy, with the risks of entrepreneurialsim and capitalism (though Rick, how successful and wealthy would your company be under German business laws and taxes?), or the moral strength to make the hard but fair decisions that may make someone unhappy.
Finally, in response to the retired nurse that posted, and to further define my worldview . . . Do you truly believe that everyone in the US is ENTITLED to live a life funded by money taken from others? While I am sure many will squirm in their comfortable suburban enclaves as they read this, the true reality is that NO ONE. Not one single solitary human, has any RIGHT to call upon another to involuntarily sacrifice anything for the good of anyone else. Is this heartless? No, it is merely living in reality and accepting reality as it is . . . not living in a fantasyland where one's wants and desires are taken care of by the Government (which wields the might to strip individuals of their earnings for every latest redistributionist fad).
What does that all mean? It means that the individual has the right to live free of violence (which has twofold meaning: 1- the individual has the right and duty to defend him/herself, which obviates European/NY/MD/CA/IL-style anti-self-defense laws, policies, and ideas, and 2- the government's main responsibility is the secure the national defense), the right to seek a place in the economy where the the value they provide is matched with value in turn (this is called employment based on a mutual your skills, abilities, etc. for their market-established value, not a mandate), and the right to behave in any manner that does not interefere with others' rights, civil order, or national security. Nowhere among these very basic rights is the entitlement to have one's life artificially improved or extended beyond that which nature or your own economic wherewithal provides. Simply put, no one has an entitlement to "Universal Health Care" or free nursing homes, or free "health insurance." Truly the decline of the extended family in the USA and EU has adversely impacted the ability of the individual to live out their elder years in the care of their family, but that is where the responsibility lies (not w/ rapacious redistributionist policies that take from those who have earned to improve the lot of those who have not). Like anything else, if you can afford it, buy it . . . if not, then there is no reason for someone to give it to you for free.
Finally, whether it the arts, socialized medicine, liberal Government-funded radio programs, or the subsidy of the most wealthy "poor" people in the world . . . the "European Dream" is all about the step-by-step insitution of a kindler, gentler Socialist nanny-state where everyone's individual freedoms are in reality privileges granted by the state that can be easily done away with in the name of "The Greater Good."
God Bless America.
Thank you, Rick. I appreciate your having the skill and using it to articulate what I have observed and what I think. Having lived in England, having travelled throughout Europe, and having regularly gone back to spend significant time to meet people and share but a small part of their lives, I think that I have been able to "feel" what it is that you describe. While I see our own nation apparently adopting more of a conservative stance, acting "unilaterally, impulsively, and violently," with you I see the "Old World" ... "experimenting with a new way of doing things ... better suited to fit the more globalized world that's emerging..."
You observation that America is no longer admired is, perhaps, an exaggerated statement, but I can certainly see isolationistic trends developing, trends that will lead to further erosion of the respect and leadership our country has enjoyed for two centuries. Point by point, on the economy, quality of life, equality, the military, the environment, and human rights, you describe the differing approaches to our own that are happening in Europe; in doing this you raise awareness that there does exist an evolving philosophy to life that merits our attention if we want to stay respected and leading in the world.
Someone once said, words to the effect, that our democracy is not a perfect one, but it is the best form of goverment anyone had come up with. I would venture to say that European thought is progressing and may show us a form of democratic government that we will want to emulate in providing better for the needs of our citizens in the future.
I think you should stick to travel where you do an excellent job, and leave the political philosophy to someone else. Your "European Dream" is very interesting but your bias shows through clearly. I love Europe and greatly enjoy my times there but I would not want to live there.
Why not just say they have their values and their ideas and we have ours. Prehaps both systems are fine, and just leave it at that.
I can agree with some of what the author writes. However, I had lived in Germany and Belgium for a number of years and what he does not comment on is the awful mess the EU has made. A bureaucracy layed on top of national bureaucracies, and the inability to come to grips with the great dangers of mid-eastern immigration. Europe's singular failure to integrate these immigrants has creatd a very dangerous situation.
In Berlin there are areas where German is not spoken. The Turkish minority in Berlin, having been there for 40 years and almost completely separate from German society is a great danger.
Within 100 meters of Sacre Coeur in Paris we are in an Algerian town. Nobody speaks French and the danger to France has been well covered by newspapers here and in France.
Europe moved from an EEC organization to an European Union type federalism for one major purpose: that of being a political, economic and military counterweight to the U.S.
Anti-Americanism has always been strong in certain countries. The Left has never forgiven the U.S. for our success (and it was the success of the U.S.) in countering the Soviet Union. The Right has, in many cases, shown a great disdain for the U.S. and its culture.
After September 11, comments from faculty at Cambridge and Sorbonne were that "we deserved it". Please keep in mind that Oxbridge and Sorbonne are much more influential in the UK and France than any university is in the U.S.
Yes, the wine and food are better and less expensive in western Europe. And yes, the street are, until now, safer. But at what price?
P.S.: I am not pro-Bush
I love your books and videos, and I appreciate and respect your attitude about "becoming a temporary local" when you visit Europe, but I am a little disappointed by the lack of subtlety or candor in your politics. Jeremy Rifkin?….not exactly a example of a middle of the road American thinking, is he? I'd be disappointed if you sang the virtues of Rush Limbaugh too, but I feel like this site, which encourages understanding and acceptance of differences is now sullied by making thinly veiled value judgments on political matters.
One of the joys of this site, your books and shows is that for the most part, they are "above" politics. Your knowledge and experience on travel is wide-ranging and extensive and has made my travel experiences much more rewarding and enjoyable. However, I don't listen to a rock star's lyrics for wisdom or personal meaning. I don't care what Jesse Jackson or Bill O'Reilly have to say on politics. It's just disappointing to me that perhaps, by injecting politics overtly into your website, it's ruined something. It somehow diminishes how good the website is simply because it mostly stays above the dirty fray of politics.
A good rule of thumb In European Travel is to not discuss politics with the locals because it never turns out good, I just wish the same rule applied here.
I travel to Europe to experience Europe, not to become one permanently, just as you say in your books that while Europeans may like America or Americans they wouldn't want to exchange passports with us.
Unfortunately, the editorial tone of your article/commentary suggests or implies that the European Dream is somehow better or more enlightened than the American Dream. That in itself suggests a value judgment on your part that many of your readers and fans (like myself) that otherwise enjoy your work do not appreciate. Your may personally think the European Dream is better, but I thought one of your lessons for travel was not to expect things over there to be like here and to not pass judgment on which is better than the other - just to appreciate that they are different and to accept and somehow enjoy the difference.
The European perspective is different than the American, not better or more enlightened, just different. Europe's more communal outlook on society, government, politics, free time, slow food, etc. result from an entirely different historical experience of Socialist influence from the industrial revolution through the devastation of the post-war period that brought most European societies together for their survival. That doesn't diminish the 50 year accomplishment of constructing the European Union, but America lacks a similar historical perspective in that way. The history of the "Progressive" (i.e. Socialist) movement in America consists mainly of a series of adjustments to some of the most egregious of the human rights abuses resulting from the industrial revolution but has not consistently maintained any steady momentum as it has in Europe.
The oversimplified "tax cuts for the rich" dogma spouted by people like Mr. Rifkin, Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken and now disappointingly by yourself ignores the simple fact that the so called "rich" also pay most of the taxes (and do most of the traveling) while the poor pay hardly any taxes at all. How does this "progressive" idea of taxing the rich simply because they can afford it promote equality of all citizens? Some pay a lot and some pay none? In this fashion "progressive" merely means taking something from someone because they have it and giving to someone who doesn't. I think Karl Marx said "to each according to their needs". Compulsory charity is an oxymoron, the word charity itself implies a selfless action not required. It would be incredibly cynical for Europeans to think of their "progressive" taxation as "compulsory charity".
The American Dream values the liberty of the individual over the collective whole in contrast to how Europeans do. Europeans have never had this perspective and never will. European freedom has almost always been about the collective good. This is neither good or bad, it is simply different and results from a different historical background. While I realize that some Americans wish we were more like Europeans, I do not share that view. I get the distinct impression, from reading your commentary that you do, and the fact you felt compelled to share that with your followers is more than a little disappointing to me.
The American Dream is just different than the European - it works for them and that's fine, but even though they wouldn't want my passport, I certainly don't want theirs.
Let me begin by saying that I truly appreciate Rick Steves' Europe giving us this forum to discuss these important issues. My intention is not to resort to needless argument or rhetoric but I'd like to respond once again to the criticisms of some of your readers. I think it is important to first point out that Rick's article does not paint a Utopian picture of European society nor does it stand in condemnation of American ideals or practices. It simply emphasizes the positive aspects of Europe's development toward progressive policies and attitudes that optimistically address the global realities of the 21st century. In my opinion, there should certainly be nothing scary or intimidating about examining these developments and evaluating how we compare here at home.
My response to a particular reader's criticisms is four-fold:
First, I still maintain that focusing on unemployment in Germany and France, and making vague allusions to "an over-inflated social security system" is grossly missing the point. Though there is truth to problems of high unemployment and other economic concerns in some parts of Europe, Rick's article makes judgments far more comprehensive in nature than the economy. Economic stagnation in certain parts of Europe does not lessen the value of the EU's vision for a more accepting, cooperative, and diplomatic approach to society and politics; an approach that serves its citizens in promoting a higher quality of life that goes well beyond dollars and cents.
Second, I take issue with the assumption that pacifism in most cases leads to appeasement. I will be the first to acknowledge the necessity of a prepared and ready military to be used as a last resort after all prudent diplomatic options have been exhausted. Simply comparing Chamberlain to Churchill does not justify such a statement. I would suggest that Chamberlain's lack of vision and sound leadership had more to do with encouraging appeasement in the lead up to WWII than any true commitment to pacifism. Besides, Britain was not solely to blame for Europe following the path of appeasement—America was no closer to liberating the Sudetenland in 1938 than France or England. I prefer to focus on the historical examples of individuals like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Certainly no one would dare accuse these famous pacifists of being appeasers. In fact, it was philosophies such as theirs that helped to get the ball rolling toward real progress in places like Warsaw,!
Prague, Belfast, and even Kiev. Call it pacifism or passive resistance, but history also shows us that words can be as mighty, if not mightier, than the sword.
Third, I feel that many of the criticisms voiced by readers were fueled by a latent arrogance among some Americans that, though often unnoticed by those who exhibit it, stands out with a familiar clarity to the rest of the world. I don't believe many Americans hold to this attitude with a hateful heart, but nonetheless, far too many of us operate on the assumption that the United States has something to offer the rest of the world that they cannot provide on their own. To many outside of the U.S. this reeks of paternalism and serves to undermine America's otherwise tremendous capacity for cooperative leadership on a global scale. Those who suggest that Europe has grown content to allow the U.S. to "pick up their dirty laundry" do more to create transatlantic rifts than to bridge them. This viewpoint stems from an arrogance that breeds division and lacks the understanding to foster cooperation.
Fourth, I reassert the notion that much of this argument derives from a xenophobia that exists among some Americans. There is a great deal of denial in rejecting such a notion which can be so easily substantiated through even a cursory review of our historical record. Apprehension and fear of things foreign, and maybe more accurately in this case, alternative lifestyles and perspectives, is certainly not a condition limited to Americans. Many Europeans also have a long way to go in this regard particularly when it comes to issues such as resentment toward immigrant groups, continued anti-Semitism, and anti-Roma sentiments. However, the unwillingness of some Europeans to embrace difference does not negate our own reluctance to do the same. Despite the mixed track records of both our histories, and in spite of some of the comments made in response to Rick's article, I believe that both Europe and the United States are heading in the right direction towards a broad accepta!
nce of diversity.
Ultimately, Europeans do a lot more than "have more fun." As Rick points out, the countries of the European Union have made an overall commitment to sustaining a quality of life that promotes peace, health, human rights, and cross-cultural connections that acknowledge our global reality. To what level Europe will achieve these goals remains to be seen, but I for one am not only cheering them on, I am hoping that Americans gain from the process as well. So before I am tempted to dishonor the 50 million European souls who died in 20th century world wars by making horrifically offensive comments about Europeans having fun as America continues to spill its blood for the West, I might consider putting down the Freedom Fries long enough to acknowledge our global community so that I might explore better ways to be a productive citizen within it.
I was disappointed by your article. Why interject divisive politics into an on-line travel newsletter? I subscribe to the e-newsletter, watch your show, and own the entire DVD set out of my love for European history, culture, and speed of life. I enjoy your patient and inquisitive nature and how you so brilliantly explain and make accessible European travel. I have noticed references to your left leaning views, but accepted them never thinking you would make enjoyable activities, such as your newsletter, a political forum. Politics are everywhere and believe me I get plenty of the left's views from family (I am the only conservative to come out my family), from Hollywood, and the old media.
Although there are numerous points I disagree with in your article, I wanted to comment on a few:
I wanted to tell what I love about my country, its economy, and its culture. Through the study of economics and world cultures I believe we have done very well for our citizens. I think our government is the best government in the history of the world. The United States has not been the only nation or region gifted with the important resources discussed in your article—"a vast, fertile, and barely populated continent; abundant slave labor followed by a flood of cheap, hardworking immigrant labor; a common language; natural resources (lumber, iron ore, oil reserves); and moat-like oceans isolating us from the horrible destruction of the World Wars in both Europe and Asia", but I wanted to put these items into some perspective.
Many regions possess great natural resources, but with a stable political system and an educated, determined workforce we have been able to produce more. Slave labor existed throughout history and I dare you to name a people who have not been enslaved at some point in their existence. Was slavery right? NO, it has been overwhelmingly rejected in most of 20th century western cultures. I found the reference to slave labor being a key to our prosperity to be insincere. Many European countries utilized slave labor in their colonies throughout the world, whose prophets fed European kingdoms. But Europe has escaped the level of criticism we receive. Germany enslaved thousands of Gypsies and Jews to power its war machine in World War II, but Germans do not face self-loathing, scrutiny, and hatred.
Where did most cheap immigrant labor come from in 19th century America? Europe!!! These people came willingly. They came for opportunities unavailable to themselves in their own country. Their descendents today are you and me.
Many areas of the world have immense resources, but why are they not as productive as the United States, Japan (with almost no natural resources), or Britain (also with almost no natural resources)? America's real resources are:
- Capitalism—capitalism allows for the most efficient use of resources. Government planning of a nation's resources and/or economy can lead to devastating consequences for its economy and its people. Capitalism directs resources accordingly. If people no longer need buggy whips, should a government ensure their production to 'save' jobs? No, this wastes raw materials and labor. The workers and raw materials could be producing something that the economy needs and desires. Allowing businesses to fail when they no longer are efficient enough to compete in the market place also frees up resources for more efficient companies or industries. Tariffs against certain imports are a tax on the American consumer. When a consumer has to pay more for products that consumer has to reduce spending in another area or buy less of the product. This reduces the power of money in the economy and is thus a tax. Finally, just because another country places tariffs on our products does not mean we need to place tariffs on their products. Just because an idiot pokes himself in the eye doesn't mean we have to do the same.
- The rule of law and property rights—Property rights allow owners to invest and develop resources. The rule of law allows business owners to be secure in making investments in their property, plants, and inventories. They do not have to worry about unpredictable laws and taxes.
- Freedom—freedom from religion and freedom of speech developed the most human rights focused society in the history of the world. Sometimes we lead—sometimes we are close behind, but Europe does not have a corner on the tolerance game. France refuses to allow Muslim girls to wear their traditional head coverings in school and anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe.
- Representative democracy and the separation of powers—the masses do not steer the country from one fad to another through an independent executive, judiciary, and legislative branches.
- Generous populace—following the devastating tsunami, who was there first to asses the damage and then deliver vital aid? The United States. While many countries said that monetary contributions by individual American citizens were laughable, the US government (who confiscates money from its citizens through taxes that are then freely given to other citizens or countries) was on the scene in very little time. Whether it is through direct contributions or through government aid the US is a giving country. The US maintains a vast military apparatus that can respond anywhere in the world. We provided initial aid in hours and extensive aid in the days and weeks following the disaster to care for people that sometimes hate and usually resent us. Our military is a generous investment of resources by the American people, because as you noted maintaining a vast military apparatus is very expensive. We use our military to free the oppressed and aid the poor. Who freed Europe from tyra nny, the world from the threat of communism, and the Iraqi's and Afghanis from oppression? The United States. Europe continues to refuse to make a real contribution to its own defense relying instead upon the United States for its defense. What good is an army composed of pacifist states that virtually refused to defend themselves or their neighbors in World War II? An EU military is inept from the beginning seeing as any nation can withhold its troops from a conflict. Would Europe be willing again to 'appease' a hostile neighbor by allowing the tyrant to takeover one of its members? Multilateralism and interdependent alliances are not stopping Iran or North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction. It is amazing that critics of Iraq say that Iraq took too long to write a constitution and is slow in forming a government while the European Union has struggled for decades in forming its EU—and Europe is not dealing with terrorists daily setting off bombs. America took about twelve years to form its government. The EU will most likely s truggle forever due to the costs of its new layers of bureaucracy and oppressive regulations.
Our economy is very generous to its poor. In the United States, all children (even those here illegally) are provided education through high school and most poor students receive grants and loans to cover all their college costs. America's poor enjoy the highest standard of living in the world. Many pay no taxes and receive money back at tax time in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Almost none of those in the bottom 20% income bracket now will be in the bottom 20% twenty years from now. Young people starting out usually constitute the lowest earners, but as they acquire skills and savings they steadily move up the ladder and they will often end up in the top 20% by the end of their careers. Do you remember life growing up? Your family probably rarely ate out; vacations were infrequent and short; and the house wasn't large. Compare that to when you visited home a few years after college. Mom and dad were more established and at the top of their earning potential. It didn't happen overnight for them, so why should it be overnight for everyone today? 'Income equality' is really just a feel-good phrase for legalized theft. Taking money from one individual and giving it to another is theft in any situation (even when the taking is called a tax and the giving is called welfare/Earned Income Tax Credit). How do you fight poverty? By stealing from the job creators? Stealing from the risk takers? I think the answer is for people to take responsibility for themselves by at least earning their high school diploma, waiting to marry before having children, and by staying married. All three of these actions have a huge influence for staying out of poverty. The Europeans are struggling with its vast social systems. Germany reduces unemployment benefits to women who refuse to take a job as a prostitute (that is a progressive economic policy I never wish to see here). Europe has an unemployment rate that would never be tolerated here. Democrats lambasted Bush for a 5.5% unemployment rate. Our economic prosperity has not been at any cost if it was we wouldn't have welfare, social security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
America is not 'isolated' as you stated. Up to World War I the US enjoyed very vigorous world trade and is again reducing costly tariffs with trading partners to make more products cheaper for our consumers, which in turns opens more countries for US products and services. At the same time our current administration is defending the country in a long-term war started by terrorists. We are dedicated to developing relationships with countries not opposed our self defense. Rhetoric and inappropriate name calling took place, which further strained our relations with France, Germany, and other countries, but let's not forget that those countries have been hostile to middle-American culture for the last few decades and many in power in Europe remain hostile and unapologetic. Old Europe (which I find to be an accurate title rather than a cheap shot do to the changing dynamics of the region) is very intolerant of American capitalism and traditional American values. We must never ask other countries for permission to defend ourselves. We must never allow our troops to be prosecuted in a 'world' court composed of nations hostile to our culture, traditions, and economy. Our troops endure great sacrifices to defend our way of life and deserve never to be prosecuted in a world court by those who would use such a court to punish or embarrass America. We must also never agree to wide sweeping environmental regulations designed to smash our competitiveness in world markets. If opposing the majority of the world on these issues labels us as isolationists then so be it.
The European dream is a utopian dream and the pursuit of utopian dreams lead to tyranny (Lenin, Hitler, Castro) and war.
I invited you into my home so that I may be exposed to European travel and culture. Please be a courteous guest and do not bring you politics with you.
BS, Labor Economics
I think it is great that you have the courage and heart to use the trust that you have developed with all of us through through your books.
Criticizing Europe's collective unemployment problems is NOT missing the point. Unemployment is not sustainable, and neither is having an over-inflated social security system. Also, pacifism in most cases leads to appeasment (i.e. Chamberlain vs. Churchill). The assertion that European politicians care about human rights in the world is laughable. Have you ever heard about Rwanda? Or maybe Kosovo? Or even better Sudan? European politicians like all other national leaders are self-serving and manipulative. European politicians have the luxury of talking big on peace simply because they have, as always, the mighty U.S. army to pick up their dirty laundry. Maybe having China in charge might bring the lefties down to reality. The comment on American xenophobia is outrageous. Do you really believe that Europeans are immigrant-loving? That said, Rick's article was indeed accurate in describing the general tendency for Europeans to "have more fun." Hey, they can afford to when Americans have, and continue to spill their blood for the West! God bless America and Europe too. If only people realized that the means is what we are arguing about not the ends. Maybe then we could once again have a natural and logical transatlantic friendship.
Personally, I felt that your article was well informed, eloquently written, and persuasive yet non-judgmental. As someone who has lived in Europe for three years as a child, taken two summer-long backpacking trips to over 20 European countries as an adult, and am currently planning a third trip for this summer, I can thoroughly relate to the observations made throughout your article and feel that most Americans would be well served to take notice of what's happening across the Atlantic. Even minimal exposure to European lifestyle and cultural norms will reveal a wealth of insight and valid perspectives that are sure to become part of the conscientious traveler's world view. We would do well as a nation to explore what the rest of the world has to offer with the same vigor with which we export our cultural ideals and institutions across the globe. What is right with America can only be accentuated by enthusiastically embracing what is right with the rest of the world!
In response to some of the criticisms of your article leveled by other readers, I felt that your essay was an acknowledgement of this fact and in no way served as an attack on the pillars of what makes the United States a great nation. As you so aptly point out, we must be students of history. As history evolves we must evolve with it to meet the challenges and opportunities of a burgeoning global community. Those readers who took such extreme offense to your article might want to evaluate the source of their discomfort. It takes someone particularly confident in their identity and open to new perspectives to handle the reflections that appear when a mirror is turned on one's society. Those who site the unemployment rates of countries like France and Germany miss the point of your article entirely and unintentionally reaffirm your assertions regarding America's unbalanced compulsion with time and money. Those who take issue with Europe's emphasis on social equality and environmental sustainability over military spending are guilty of confusing pacifism with appeasement, and do injustice to the difficult lessons Europe has learned from its war-torn past. And finally, those who are driven by their xenophobia to list news organizations like Fox News as a source of balanced reporting that offers "the rest of the story" miss the point entirely. I challenge anyone to find the last time that Bill O'Reilly was concerned with anything other than "his side of the story!"
Bottom line, Rick: keep doing what you are doing! You have been opening doors and perspectives for would-be travelers for over two decades and I believe that your social commentaries and reflections are both poignant and authoritative. Thanks for the inspiration!
A very informative and thought-provoking article. We lived in Europe (Scotland and Italy) during our military service for almost 8 years and you are right on the button on so many aspects of European quality of life particularly. Keep up the efforts to educate travelers. Thanks.
You've painted a rosy picture of life in Europe. Let's take a more balanced look. Germany and France 'enjoy' unemployment rates of 12.6% and 10.2% respectively while US unemployment is at 5.6%. In Germany's case, it's the highest level since 1933. Unemployment average for all 25 members of the EU is at 8.9%. The 35 hour work week, such a great success, has been rescinded in France. Recent German labor concessions include the reintroduction of the 40 hour work week.
Jobs are moving from the EU's western members to the more competitive eastern members. Polling in France indicates they are likely to vote against the EU Constitution. A government report in Germany shows a 'growing gap between rich and poor' (sound familiar) while at the same time they're cutting unemployment benefits.
I appreciate the European way of life and what they're trying to do within the EU. But an objective view of the facts reveals the results of their experiment are no better than the gloomy picture you paint of the 'American Dream'.
What a wonderful, thoughtful, reasonable, rational, sensible article! I have sent it on to friends.
I love your show, I buy your books and have often wished I had your life — I, like you, love traveling in Europe. But I have to say that your recent propensity to insert politics into your travelogues is getting annoying and is bordering on the offensive. People don't want to be lectured to by you or anyone else on political matters. That's not why you enjoy the success you've achieved — and you risk losing that success if you alienate your readers and viewers. In your rosy "European Dream" piece, you neglect to mention the EU's chronic unemployment (8.9% — 10% in Germany and France) and its moribund, overregulated economy. You say they're considering abolishing their armies while the warmonger U.S. continues to build its military. Exactly who in the world do you expect will deal with an increasingly hostile Iran, North Korea and China, among many others? Don't forget that the EU stood by helplessly while the slaughter was raging in Kosovo — only after the U.S. intervened did the carnage end. Do you seriously believe that the EU's "go along to get along" approach in international affairs is the best way to deal with these real challenges that lie ahead?
An excellent essay in my opinion, and thank you. When are we going to wake up and see what is happening in the world. Of course the arrogance of the present administration has not helped on bit,in fact,has obviously made things worse for our future.
25 nations in European Union=50 United States...so??? Europe owes its stability to the United States of America, from WWII to the Marshall Plan to Nato to Ronald Reagan and the fall of Soviet Union to our war on terrorism on behalf of ALL the free world. Maybe you need to spend some more time here in the USA and witness the huge cultural smorgasbord we have here. In Louisiana alone, we have more fairs and festivals than you can shake a stick at...we have lots of fun between our work.
We love to travel the USA, Europe, the world!!! But unfortunately many people in other countries see our biased, leftist media in the USA and that point of view is underlined and they don't get the "rest of the story" like Fox News or the National Review or other more balanced and more mainstream American viewpoints.
Have you forgotten that the USA has more varying cultures and ethnic groups than any other nation?? We've got immigrants from everywhere!!! We know how to get along...we live it everyday here in New Orleans.
I'm proud to be an American helping to bring the ideals of freedom to the rest of the world.
I love your article on the European Dream. One clarification applies where you write this:
The 250-page document [the proposed EU constituion] borrows much from the U.S. Constitution, but it's also peppered with ideas foreign to the American way of government. There is absolutely no mention of God, beyond a mild reference to "our religious inheritance."
While perhaps true with respect to the current US government, the US Constitution has no mention of God. Our Constitution instead specifies that no religious test (or belief) can be required of anyone in government. In the US, the Constitution gives both freedom of and freedom from religion. Our founding fathers didn't want the fighting within our country that Europeans had had for centuries before 1789. Thanks for raising this topic.
Wow! Thanks! What an article! You wrote so much I didn't know about the EU and U.S. This is embarrassing, but such information is not readily available here. You are an ambassador for understanding and world peace. I have been following and sharing your newsletters.
This EU article came into my life when I needed it. I do believe in synchronicity. As a recently retired individual, schooled in the U.S. work ethic, I am disconcerted by my current lack of 'productivity.' You spoke of Europeans who enjoy being, not just doing. That helped relieve a sense of guilt.
I spent three decades as a nurse, watching both good care and disparity of care. Hospitals follow the god of time...and time is money. Medical professionals live in terror of lawsuits. I am extremely troubled that our country lacks universal health care. Now retired, I have no 'retirement' funds from nursing. Our adult working children cannot afford health insurance. My parents cannot afford their nursing home. We have worked hard with stress, overload, overtime, burnout, no paid maternity leave and no childcare assistance while working to make ends meet. There is something wrong with this picture.
In the past decade since leaving the medical world, I have focused on art. It is dismaying to watch the importance of cultural arts diminish in this country.
My dream for a world of peace, improved environment and understanding among cultures is dwindling every year with a government that prioritizes military strength and political power over compassion and respect for all humanity.
I applaud the vision and ideals of the EU and hope for positive change in this country.