Our Readers Respond
"Innocents Abroad — How Travel Made This Young Republican a Liberal"
On December 5, 2004 we posted my political essay, invited feedback, and got plenty of it - both positive and negative. While a few letters were angry, most were engaging and thoughtful. I read, enjoyed, and learned from your comments. The following is a fair distillation of the feedback. First we've excerpted a few pages of brief and particularly thought-provoking quotes. This is followed by a 20-page representative sampling of the 100 pages of feedback we received. Thank you very much for being part of this conversation.
You articulate your thoughts well, but global warming is not proven to be caused by humans and I do share your admiration of the Euroopean model of high taxation and big government. Crass aterialism, however, has become a strong American value, but the answer has to be the renewal of the human spirit through faith in God who only can satisfy the misdirected longings of a materialistic orientation. I do love your web site, TV show, and travel tips, however, if not all your politics !!
Rick, You made some very good and valid points and I appreciate your opionions and views. Keep up the great work and spread the knowledge.
I found the website watching my Austria DVD (from Amazon, for a trip to Vienna). Rick's essay was thought-provoking and helpful. I am going to forward to friends. Thanks!
It's amazing how many writers here have commented that they do not wish to hear your political views. I find that symptomatic of bigger problems in America. People don't want to be challenged and seem to forget that a responsible democracy only functions when people take part! That means we each have a responsibility to form well-educated opinions and to share them in the marketplace of ideas. I strongly believe those folks that had a hard time with your use of this site as a forum feel as they do simply because they disagree with your viewpoints. If you espoused the views they did, they'd welcome your commentary with open arms!
It's our right and responsibility to express our views wherever we can. To silence ourselves does our founding fathers and those who've shed their blood for this country and our freedoms a disservice.
Like it or not, I thank you for sharing and for contributing to the discourse. If only more people would take your lead...
Beverly Hills, CA
Great article. It's important to shed light on these topics.
Thanks for sharing your thoughtful perspective. I was honored to read it. I know it is not for commercial reasons that you took the risk to write it and I applaud you.
On another note, I just visited Bosnia and Montenegro thanks to your encouragement in your Slovenia and Croatia book. Great advice. For the next edition, consider thowing in Sarajevo. That is an eye opener!
We have been traveling with you for years and appreciate your insights,enthusiam and perspective.
Palo Alto, CA
Excellent points. My travel outside the US has been limited to several trips to Ireland and Canada and my time spent in both places opened my eyes in much the same way. I urge everyone to go outside the country, especially young people I know. I've sent the link to this article to all the ppl in my address book so they may read it as well. Thanks for writing it and for sharing your thoughts.
A thoughtful and somber essay. Recommended reading for every American.
Minneapolis MN USA
Two years ago on one of our trips abroad, my travelling companion and I found ourselves in need of a taxi at a museum far from central London (there was pouring rain). The museum called a private cab that worked for businesses and institutions. With no glass window separating us from the driver, we struck up a conversation that inevitably turned to politics. After determining our political position, the driver told us that in thirty years of driving Americans, he had never driven a Republican. He and his friends discussed this and came up with the conclusion that Republicans weren't interested in other cultures. Steve, what if all the European governments refused to deal with another Republican government -- at least for the next four years?
Dr. B. Wollman
Friday Harbor, WA
Just finished reading your interviewwith Salon. Were you looking inside my head? I started travelling (never on any tour) in the late 40's (while in college...to Cuba)lived abroad in Europe when I was 20 and five years in Central Asia (mostly Iran and Afghanistan) in the 70's. How can we open the eyes of those less traveled? Congratulations for your courage, your candor and your wisdom.
Putnam County, NY, USA
Hi Rick, I was Rick for 60 years but go my Patrick now. I was the only Rick in the UK mostly. Now I prefer my middle name Patrick as my first is Clifford and I object to being likened to a Big Red Dog? What an awsome article Rick. I have been here for seven years and feel so starved of original thought and deed. Google 'patrick lockyer' to see my musings. It is not so much that people need to have a passport and to travel to see the light Rick. what they need is explained perfectly in your piece. They need to reach a point where they take in their surroundings and 'mentally' row across the pond. Even to 'mentally' see things from the other side. My lovely wife has not time to take stock. She is much too much on a treadmill. Her company treat her badly and she has no time for anything but escape into a good romantic video. She is 65 years old. She voted for Bush. she has no idea on politics or to some extent geography other than that she once went to Switzerland on a trip with her mom.
Thanks, Rick, for being a part of the solution.
Highland Park, NJ
I am a life-long member of the religious conservative right, who has in the recent Presidential election cycle, voted for the 'other guy', as a result of undergoing a personal political identity crisis. Ricks well written article explains exactly why! While I love our country, there is simply too much moral hypocrisy in American politics today. American capitalism does need more compassion, and while seemingly impossible in our two-party system, we do need to find a middle ground. There are no perfect answers for our imperfect, but wonderful world: only practical, pragmatic solutions. In Paris in '05, I chatted up a policeman. I asked him if the French hated Americans. He said, 'Of course not!' The conversation then drifted to leadership. I asked him who his most inspiring French national leader was. He answered me in detail without hesitation. Then he proceded to tell me he would be happy to name all 43 U.S. Presidents in order. I wish I could have returned the compliment!
Having an open mind makes for the greatest country, government, and lifestyle. I learned that underprivlidged people still take pride in themselves. All human beings desire the same things. Travel can help understand different people, different food, different way of life and different governments. America is of course the greatest country in the world, but not without its imerfections. America can do much more for society as a whole. There is no safety net for the poor. There is no need to keep adding interest to already poor coutires and instead of everyone being out for themselves, a government such as Europe's, where everyone gives to the governemt, can work much more efficiently.Selfishness and control need to be abolished and everyone can live togher nicely. America needs to stand up for what they believe is right, not just for what betters the country. America will always be the greatest place on Earth, but there is always room to be even greater.
montclair state new jersey
My husband grew up in the Philipines among American-idolizing and immigration-seeking people. Becoming an American fulfilled his life-long dream. I, on the other hand, grew up in Canada...you can imagine we have some animated discussions. Your article will be great fuel for our next debate! Thanks so much for your risk and honesty. However, if you insist on such prolific writing, pressing point upon point upon point... there's bound to be something every reader will disagree with :)And I am no exception. I didn't vote in the last election because I could not in good conscience ignore the "smokescreen" of morality issues that you minimized, but could not in good conscience vote for greed and aggression and imperialism. Some of us who don't vote do so not out of apathy or ignorance but rather out of a lack of a conscienable option.
A sincere thanks,
(hey, we're nearly neighbors :)
I strongly believe that people should live where they are most suited. If your heart is with Europe, why are you inflicting yourself on a country you don't appreciate? Could it be that at heart you are a money-grubbing capitalist who bites the hand that feeds it?
Having caught a couple of your shows on PBS, I imagined you a conservative in the harmless, preppy vein. After stumbling upon your travel page and reading "Innocents Abroad," I am choked up and apologetic. Thank you for writing what I feel...
I think it was Harry Truman who said, "If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote Democrat."
You are a disgrace to this country, which has given you a chance to become the capitalist you so revile. Shame on you. I'll bet that like so many Europeans, you are comfortable with animal cruelty. I bet you collect skulls of baby orangutans and have videos of dancing bears and enjoy bear baiting and whales — they are supposed to be so delicious. It is unlikely but you may be savvy enough to realize that this is one person who will not be traveling with you, you scum.
A statistic related to your points: a recent U.S. survey shows 19% of Americans believe they are among the nation's richest 1%. And another 20% think they'll be there soon. So 39% of Americans think they will personally benefit from cutting the multimillionaire's estate tax. I gave money to George Bush Sr. years ago. I used your books for independent travel to Europe in 1990, 1994, 1995, and 1999, and took great ETBD tours in 1998 and 2001. I am a volunteer host for Howard Dean now. See http://dean2004.meetup.com/. Thanks, Rick.
I fell in love with Europe and her people in '98 and wish that for once we as a nation could look to our older and somewhat wiser European relatives and admit that we have something to learn from them. While our politicians deride those who disagree with us as "Old Europe," I like to think that their age is not a bad thing. Aren't we supposed to respect our elders for their life-experience and wisdom?
Since Bush's regime has taken power, the American flag is beginning to feel more like a Confederate flag to me. I am so saddened to say this. What has happened to Americans? I think it can be summed up with Ghandi's quote: "There is enough in the world to support everyone's needs, but not enough to support one man's greed."
Thank you for your very well-thought-out essay. I thought that as I grew older I'd become more conservative, like my parents. But, largely due to the opportunities I've had to travel, I think (heaven forbid?) I'm becoming more liberal. My wife and I traveled to Cuba earlier this year and we were both "changed" by that experience. The hypocrisy in our country's foreign policy is more glaring to us than ever.
You or your selected tour guides would probably attack my religion and my politics without ever wondering if you offended me. Why would I pay my hard-earned, capitalist money (which you rely on to stay in business!) for that?
Having recently traveled to Cuba with a Sister Cities delegation, the full force of American politics broadsided and sickened me. I was stunned by the reaction I received when I returned home and talked about the impact our policies have on the Cuban people. I was unprepared to be treated as unpatriotic for sharing what my travels taught me.
Unfortunately, I see the very self-centered views and greed (perhaps human nature) that you mention concerning Americans, also present in Europeans.
Please cancel all contacts with my email and home address. It seems you are a person who has been corrupted by many trips to Europe.
What a wonderful article! Your thoughts and views are refreshingly honest in a time when everyone is circling the wagons to protect this flawed American image. Your article accomplished two things: to make me rethink how we are viewed by others, and to renew my desire to travel to Europe in the spring!
While many of my friends are afraid to travel during these war-torn times, I believe that the only way we can overcome our differences and arrive at a peaceful world is to discover our similarities — something that can only be accomplished by meeting others in their own settings and witnessing their lives...much as you did in that park in Oslo so many years ago.
I am appalled at the fact that you would express such leftist, radical political views in a travel magazine (that you own). They do not belong here. You should run for office, and try to change the system that way, if you feel so strongly. Although I'm sure the "capitalist, Republican" way of life here in the U.S. doesn't bother you each time you go to the bank. The fact that you would bash our president, while at the same time trying to make money in your business from us poor, stupid, uninformed schmoes, who (according to you) don't know any better, is unforgivable. I certainly will never use your services now. I am greatly disappointed and disheartened — especially as a fellow Norwegian.
Rick, have you been looking over my husband's and my shoulders during our morning rant? We spend almost an hour each day with our coffee, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times, raising our blood pressure before caffeine ever hits our veins. It's so good to see your essay. It mirrors our thoughts and includes statistics we need for our arguments. But who's listening?
When the 2000 election results were finalized, I remember thinking that this country would be in a war, somewhere, by the time the next election rolled around. I told my husband that I was afraid of the mess that we were about to be in. This has all come to pass.
If this administration is allowed to complete eight years, I am convinced that our nation will be completely bankrupted. A woman's right to choose will be a thing of the past by then. The majority of our public schools will be emptied of their diversity, as the majority of white people will have transferred their children to private schools (and their tuition will be paid by vouchers).
I just wanted to write and applaud you for taking a controversial stand, for I know that you, like the rest of us, will be labeled as un-American or a crazy left-wing nut case. Thank you for putting your reputation on the line.
Thank you for expressing very well something that I have believed for a long time: that you can be a proud American and still feel that America needs improvements.
Although you bring up many valid points, you come across as someone seeing Europe through rose-colored glasses. An equally scathing article can be written about the contradictions within Europe.
I believe it is time for us all to become good will ambassadors when we travel and, more important, to become activists at home. I am a member of MoveOn.org — from them I keep informed daily about our administration, our congress, and our courts.
I appreciate your thoughts, but they appear to be naive. Europeans have, as you stated, made a societal decision to provide a high level of social spending through onerous taxation. They, along with Canada, were and are able to do this due to our decision as a society to free ourselves of excessive taxation in order to encourage the world's greatest economic engine. They also received the benefit of "free" defense.
So let us just address the most ludicrous points you make: "We have fooled ourselves into thinking we are a generous nation..." Hey Rick, are you including the billions Americans give personally to charity? We give far more than any nation on earth, percentage-wise or dollar wise. We give more because we are not taxed as much. The Europeans feel their government will do it for them. Next, "Most of our 'aid' is to allies like Israel." Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East — and home of the freest Arabs in the Middle East.
As far as taxes, there are minimum requirements we all must pay. But for guys like you, it gets even better. That's right, your government allows the Rick Steveses of the country to pay all the extra taxes they want and feel good all day doing it. That goes for the voluntary death tax, too, Rick — your country, if not your family, will love you for it! But you probably give till it hurts already, don't you? [Editor's note: as a matter of principle, Rick's will includes nothing that will minimize the taxes on his estate.]
Last year, we went to Amsterdam. In your guidebook, you warn that Amsterdam "may box your Puritan ears." You prepare travelers to see legalized prostitution and drug usage. With all your warnings, we were expecting Sodom and Gomorra. What we found was a peaceful area with sex for sale. What should have been a seedy, dangerous, and scary area of town, was actually more like a Friday night in my hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (only with less crime). The same scene in the U.S. would have included gunfire and a police chase. Although morally I do not condone prostitution, I now accept it as an activity that should be legal. This of course makes me woefully unpopular with my family and friends, who would rather die than visit the red light district. Although I'm thankful for travel, the more I travel, the more I feel like a square peg in a round hole.
The U.S. motto is "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness"; the key word is "pursuit," not guarantee. The Soviet Union model "guaranteed" everything (jobs, healthcare, social security, etc.), and delivered nothing, but misery and dependence. Here is a practical advice for the Rousseau fans (liberals and socialists) in the U.S.A.: emigrate!
I've long believed that the powers of travel go far beyond the "making this world seem smaller" stuff, though that's all warm and fuzzy and great, but I hadn't heard it articulated so powerfully until I read this piece. I sincerely hope this foray into the political realm isn't your only one.
I wouldn't worry too much, Rick. The ascent of mankind is the world's greatest success story; we'll eventually solve all our problems. Our future is in the stars, not the bread line.
Last year my wife and I honeymooned in Italy. I was astounded at the quality of life in Italy. So much eating, drinking, and talking! The working people in all parts of Italy actually read the newspaper during the day! My wife and I had several animated conversations about U.S. foreign policy with Italians in local pizzerias — -and I would bet a month's pay that the locals knew more about American foreign policy than 99% of Americans! Work revolved around life...life did not revolve around work! It could be that way in the USA.
Rick, I'm still a Republican (and a big fan of Locke), but I believe this article lays out many facts that go beyond any U.S. party lines. If we as Americans do not become more involved with the world outside of our borders, our kids and grandkids are going to be living in a world where terrorism is an even greater presence in their lives. We need to work with the rest of the world to solve problems, not distance ourselves and try to solve everything ourselves.
We "conservatives" are compassionate. We just don't trust big government to dispense the compassion. I give 10% of my salary to my church, and a large part of that goes to helping the poor, and I am sure it is much more efficiently spent.
Thank you for your courageous statement. You are a true leader who is using his power wisely. To see a business man with such honesty and conviction is inspiring.
As you pointed out, however, many people even seem to vote against their own self-interest — they just don't pay enough attention to realize it. As an attorney, I deal with estates. Almost no one realizes that 99 percent of all estates pay no estate tax, and that there is no tax between husband and wife. Yet people overwhelmingly supported changes to eliminate the "death tax." Because of the revenue sharing of death taxes between the federal government and the states, reducing and eventually eliminating the federal "death tax" has a direct and substantial impact on state budgets, contributing to the deficits and requiring the states to raise taxes somewhere. The end result will leave huge estates intact (with unbelievable amounts to the heirs), and shift the tax burden to working people or to small businesses, and their employees, through a payroll tax — at least here in Nevada, since we have no income tax — making it more expensive to hire people, provide health care or pay decent wages, and so on. No one but the wealthy would support this if they understood the basic issues. Ninety percent of our country is also losing out when the tax on stock dividends is reduced — another windfall to the wealthy.
The bottom line is that the pie is of infinite size. If the U.S. controls half, let's teach the rest of the world to increase what's left for them. Let us not try to decrease the size of our share to accommodate everyone else.
You're the best tour expert there is and I love watching your shows. But your analysis is shallow and naive — typically liberal, in other words. I have only one question for you: how many oppressed people have the wonderful Europeans set free in the past two years? Answer: probably less than 1,000. During that same time period, the U.S. has liberated over 50,000,000 Afghanis and Iraqis from two of the cruelest regimes imaginable — in the face of Euro-opposition that in the case of Iraq wanted to see the homicidal Iraqi dictator retain his power.
Rick, you do a superb job. I think it's OK to mix some social philosophy with the travel tips. The concepts go hand in hand and any traveler will realize that when they venture out into the world. Keep up the good work!
Thank you. You have written a powerful and truthful article. Travel also opened my eyes to the experiences of the world and their views on America . Like you, I wish all Americans travelled outside our country. In Ireland , someone said to me, "In America, the state is like your country and your country is the whole world." Unfortunately, I think this is an accurate assessment of the view many Americans have. Thank you again for your article. I will appreciate your books, shows, and advice all the more now knowing your point of view for looking at travel.
I agree that we voted in an ethno-centric administration, but the other side scares me too much to much to change my vote this fall.
I don't think that the European system would work here. People here would cheat and abuse it. You need to have a place that has a strong tradition of non-corruption like Austria or Sweden (I mean rooted in the culture). Let's face it, diversity has made our country a colorful and interesting place to live. It has also destroyed any hope of having a group-think society that can enjoy socialism-lite.
As someone who has worked, lived, and traveled in many parts of the world ( India , Afghanistan , Palestine , Indonesia , the U.K. , Hawai`i , Alaska , & California ) over the last 30 years or so, I am appalled at the ignorance of the world of most Americans. That ignorance is now endangering our and the world's security.
The article is superb, not because it gives me any information about the U.S. or the world that is new to me but because it is a heartfelt, non-vitriolic, and compassionate statement of concern from a well-informed person. What you say and how you say it is hard even for a conservative Republican to argue with.
Your travel shows make a great contribution to reducing that ignorance and you should be very proud to be playing such an important role in making the world a better, safer place.
I so appreciate your comments. My Republican ("it easier than thinking") relatives might actually read this and consider, well, thinking a bit more open-mindedly. You'll do more to open minds with this approach than Michael Moore or Al Franken, so again, thank you.
I agree completely with your thoughts.
A point of clarification, however: "most of our aid is military"--not true. The foreign aid budget is half military and half non. Nor are we in last place among developed nations. We are far from being first, but not last. The embarassing thing is that non military foreign aid represents less that one tenth of one percent of the US budget. Before I retired from USAID, we did a survey of what percent of the budget people thought was for foreign aid and what it should be---the results: people thought it was 20% and should only be 10%. If only it were 10%.
Love your videos and travel guides.
Below are the best written of the many emails (pro and con) we received from Rick's article (20 pages):
We are retired, and forsee our social security and California retirement disappearing in the not-too distant future, and have re-financed to buy a small cheap house in France. We figure the least we need to survive is a paid-off house, and we could grow veggies to survive.
We see our middle-class neighbors losing their jobs and houses and going under, our right-wing friends and relatives shooting themselves in the foot and not realizing it. I know they're not dumb, so how can they be so dumb? This is the big puzzlement of my life. Your explanation that they think it will be their turn down the road has to be it. I think it was Harry Truman who said, "If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote Democrat."
We don't talk politics with our relatives because we will just get shouted down. The last time I heard a political comment at a family gathering it was "Anyone who doesn't watch Fox News really shouldn't be allowed to vote because they don't know what's going on." I don't think they're open for discussions.
Anyway, it has occurred to us that your livelihood must be threatened by what's going on, and we do see you as one of the lights of truth about the world for Americans. One or two more big attacks on our shores, and what? Iron curtain? I think yes.
Having caught a couple of your shows on PBS, I imagined you a conservative in the harmless, preppy vein. After stumbling upon your travel page and reading "Innocents Abroad", I am choked up and apologetic. Thank you for writing what I feel...
I spent almost three years in Germany as a teenaged U.S. soldier. I felt alone in my views of our America in the world. Now, even whilst living in somewhat enlightened Seattle, I have a strong need to escape and visit with folks in the real world outside our borders.
I think your article is very well written and expresses concerns of my own heart. I have been spurred to thoughts along these lines so much more than before 9/11. There seem to be so many complex, age-old questions which seem not to have answers. However, I would like to pose this question: What would the latter half of the 20th century (including our present day) look like without the international presence of the U.S., especially with regard to WWII and the Soviet Empire? Might it be fair to say that our European friends (especially) might have had a far different future, in which their "quality of life" might have been grossly different (please consider this with a view toward the excesses of evil forces-the Holocaust, etc). To sum up, it seems as though the nature of our imperfect world is that the competing forces of good/evil, haves/have-nots are constants. Therefore, I am grateful for the sacrifices made by so many (in our nation as well as others) to stand in the gap, even though any foreign party might have much to criticize.
Perhaps you could turn the table, and challenge foreigners to come to the small towns of America, attend little league games, attend a rural, conservative church, and talk with our working masses in the cafes and bars of small town U.S.A.. They could then see our tender regard for human life and societal values. Let them also look for their military cemeteries like those of Luxemburg and Normandy.
Wow, thank you! I am a U.S. history and government teacher. I think what you are saying is absolutely correct. I am about to travel to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France for the first time and I have been warned about wearing anything that will overtly identify me as an American. I am told the Europeans love individual Americans, just not the egocentricity of our government. I am appalled at the good will we have squandered after 9/11. I am also appalled at the bully mentality of our current administration. Some say the tide is turning. I hope so. I still have hope that we, as citizens, will come to our senses. There is an election coming up.
Before I offer my criticism, thanks for all you've done for my travel education and for your wonderful center in Edmonds. I agree with the majority of your thoughts though I would label myself from the opposite side of the spectrum.
One thought is that you seriously underestimate the nature of evil in the world. I agree the USA has greatly misused its clout in the world. However the reality is also this: apart from the evil capitalistic system of the USA, the USSR would have over run Europe after WW2, more Jews than the 6 million who were murdered would have suffered the same fate, etc. We do certainly over-use the word evil but yet it's really there.
The fault I find in your article is that it appears you think if only we gave the government more control over our lives and paid higher taxes and were better educated, etc., the world would be more pro-USA. I disagree. The day we stop supporting Israel, for example, it will cease to exist due to millennia of hatred between the parties in the Middle East. We are hated, in part, because we do provide 'the big stick' in places. And yes, I agree we too often misuse the big stick.
Year of Jubilee: I am a pastor and I appreciate your thoughts on that and generally agree. At the same time, however, I must say, as a pastor I have actually worked with children of the welfare state in the inner city (not currently). The generosity and hand-outs of the 'great society' in my view undermined and destroyed more than it healed and restored. I've seen it first hand, and it was heartbreaking.
Again, I agree more than I disagree (for example, I would love to live with a better mass transit system), but I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
I strongly believe that people should live where they are most suited. If your heart is with Europe, why are you inflicting yourself on a country you don't appreciate? Could it be that at heart you are a money-grubbing capitalist who bites the hand that feeds it? The absence of intelligence, information, and analytical ability puts you and your kind on the third grade level. My five-year-old grandson can do better than you.
You wonder, why does this reader not argue the points you made? Doing so would accomplish nothing. You are a disgrace to this country, which has given you a chance to become the capitalist you so revile. Shame on you. I'll bet that like so many Europeans, you are comfortable with animal cruelty. I bet you collect skulls of baby orangutans and have videos of dancing bears and stock in bear farms and enjoy bear baiting and whales, they are supposed to be so delicious. It is unlikely but you may be savvy enough to realize that this is one person who will not be traveling with you, you scum.
-Dr. Eleanor Tavris
[Editor's note: For the record, Rick does not own any baby orangutan skulls nor does he collect videos of dancing bears.]
Thank you for this marvelous essay. I have forwarded it to everyone in my address book. I am aware that sharing your heartfelt thoughts in this way you are going to raise the ire of some that see themselves reflected in it, but hopefully some bit of it will roll around in their heads and work its way into their consciousness...and they will be better for it. Thanks for articulating so well what so many others feel.
I commend Rick for writing an article like this. It is so sad that all of the negative information in this article is true. Unfortunately, most of the people who read this article will insist that Rick is unpatriotic for not supporting his president and the "war on terrorism." I have my degree in political science/finance and it has always fascinated and upset me that the majority of the American public can sit idly by and watch as our civilization crumbles. The fact that 56% of American children live below the poverty line and no one seems to care is shocking! And yet we are considered a rich country? Many people who go to Rome ask themselves, how can such a wonderful society have collapsed, how can they have lost their control? Yet, Americans sit by and watch while the same thing happens to our society. Rick explains it perfectly when he says we have a dumbed-down electorate. I have actually heard someone say, "I'm a Republican because I believe in protecting small businesses and funding public schools!" The fact that a person cannot even identify what their party stands for is very scary. Are you interested in running for office, Rick? Because you have my vote!
I have seen people in a small village in central Turkey who enjoy the lives they are living and could care less about TVs, computers, and microwave ovens. The women were baking their daily bread in the town's community oven and the children were playing in the street without a care in the world. There are many times that I have thought them and envied them the simplicity of their lives.
I have also seen what is happening in China and have become very sad. The Chinese are destroying their country and their heritage in their attempt to become like us. From the Three Gorges to the houtongs, they are destroying the "old" and building a "modern" country. On the Great Wall of China, the young women were wearing Western-style clothing, including high-heel shoes. And everyone in China had a cell phone and or a beeper. I truly feel sorry for the Chinese — they are giving up too much for the little that they are gaining.
After a trip in Italy and a trip in France using your books as a major planning guide, I thought I couldn't be happier with you. However, I have immense admiration for you standing up and writing this. I agree on all points. As an inveterate traveler, but also an ESL teacher to refugees from around the world, I have seen first-hand what you speak of. In younger days, I did the Andean backpack circuit, and have seen poverty up close, and it's ugly. And we contribute. So, thanks for using your podium for such good causes.
Thank you for your very well-thought-out essay. I thought that as I grew older I'd become more conservative, like my parents. But, largely due to the opportunities I've had to travel, I think (heaven forbid?) I'm becoming more liberal. My wife and I traveled to Cuba earlier this year and we were both "changed" by that experience. The hypocrisy in our country's foreign policy is more glaring to us than ever. The disconnect between us and the rest of the world is scary, though I think that most foreigners do not hate Americans...they just hate our government. President Eisenhower started the People-to-People program in the 1950s, and he's been quoted as saying that there will come a time when people will want peace so badly that governments had better get out of the way and let them have it! Amen.
Rick, you are falling in the same trap that the "Hollywood" elite has anointed itself with. The Hollywood elite has used their high-profile personalities and their success as a platform to tell others how they should think and feel about politics and matters of national interest. It is not their spot to do so. I respect them for their acting talents and nothing else. Because of just that fact, our family no longer will listen to Barbara Streisand, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and the likes of other Hollywood celebs who feel that what they believe politically is important to me and others like me. I only want them to entertain me and not try to dazzle me with their political views. I look to you for travel advice and tips and don't care to know where you stand politically. Stick to what you do best (travel) and leave the politics and its opinions to each of us to decide for ourselves.
What a wonderful, thoughtful article you have written. Having recently traveled to Cuba with a Sister Cities delegation, the full force of American politics broadsided and sickened me. I was stunned by the reaction I received when I returned home and talked about the impact our policies have on the Cuban people. I was unprepared to be treated as unpatriotic when I pointed out the good things the revolutionary government has done in Cuba and the difficulties our embargo have caused. Castro is definitely guilty of numerous human rights abuses, but as long as the U.S. embargo is in place, he can blame us for the problems he has created.
The most poignant moment of our trip came during a church service when a woman announced that her daughter who lives in New Jersey had called the night before to tell her that she had become a grandmother for the first time. The woman was overjoyed at the news, but as she shared it with the rest of the congregation she began to cry. She cannot visit her daughter and grandson in the U.S., and her daughter and grandson are allowed only one visit a year to Cuba. How awful to be prevented from being with family because of government policies. I feel a moral obligation to the people of Cuba to become politically and religiously active to promote more just and humane policies with the ultimate goal of peace and understanding between our countries.
Travel has certainly opened my eyes, broadened my ideas of what works for different countries, and enriched my life. I, too, am proud to be an American, but I want our country to act ethically and take more responsibility for the global impact our policies have on people, the environment, and the distribution of resources.
I agree that travel opens your mind to others viewpoints, particularly how America and Americans are viewed from Europe. Unfortunately, you did not mention that many (if not most) Europeans also have an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to non-native residents of their own country. They are very strong in their opinion that the benefits paid for by "their" taxes should not be used to support the "newcomers" (some 2nd- and 3rd- generation non-natives) who live in their country. I have seen much stronger racist views from Europeans (relatives, friends, and acquaintances) during my many trips than from any of my American friends or relatives. Unfortunately, I see the very self-centered views and greed (perhaps human nature) that you mention concerning Americans, also present in Europeans; and it seems to be getting stronger and more evident as European countries become less "homogenous." My observations agree with many of yours, but what you indicate are American views of the world are (unfortunately) views that develop naturally with the growth of affluence and the desire to protect "what is mine" (a.k.a. greed). I have seen both the best of people (and governments) and the worst of them here and in Europe. I pray that God opens all of our eyes to the cause and the ultimate solution of these world-wide issues.
I agree with your comments completely and find it very sad that America has put itself in this position. I am a Canadian and recently overheard comments from my co-workers about a cruise in which they cancelled a port excursion because many Americans were booked on it as well, and though they had become acquaintances with them on board the ship and liked them, they didn't feel comfortable traveling with them in a foreign country because they feared that they would be mistaken for Americans and that would put them at risk. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've heard this type of comment.
Also, I know that Canada has certainly suffered many economic penalties because we didn't support the invasion of Iraq unless it was sanctioned by the U.N. Though I am very saddened by the loss of life (both Iraqi and American), I feel that we made the right decision. I can only hope that the U.S. finds a way of extricating themselves from Iraq without leaving the country in turmoil and without further loss of life.
I think Americans are good people, but their global politics are a bit naive and that their current economic policies will only succeed in the short-term and will leave room for a country such as China to eventually become the next super-power.
"Recently a young Palestinian girl blew herself up in Israel taking several Jewish people with her. Her brother had done the same thing the month before. Western journalists called her a terrorist and a religious fanatic. Rather than acting as a fanatic Muslim, could she be acting as a person whose society feels helpless, locked in squalor...a martyr crying out that her people deserve hope and decency?"
This is the only time that I have read anything from Rick that disturbs me. Without getting into a lengthy discussion on this most difficult subject, please let me respond, briefly: For more than 100 years, Arabs have attempted to prevent Jews from settling in this area. Since Israel became a state, the published mission of the Arab nations has been to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, refusing to allow the state to exist at all. While I do not disagree with the fact that both sides carry some blame, and while I freely admit to being a Zionist for most of my life, I also find it necessary to point out that suicide bombers deliberately kill innocent people in the name of religion and martyrdom, yet it is Israel that is strongly criticized by the world for defending herself. This is a very serious matter, but please do not judge without fairly considering both sides.
-Rita A. Allen
Your excruciatingly accurate column clarifies what I believe many Americans know to be true about our current political and economic place in the world. I have for many years considered myself a Locke-style conservative, but I have had increasing questions about why this wealthiest nation on earth seems only to promote ever-greater levels of consumption and materialism. As many happy, healthy, and fulfilled people in your and my travels have discovered, life is not about consumption. It is about experiences, people, and relationships. The increasingly frantic pace of "life" in America does not value or allow time for this.
America has developed into a nation of selfish individuals that care more about dual careers to support the big house and two new cars than raising their own children. Forty to 50 hours of day care a week for babies and toddlers promote the next generation of compassionless consumers, rather than the well-grounded, family-centered individuals needed in masses to turn the values of this nation around. It's interesting that the rapid rise of drug use, crime, and exploding prison populations in the last 40 years has correlated with dual careers, unabated materialism, and "more is better" attitudes.
Don't get me wrong, I still believe America is the greatest nation on earth and like you I wouldn't trade my passport with anyone. It will be very difficult, however, to redirect the personal greed and selfishness into the economic and political changes needed to make us better global citizens. Columns like this can do nothing but help. Thank you for the great work!
I value your work and your opinion. I, too, am a proud American. We do live in an unbelievable country that offers limitless opportunity and individual freedom. For that I am thankful. However, with our freedom and wealth comes a responsibility to pursue truth and share what we have. So many of us, though, don't seek truth — instead we eat the lies that the media and our "pop" culture feed us. Lies about what life is about and what will make us happy. And we gobble them up without question. Hollywood has very clear-cut agendas and produces so many movies and programs that don't properly reflect the majority of Americans. And then these programs are broadcast in other countries and this is what they think all of America is — Dallas and Melrose Place ! I don't want that to be the only impression that the world has of America. We have a God-given responsibility to reach out. We have so many valuable things to share. And we have so much to learn from others.
Our American society has conditioned its people to believe that success is determined by financial and material affluence. And that's why I enjoy "escaping" to Europe — to still be in a highly educated and civilized society, but one that has a different social focus. Our society is heading in severely dangerous areas and needs to reach out for answers. How is the rest of the world dealing with huge social problems like single-parenthood and dead-beat dads? We have a generation of children being raised by daycare centers! Do they teach morals and values in daycare? Families move thousands of miles from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The family relationship is being traded for the pursuit of financial wealth. Being intensely lonely and disconnected while living in a mansion on the beach doesn't sound like success to me.
Again Rick, I appreciate this article because it more clearly helps me to identify the feelings that have been so passionately burning inside of me since my first trip to Europe in 2000. It was love at first sight, and I have been connected to the continent ever since. I will not accept things the way they currently are in this country. We have too much potential to waste our talent and resources merely on the pursuit of pleasure and accumulation of wealth. God created us for something better. And I won't be able to rest until I find some answers.
As always, I look forward to your next broadcast and website updates. You are delivering a valuable service — bridging the gap of differences in humanity. After all, aren't we more alike than we are different?
As someone who feels he is a little right of center, I was at first annoyed at this blatantly political statement. However, I read it through and now have some food for thought. Unfortunately, our ruling oligarchy (Congress) is owned lock, stock and barrel by the moneyed elite. God help us all.
Until I read your article, I had never seriously contemplated how much our European travels may have influenced our political viewpoints. But it is clear that these "pleasure" trips have had a much deeper influence than we realized! I have family in Greece and we have visited them many times. Seeing how happy they are with only a fraction of our wealth has been a profound revelation. Hearing their political views has made me rethink my selfish "American" viewpoint many times!
We are also very fortunate to be wealthier than most Americans. And this does not stop us from being staunch, proud liberals! Many people in our country believe that once you have a little money, you must be crazy to be liberal. We, too, believe that big government, European-style, is not necessarily bad government. We do not mind paying higher taxes if it means better education for our children, better social programs for elderly, etc. We do mind our government spending our hard-earned tax money on a "war for big oil" in the Middle East!
Amen!!! I recently spent two months in Germany studying the language and culture at a Goethe Institute. I had been given a scholarship through Luther Seminary of the ELCA. I expected it to be life-changing, and it was in ways that I could not have anticipated. Your voice is that of one crying in the wilderness. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. They strive towards ever-greater unity with each other and with our planet, even as we isolate ourselves from both. As a pastor, I struggle to teach the lessons I have learned and that you describe. They are biblical principles, and yet they are often not popular in our current context.
Rick, have you been looking over my husband's and my shoulders during our morning rant? We spend almost an hour each day with our coffee, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times, raising our blood pressure before caffeine ever hits our veins. It's so good to see your essay. It mirrors our thoughts and includes statistics we need for our arguments. But who's listening? We preach to the converted. Or to friends who think we're deluded by some powder that sprinkles inconsequential numbers into our heads. "Global warming? Everyone says it's not proved." Yikes! We'll rest easy over this one, though. The Union of Concerned Scientists says we can save our breath and not bother to convince people of what's happening; it won't be long before the changes in our world make the fact of global warming only too obvious.
What is it that makes people want to be isolationist, that makes them so uncurious not only about the physical world but also about other people and how they think and feel and live? And eat? (Our travel journals read like food journals. Don't everyone's?)
Education can help. But that means a wholesale change in how teachers translate the knowledge they're passing on. Though they're educated, they can be as close-minded as anyone else. If only everyone could have some rich travel experiences. I'm so fortunate. Like your "travel moments" on top of the Alps and at the Reichstag, my "moments" are precious in my memory. A couple of important ones took place in Japan. They changed my teaching. (I was an English teacher.)
The bus I was riding near Sendai came to a stop. There were children playing in the intersection — quite young, rowdy, and very cute. After a bit of waiting, a woman on the bus disembarked, picked up the smallest child, and told the others to follow her off the street. After a few more admonitions to them, she got back on the bus, and we continued on. Well! It appears that all Japanese are parents to all children. I know what would happen here in the States if I took a strange child by the hand or even if I prevented calamity by telling kids not to play on an escalator.
A similar example of community responsibility took place in a Kyoto cab around midnight. The cabbie stopped in the middle of a dark, narrow street a few blocks from our guesthouse. What? We could barely make out a lump on the road. The cabbie got out and leaned over the lump for a minute or two. Then he helped what turned out to be a live man crawl to the sidewalk where the cabbie rearranged the man's blanket around his shoulders. A drunk. I've never seen a drunk treated with such respect.
It's a sense of community: not individualism — which is the foundation for a large part of American culture and, therefore, literature, as well as, it seems, the unilateralist actions of our current government — but the good-of-the-order, which so many Americans think to be oppressive. During the years following those Japan trips, a theme in my classrooms of 15- to 18-year-olds was "What is community?" The value of benefiting a group, as opposed to an individual, was a new idea to these kids from a blue-collar community. We'd talk about their neighborhoods, then life in the old country — possibly Italy, Mexico, maybe Poland — and then try to get a sense of that other culture, which is in their families' histories, to bring that different culture close to them. It's the sense that travel would give them.
I was hoping to move them in their thinking from "me first" to "what is good for our community," hoping they'd expand on that principle and grow from "my country right or wrong" to, as you say, "multilateralism." Meanwhile, my former schoolmate Hillary Rodham wrote a book called It Takes a Village . She was mocked for it. Many days these days, I think I was pursuing a lost cause.
Although you bring up many valid points, you come across as someone seeing Europe through rose-colored glasses. An equally scathing article can be written about the contradictions within Europe. For example:
While you marvel at the investments in infrastructure, consider that Britain is spending over $3 billion building a high-speed rail link from London to Dover to cut the trip to Paris by 20 minutes for those rich enough to take the Eurostar, while the Tube and local commuter rails used by over a million people every day are crumbling from decades of neglect and underfunding.
While France and Germany decry American "imperialism," they insist that the rest of the EU live by their rules, even as they vote themselves exemptions to the spending rules they insisted be written into the treaty creating the euro. Small wonder the 10 newest members-to-be are suspicious.
While Ireland arguably benefited from years of investment by the EU, it is notable that they initially voted against the Treaty of Nice that extends those same benefits to the 10 newest members joining next year.
Denmark, while one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and one of the lowest life expectancies in the industrialized world, owing to high rates of alcoholism and unhealthy diets.
After decades of the highest tax rates in the world, the average Swede has seen his standard of living fall from among the highest in the world to near the bottom of the EU. He is also finding that the quality of his much-vaunted government healthcare and welfare services are in decline, mainly because there are fewer resources to go around.
Behind the facade of tolerance and ethnic harmony that the EU displays to the world is a discontent that is fueling the growth of ultra-right-wing, anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe (France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Austria, for example).
I could go on, but my point is not to engage in a battle to determine who among us is the worst. Rather, I think that the spirit of your message is one that needs to be seen and heard by more than just an American audience.
As an American living overseas at the moment, I am amazed at how much less about the U.S. and Americans the average person I see actually knows versus what they think they know about us. Perhaps it is because Europeans are no more likely to make the journey across the Atlantic than Americans.
It is rather heartwarming to listen to a journalist on London radio remark at how friendly he has found average New Yorker to be since his arrival a few weeks before! Having seen the U.S. only in episodes of Law and Order , and on images of our President (any one) or military on the local news broadcast, the average European easily loses perspective and forgets that the U.S. is much more than the U.S. government. Although more "Back Door" travelers to Europe can help change this image somewhat, a European trip through American "Back Doors" would do much more.
Rick, I just finished reading your article. Thank you for saying so well what is in my heart.
I love to travel (have been traveling the world ever since I was in the Peace Corps 40 years ago!). Last spring, though, I nearly cancelled a trip to Italy I'd been planning. I felt it was somehow frivolous to travel in a time when our country was dropping bombs on innocent people.
I was glad I went, though. I welcomed the opportunities I had to let people know that not every American supported the war in Iraq. My favorite experience was buying a pace ("peace") flag in a little shop in Rome. The saleswoman seemed truly astounded to discover that I was an American and was opposed to the war. She reached out and took my hand and held it. I was at that moment so happy to be there and to be able to speak a little Italian.
Coming home, though, was distressing. Every day since, I read of yet another mislead by our administration. I have never been so ashamed of our country and so worried about its future.
I believe it is time for us all to become good will ambassadors when we travel and, more important, to become activists at home. I am a member of MoveOn.org — from them I keep informed daily about our administration, our congress, and our courts. Depressing as the daily news is, there is also something one can do each day: write a letter to a local newspaper, call a congressman, spread the news to friends, join other activists to discuss ways to take back our country, etc.
Let us all hope and work for a better world.
Your thoughtful essay skillfully connects U.S. policies with the importance of open-minded travel. It's a great lesson in the importance of seeing everyone in the world as truly human and as deserving of high-quality lives as we Americans are.
I was feeling a little envious of a friend's new BMW today, but after reading your essay, I'm proud to say that I drive a ten-year-old, fuel-efficient car (and I'm spending the money that would have gone to a car payment to visit Paris this January, and the Caribbean island of Dominica in February.)
In our nation of high-pressure advertising and attitudes of entitlement, it's sometimes hard to remember what is truly important. Thanks for the reminder!
This was an amazing article. I think living in a free state means being able to honestly look at what we do well and the areas on which we need improvement. In the summer of 2002 I had the chance to work in Saudi Arabia to clerk during the summer break in law school. Everyone told me things like "you shouldn't go," "they are terrorists," "are you going to be taking a camel to work!?" While there, I met people from numerous European countries, other countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, and many African countries I had never even heard of before. It struck me that these people had all become my dear friends and "home" for them was not the United States. I realized how similar all people are and that they had the same motivations that my friends in the U.S. had; they were working hard, they had families at home who missed them, and they wanted to give their children opportunities that they did not have. I realized that there was more than one side to the Israel/Palestinian issue. I remember talking with my Muslim friends and coming to the conclusion that you cannot win an ideological war with guns. I understood that trying to understand why people would want to bomb the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon does not mean that one is condoning the action.
These all sound like simple epiphanies, but they really impacted my life and your article hit on "truths" that I found to be self-evident after traveling. I hope to continue to travel and understand what life looks like from others' vantage points and I thank you for your insightful article.
I appreciate your thoughts, but they appear to be naive. Europeans have, as you stated, made a societal decision to provide a high level of social spending through onerous taxation.
They, along with Canada, were and are able to do this due to our decision as a society to free ourselves of excessive taxation in order to encourage the world's greatest economic engine. They also received the benefit of "free" defense. Had we not guarded their eastern flank during the Cold War, they would all be speaking Russian today. It does appear that Europeans, particularly the young, need to be reminded of this. Our country's military continues to protect them even as they run down the U.S.A.
On a trip to France prior to September 11th, my wife, parents, and I spent a few days in Lyon with my American cousin, her French husband, and their family. During our first meal together, they began asking us how President Bush was elected when apparently nobody liked him or his policies. They were stunned when we informed them that we strongly supported the President, and that they should read something other than Le Monde . They were further shocked when we stated that the President was in fact quite well-liked by a lot of Americans.
I do agree with you, Rick, that travel can expand horizons, but you seem to think that we Americans are always in the wrong, and can learn from the wise Europeans. You need to remember that it cuts both ways, they can learn from us as well.
I will use your essay in next term's Freshman Writing course (focus: travel writing) here at Southwestern Oregon Community College (Coos Bay), where the students sorely need information and discussion such as this. They don't believe me when I point out how little foreign aid the U.S. gives, so this will bolster my case. And it will make a nice contrast to the "travel as consumption" that much travel and adventure writing devolves to. And thanks also for your various ways of making travel less frightening to people, via tours, books, TV shows. One of the biggest drawbacks to being a wealthy American is the fear of losing it all, and there is a national fear of losing our "place" that keeps our arrogance firmly entrenched, for now. It's damned uncomfortable at the top of the pyramid!
I am impressed you have come up with such a positive approach. Encouraging people to travel and transform their awareness is so practical. My right-wing mother was deeply affected by a trip to Greece and Turkey in 1995, and her views on our current situation are far different than they would have been if she hadn't met and talked with Turkish people. She now displays her Turkish prayer rug on her wall in her conservative community. The knowledge spread by travel is like a vaccine that has the power to wipe out the disease of ignorant materialism.
I lived and worked in Europe for ten years (Germany and Belgium) and owned a home in the U.K. I speak German fluently, and can get by in French. I too have been a successful businessman.
Much of what you said is true. However, what you neglect to note are the following: The development of the EU in this manner was only because the U.S. put up a military and economic shield. Secondly, the social and economic development of Western Europe is based on their analyses of what went wrong from 1900 until 1945. The experience of the U.S. was very different in that timeframe. Thirdly, I beg to differ on your thoughts as to European progress on the environment. There are too many forest areas in Western Europe that are devastated from pollution. In the area of public transportation, all one has to do is observe the London underground and rail system — a catastrophe. They have hired an American manager to get them going again. As for the Bundesbahn — it has become a sore spot in Germany. It is losing money hand over fist: €70 for a roundtrip, second class, 125-km trip. The medical system in Germany has become a ward of the state. It never was self-financing (and that is alright), but now they are faced with extreme rationing. For example, my brother-in-law had to wait seven months for a bypass operation.
Lastly, as a committed Catholic, my observation of Western Europe is that they have abandoned the Christian religion. The Lutheran Church in Germany has become a welfare organization, and the Catholic Church in Germany has also lost its way. In the U.K., only 1 million Anglicans go to church on Sunday; Catholics, about 2 million. This may or may not be of great importance to you, but it is significant in that the Europeans, over time, have substituted a "common good" social theology for God, thereby attaining nothing but physical comfort and an outlook on life that says the state will provide for you.
One further thought: the "Smart Car" is great for Rome — but I don't remember seeing very many of them in cities with less congestion. It is a car designed for a specific purpose. Please do not hold it up as a virtue.
My husband and I have a deep admiration and respect for what you do and how you do it. When I read your Back Door philosophy, tears come to my eyes because it stirs me at the core and defines why I am a traveler. You provide invaluable information on how to allow a philosophy of life to guide and flavor your travel — to avoid becoming a tourist (if you chose) and adopt the persona of a traveler. We thank you for that because this has truly enriched our travel experience. Also, our daily life when we return home is enriched, for if you truly let the travel experience linger in your mind, it ferments into a wonderful fragrance that permeates your entire world.
Our first real international travel was in 1998 to India (India is a continuous Back Door of divergent experiences leading to a great symphony of expansion), and we have made several trips to Europe since then (we were in Europe for the first time on 9/11). Since our European travel started with 9/11, it has been a constant influence on our travel. Thus, we are moved to travel now more than ever (and have modified our lifestyle to allow time to travel). We want to understand, at a personal level, the beautiful differences in Europe, where quality of life is not defined by possessions, but rather by (the one's that just rolled off the top of my head):
The joys of seasonal produce;
True public safety (my goodness, in India surrounded by some of the poorest people I had ever seen, never did the concern of physical violence against me enter my mind — like Europe, it's just not part of the culture);
Effective public transportation;
Daily shopping for groceries (and you bring your own bag);
Sitting with other people (versus hidden away in your own private booth);
Bikes being a viable transportation option for persons of all ages (the plethora of bicycles at the Belgian train stations always makes me smile and shake my head in sheer disbelief);
The seniors walking up the hill to Andechs (faster than my husband and me);
The service industry at all levels is superb, representing jobs wherein one can earn a livable wage and an honorable life (versus it being the option for those with nothing better to do or those with truly no other option);
Your bill is often not calculated by a computer, but based on the honor system.
We love the European model and are frustrated when it can only be partially lived out in our society. We live downtown Minneapolis, where we have access to a shop where we can buy our daily bread, cheese, and wine; we walk or take public transportation to work; we live with our neighbors and not isolated from them; we buy local, seasonal produce; etc. But there are many things that we can't have access to: public transportation that is effective enough for us to live without a car, affordable health insurance for me and all of my family and neighbors, true public safety, etc.
Americans need quality of life to be determined less by possessions, a big house, an even bigger vehicle, a TV in my vehicle, etc. In Europe, quality of life does not cost a lot of money. Quality of life is a daily, sustainable, and attainable way of life (not that luxury and income discrepancies don't exist, but it is not the expectation of a God-given right or a determinant of success).
All of this represents choice: you can travel, determine if you like the European model, and make choices to alter your life at home to have more of that.
But, what of travel is disheartening? We share your geo-political philosophy 100% — not a single argument. But I can't go to Europe and say "most Americans didn't want the war, either," because that's not true. I can't say, "most Americans don't agree with our foreign policy," because many people don't truly understand the difference between unilateral and multilateral policy. I can't say, "most Americans don't like WalMart, either, because it destroyed our small towns," because, while that may be true, at least one or two people are shopping there at that great cost.
I am frustrated! I feel strongly that we are mis-stepping on the world stage and making short-sighted decisions on our own stage. I wonder where the outrage is, not in terms of protest, but an outrage that leads to a desire to simply admit there is a problem or to learn more our world and to become engaged.
I have been impressed seeing the Pace ("peace") flags in Italy and the public art displays against our war; peaceful protests in Munich's Marienplatz against our war; Europeans fighting to keep WalMart out; Europeans who know more about our government and our policies than most Americans; and people for whom the knowledge of war is more first hand.
Travel can lead you to this place where one desires greater understanding and is willing to make changes in their own world. But first, most people want the cruise ship vacation (I won't expound on this). Some who go to Europe are just there to shop. Some want to experience Europe without the hassle of trying to figure out the public transportation, public market, packing light, or local flavor (that may not be a moving experience). Some can't get over The Marshal Plan (which was a shining moment in U.S. foreign policy, and some view the wonders of Europe simply as something they are entitled to, which can cause a person to become an immovable rock).
A travel pyramid exists that parallels society: most want sterile and predictable travel (these people don't want their world expanded, while that may be frustrating to some, it is a fact for nearly 85% of the population), while others do desire to have horizons broadened.
Allegorically, the baggage you carry with you and your willingness to evaluate that baggage along the way, determines a lot about what you are able to bring back with you and then what you want, or choose to unpack at home.
You are fortunate to be in a line of work where, through your guidance, a traveler can return from travel and in some way (great or small), change.
-Scott & Tamala Wolfgram
I'm a Canadian, and Canadians are more European in outlook than Americans. Your analysis of how America relates with the world is dead-on. If only Americans would read your article, they would get a different perspective of how the world sees them and how their government policies affects a lot of the world in a negative way.
I love your books. That said, you have obviously made a business decision to infuriate a good portion of your readers. I challenge you to put this thinly disguised diatribe into your books, if you really want feedback. Please abandon your follies and concentrate on writing your very useful books.
What a guilt trip the liberals are on! I have lived in Europe for 25 years (Czech Rep. & Germany) and visited on many occasions, and would never go back to live there. Frankly, I feel sorry for the pseudo-socialists in Europe and here. The lack of opportunities (educational and business), high unemployment (10-20%), the prevalent caste systems and pessimism are the results of the "social contract" the people have with their governments. As you are aware, the "wonderful" benefits (long vacations, generous unemployment benefits, free healthcare and social security) are under a gun, and bound to be drastically reduced everywhere in Europe in the near future. Pointing out problems is easy, but coming up with workable solutions is hard, unless one considers legalization of drugs or raising taxes solutions. The U.S. motto is "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness"; the key word is "pursuit," not guarantee. The Soviet Union model "guaranteed" everything (jobs, healthcare, social security, etc.), and delivered nothing, but misery and dependence. It is interesting to note that most (all) immigrants form the poor countries achieve great success here, indicating that the U.S. system works (Locke rules!). As for the Europeans not liking us: In 2002, I spent some time at a German university, and researched and wrote an essay, "Why do Europeans dislike U.S.A.?" In short, it's because of envy and powerlessness. (Note: envy is one of the three greatest ills and downfalls of the socialist Europe.)
Here is a practical advice for the Rousseau fans (liberals and socialists) in the U.S.A.: emigrate! Why wait for this system to change? Life is too short for that. I did, twice, and am gratefully pursuing happiness in the U.S.A.
I've been thinking about this article ever since I read it. It made me chuckle, as I expected it might. And then I was surprised when I began to well up at some of the things you wrote. I've been thinking about what to say about this wonderful piece, and what a profound effect it had on me. And I can't seem to come up with the right words. Perhaps this will give you some idea of how moving and meaningful and truly necessary I think this article is — I sent it to everyone I know, and to some I don't (including the Dean and Clark campaigns).
I've long believed that the powers of travel go far beyond the "making this world seem smaller" stuff, though that's all warm and fuzzy and great, but I hadn't heard it articulated so powerfully until I read this piece. I sincerely hope this foray into the political realm isn't your only one, and that you make your voice heard by the people who lead (or will soon lead) our country. We need voices like yours. Thanks for being such a fantastic teacher.
As I was reading your article, I kept nodding my head in agreement. I have had the incredible fortune to live overseas for the last eight years: six years in Belgium and the last two in Oman. I am a teacher in an international school. Living and traveling overseas has broadened my view of life and the world in innumerable ways, and I look back and see how naive I was before I had this amazing opportunity. I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph. As the Prophet Mohammed said, "Don't tell me how educated you are; tell me how well-traveled you are."
Locke had the insight that giving individuals the right to pursue their rational self-interest increases the prosperity of society as a whole. People buy and sell because the transaction leaves both of them better off. It's a happy coincidence that the philosophy that provides the most personal freedom also provides the most prosperity.
On the other hand, Rousseau's philosophy has been used to rationalize all sorts of barbarities. Rousseau himself was a reprobate who fathered five illegitimate children. He anonymously donated them to a government orphanage. Their life was nasty, brutish, and short. Rousseau's emphasis on government paternalism was an excuse to justify his disgraceful personal conduct.
Wonderful, thought-provoking article. But please understand that the reality of Europe's high tax entitlement society is getting a nasty wake-up call. A 35-hour work-week is great, as long as you have a job. Economic growth is anemic in Europe — the EU still does not understand that growth is driven by entrepreneurial activity. It's not surprising that European innovators come to the U.S.A. to nurture their business ideas. More distressingly, thousands died in France's summer heat wave, in large part due to short staffing of hospitals created by 35-hour work-weeks and August holidays. Many of the families of those who died were on holiday, too. And according to British historian Paul Johnson (see Oct. 6, 2003 Forbes magazine), Europe is headed for a major pension crisis because it is so generous but woefully under funded.
Mr. Steves understands in part the World Bank and IMF formula for strangling growth. I argue that their prescription of high taxes is the greater evil. I'm undecided on the loan forgiveness idea a la Norway. Steves makes a compelling argument, but what would the impact be on the debt markets? Moving forward, who would make a loan if they knew there was a strong possibility that it might never be repaid, depending on the political winds of the time? Also, I would argue that the greater problem for emerging countries are the kleptocrats who run many of them.
I thought this rang very true...the past year has made me think, for the first time ever, how I could not only survive, but thrive living outside the U.S. I can only hope that this frightening administration is such an aberrant swing of the pendulum to the right that it will be followed by a correction to the left.
Wow. I have forwarded this article to all my friends and family and previously responded to this, but I keep coming back to it. I wonder how many drafts of this thing lived on your hard drive before it just burst out of you. Even those that may disagree with you should be mindful of the courage it took to write this. Just maybe, some of those that only come here to find cheap hotel listings will read this and be challenged to think about what you've said. Like the saying goes, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Thanks for articulating this.
I've been all over the world myself. I lived for two years in Japan, three in Spain (during the Franco regime), and seven in Panama (while Torrijos was dictator). I've traveled to everywhere in between. Just as you, I've done it all and seen it all. And because of my travels and experiences abroad, there is no other place on this planet I'd rather live than in the good ole U.S.A. For you see, travel and living overseas turned a young liberal hippy into an old Republican conservative. But, politics be damned, I'm still a fan of yours! All the best!
Your justification of terrorists as martyrs is completely disgusting. Your propensity for dismissing Palestinian suicide bombers as "people with no other voice" and not even mentioning the rife anti-Semitism in the U.N. as a factor in the "180-2" votes makes me proud of the actions of the United States. At least some people in the U.S. remember a time not too long ago when the Europeans, who you laud as more people-focused than others, had no trouble slaughtering themselves and their minorities.
I clicked on this article expecting light entertainment about traveling and instead found a thought-provoking article. You have helped me think in a different way, to see a different picture, and that is always a good thing.
I lived overseas for several years; every year I take a trip somewhere outside of the U.S.A. I have family and friends in Europe. I can only say that your article articulates my own feelings better than I ever could. I wish it would appear in every newspaper in the country. Thank you for assuring me that I am not alone in my opinions. I will forward this to many, many people.
This article really strikes a chord with me. I've been saying for some time now that the Europeans' attitude towards conservation and a more minimalistic lifestyle is something for us to consider. The SUV versus the Smart Car mentality, if you will. Travel to Costa Rica also really affected me. Let's face it: we share more with Europeans than we do with a developing (albeit relatively well-off) country like Costa Rica. Sure, I travel to see the sights, but it is the exposure it gives to me, my wife, and two home-schooled daughters to other possibilities for living that really gets us offshore. Attitudes towards work, grocery shopping, terrorism, and the like are not universal.
Let's not trick ourselves, however. The Europe I've come to know better since I lived there as a boy is generally Godless, takes a very limited view towards the war on terrorism, and has unemployment and homeless problems that are by no means ideal. European churches must have been amazing when they actually had worshipers in them rather than mainly tourists. If I hear one more European (ever so politely) tell me that they fear that we are waging another crusade — while ignoring the reality that one is being waged against us — I think I'll scream. To be sure, we as Americans ought to learn — and quickly — that our current actions are self-defeating, both at the world political level and the personal consumerism level. I am just concerned that we put any one region or people on some pedestal that does not recognize their faults too. Your article did a nice balancing of positions, I simply wanted to emphasize some points. It was very interesting to read your thoughts on something besides pure travel, even if those thoughts were given birth from travel. I will continue to travel to as many varied places as time and money allow. I hope that in the end, my family and I gain an understanding of the richness this world has been endowed with.
What a great article. I am a "young" (36) Republican who owns an accounting and tax practice specializing in helping small businesses. I live/work right outside a city (Philadelphia) beset by massive problems of government corruption (the FBI is currently investigating the Mayor and other city officials), a "pay to play" system of doing business probably unsurpassed anywhere in this country (I swear the city government is run for a group of about 500 businessmen), a miserably failing public school system (ranked dead last in a ranking of the Top 20 cities), and a rapidly deteriorating tax base (the city has lost roughly 30% of its population since 1970; most who left did so because they could afford it). It is amazing to me how citizens of this city can continually elect the same people into power who conversely work hard to keep the people who elected them as uneducated, poor, and ill-serviced as humanly possible. But this is true in many U.S. cities. The people in power in the U.S. (doesn't matter if they are Democrats or Republicans, CEO's or politicians) in many ways, whether by accident or not, perpetuate their own constituencies by keeping the masses as uneducated and busy (lots of work) as possible. God forbid if citizens should have enough education or leisure time in order to figure out what's really going on. Such as how the wealth distribution in this country is at it's most unbalanced in the last 80 years, and the chasm is growing wider by the day.
How does this relate to travel? I got married last year, and my wife and I went to Italy for our honeymoon. I was astounded at the pace/quality of life in Italy. So much eating, drinking, and TALKING! The working people in all parts of Italy actually read the newspaper during the day! Discussed current events (my wife and I had several animated conversations about U.S. foreign policy with Italians in local pizzerias — -and I would bet a month's pay that the locals knew more about American foreign policy than 99% of Americans)! Work revolved around life...life did not revolve around work! They get 6-10 weeks off to travel and learn (and keep an eye on their government)! And the perspectives of these people, many who still have vivid memories of WWII, show a much more balanced and compassionate view of how the world should be. In contrast, in my area of the world, many people believe a far away vacation is going to the South Jersey shore. They very rarely venture beyond their neighborhoods. I believe if many of these people would travel, then they would gain a much better understanding of what is possible for their own neighborhoods and cities. Of course, many would need more money and time, which for uneducated and poor people, are commodities that are difficult to come by (notice a theme here?).
Rick, I'm still a Republican (and a big fan of Locke), but I believe this article lays out many facts that go beyond any U.S. party lines. If we as Americans do not become more involved with the world outside of our borders (and I don't mean hiring a kid to work for 50 cents a day in a factory), our kids and grandkids are going to be living in a world where terrorism is not a memory, but an even greater presence in their lives. There is so much to learn from other countries; Americans owe it to themselves to explore other lands and bring home lessons learned from around the world. The isolationist mentality is from a bygone era; technology has brought the world much closer. We need to work with the rest of the world to solve problems, not distance ourselves and try to solve everything ourselves.
-Joseph J. Gleason, Jr.
I've read this article twice. I agree with a lot of it, in concept, but certainly not all of it. My rebuttal is as follows:
The U.S.A. does have a safety net for the "losers." I know many people who get monthly checks from the government because they are truly not able to work. But that net catches a lot more than just those who can't make it. It catches tons of people who are just scammers of the system. It is that sort of thing that makes many of us wary of government programs.
We "conservatives" are compassionate. We just don't trust big government to dispense the compassion. I give 10% of my salary to my church, and a large part of that goes to helping the poor, and I am sure it is much more efficiently spent. Then, because I am an "independent contractor" who makes over $100k a year, the IRS takes 40% of my income for its purposes. That doesn't even count the 10% state tax in California. Does the government really need that much of my money to have a good defense system and a Social Security system, etc.? I don't think so. Obviously I am greatly simplifying here, but you get the point.
Secondly, your article gives the impression that there are no poor people in Europe, thanks to their wonderful system. Having been there four times in the last ten years, and having lived there for a couple of years earlier in my life, I know that is far from the case. It would be interesting to find out the statistics on this matter.
Lastly, not all Europeans are thrilled with paying all those taxes. Plenty of people we talked to on our last trip to Scandinavia thought they were being ripped off.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond. Love your programs and your travel information. Not that crazy about your politics, but you did do a good job of explaining them.
Too often, American tourists blinded by cuckoo-clock shops and changing-of-the-guard ceremonies never appreciate the gravity of Europe's problems and our own remarkable success at having thus far avoided a similar fate.
I do shudder at the envy many of the world's poor direct toward global elites. But in my experience, very few people resent wealth or wealthy people per se; they resent ill-gotten wealth achieved through corrupt political and economic systems. Europe seems to have dealt with the problem by eliminating wealth altogether — poverty is gone, but so is incentive, growth, innovation, and hope. In much of the Third World, elites have simply erected walls and ignored the problem. Only the U.S. has shown that income inequalities don't have to be destabilizing as long as everyone has a chance at success. The world doesn't want our handouts — our subsidized grain (which I abhor), our aid workers, or our money. What they want is our freedoms — their dignity — and truly free trade that will allow them to compete with our products and industries. Our president does indeed want to make us wealthier, but not just us — everyone. Most of the world still believes that wealth always comes at someone else's expense; they assume we're stealing their oil, bananas, or whatever. But we've also built their economies, giving them jobs and choices they would never have had. Both freedom and prosperity have made enormous gains thanks to American generosity. Much of Europe lived in third-world conditions a few decades ago; it was only global (largely American) investment that delivered the relative prosperity they now enjoy.
I admit that one of the joys of travel is the discovery of new and better ways of doing things. Europeans in general are better educated, more apt to participate in the political process, and more open-minded. But your disquisition strongly suggests that the U.S. has more to learn from Europe than the other way around; I respectfully disagree. While I'm always happy to discover something new and inventive from my European friends, it's hard to argue that an America that looked more like Europe — demographically, culturally, socially, militarily, and especially economically — would be a credit to the world or ourselves. Ours is the most dynamic, outward-looking society the world has ever known, and our consumption culture has done more to improve the material conditions of life for the world than any similarly small slice of humanity has ever done in the past. I invite fellow travelers to see things for themselves, looking past the impressively clean streets and on-time trains, to the underlying foundations of the two societies. Most will agree that the U.S. remains, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the "last great hope of the world" — warts and all.
I hope you can understand that being an American political conservative does not preclude one from appreciating the rich cultural, personal, and spiritual rewards travel offers. As I travel, I continue to marvel at the myriad ways people come together to create societies — societies which fulfill the needs they define as priorities. As those priorities differ, so does the nature of the governments and social institutions they create.
Europe does many things better than we do. My husband and I joke that Americans mortgage their spirits working 50 weeks a year, only to spend 2 weeks frantically trying to learn how to "live" in France and Italy. It's not really a joke. It's a shame. But it's not a "conservative" or "liberal" shame. It's a human, spiritual problem. And many Americans, liberal and conservative, seem to be looking for something more rewarding for themselves and their children. I believe we can do that for ourselves, rather than relying on our government to mandate it for us.
On the other hand, America does many things better than Europe. I have French and German friends who bemoan the rather arbitrary "tracking" which occurs in their educational systems — one's choice of career and/or higher education is often proscribed by educational testing. I have Swedish friends who found their tax rates to be exorbitant and punitive. They resented the societal expectation and economic necessity that moms work while their children are young. They are happily fulfilling their dreams of family and career here in Colorado.
I am politically conservative. I believe in the ability and prerogative of each person to orchestrate his or her life toward the fulfillment of individual goals. Our American story has reinforced and rewarded this ideal, whereas European historical experience and geography have fostered more interdependent societies. That is a blameless fact of societal evolution.
Though conservative, I am not a heartless ethnocentric. I am not a superiorist. I recognize and treasure the world's cultural diversity. And like you, I learn most when I travel, especially with my family. My idealism is tempered by a realism that was probably borne of my immigrant pioneer ancestors, and hardened by my father, who helped liberate the Buchenwald Concentration Camp during WWII. The challenge of the realist is to nurture the spirit with the dream of the impossible. I continue to do that through travel, and the sense of wonder it provides at every turn. And that wonder lies not in art and architecture, not in mountains and rivers, not in wine and cheese. It lies in the world's most "wonder-ful" resource, its people.
Your "Innocents Abroad" article was truly inspirational. I have pondered many of these same issues the past few months which you concisely described in print — it's just good to know that I am not alone in this country in wondering how, as a nation, our priorities, goals, social structure, and sense of community have seemed to suddenly become so aggressive, materialistic, and uncaring, internally and externally, which I believe will be in the long term detrimental to all. However, even with all the technology and access to information available to people in this country, many of the attitudes and political beliefs are based on completely erroneous information.
My father came to this country from Denmark after WWII so as a child the family traveled to back to Denmark to visit the relatives every few years. My travels at an early age gave me my current addiction to travel. I still have an elderly aunt in Copenhagen who I visited this past summer (the train trip to Malmo is a breeze!). Now in my mid-forties, I can appreciate more the relative tranquility of their society (also the bicycles and lack of overweight people) and the overall contentness of the Danes' lifestyle and their relatively modest possessions. It doesn't seem to bother anyone to live in a small, modest home and not drive a Mercedes SUV — they contemplate more important issues and are not consumed with buying more and more "junk." Since my cousin from Australia was visiting at the same time, he drove me to visit many of his friends from his youth and acted as interpreter. While the Danes were always polite concerning political matters, they also seemed mystified that as a nation, we could act so aggressively without any real concept of why, or what, we were doing in the international arena.
My point, I guess, is that this same attitude, prevalent in local communities, is now reflected in the international policy of the nation. People don't know, and don't seem to care, about the facts surrounding the issues — if something seems like it may detract from their pocketbooks, or is contrary to their conservative philosophy, they are going to fight and fight to win — who cares about the other guy living in the next town? If you do care, you are a loser and will be left behind.
As you pointed out, however, many people even seem to vote against their own self-interest — they just don't pay enough attention to realize it. As a sole-practitioner attorney, I deal with estates and probates frequently — almost no one realizes that (under pre-existing law) 99 percent of all estates pay no estate tax, and that there is no tax between husband and wife — there hasn't been for many years. Yet people overwhelmingly supported changes to eliminate the "death tax" — my clients are excited about the changes but would not have had any estate tax before the changes were made. Because of the revenue sharing of death taxes between the federal government and the states, reducing and eventually eliminating the federal "death tax" has a direct and substantial impact on state budgets, contributing to the deficits and requiring the states to raise taxes somewhere. The end result, leave huge estates intact (with unbelievable amounts to the heirs), and shift the tax burden to working people or to small businesses, and their employees, through a payroll tax — at least here in Nevada, since we have no income tax — making it more expensive to hire people, provide health care or pay decent wages, etc. Could anyone support this if they understood the basic issues? Did everyone agree that it is good policy to shift more tax burden from the wealthy to the poor and middle class? Is it so unreasonable to provide a decent wage to workers or even health care? There were, and still are, many good reasons why the large estates should be taxed, for the good of our society (not just for my own self-interest) — the same reasons why the tax was imposed in the first place. Yet, the discussion regarding the issue was completely superficial, very little accurate information was presented and no informed debate, just "spin" amongst politicians (the same thing happened when the tax on stock dividends was reduced — another windfall to the wealthy). When accurate information was provided, it was not in the mainstream media, attracted little attention and ultimately, no one seemed to care. Those who understood the issue were afraid to speak up — if they did, they would be branded a weak, spend-happy liberal they would probably get voted out of office. The same issues surround social security, Medicare, unemployment — many people who will depend on these safety nets are the ones who are casting votes contrary to their self-interest, their buttons were pushed by the same kind of misguided macho "kick-butt" conservatism. This also seems to me to be our international policy — who cares about issues in other countries more than a superficial understanding? Let's just send in the marines and our problems will be solved.
Rick, you do a superb job. I think it's OK to mix some social philosophy with the travel tips. The concepts go hand in hand and any traveler will realize that when they venture out into the world. Keep up the good work!
You're the best tour expert there is and I love watching your shows. But your analysis is shallow and naive — typically liberal, in other words. I have only one question for you: how many oppressed people have the wonderful Euros set free in the past two years? Answer: probably less than 1,000. During that same time period, the U.S. has liberated over 50,000,000 Afghanis and Iraqis from two of the cruelest regimes imaginable — in the face of Euro opposition that in the case of Iraq wanted to see the homicidal Iraqi dictator retain his power. And yet the Euros and you seem to believe that Euros somehow retain a moral high ground. Maybe it doesn't count for much in Europe, but I think it a marvelous accomplishment that the U.S. put a stop to the murder of women in the main football stadium in Kabul for the heinous crime of learning the 3 R's.
I am a conservative Republican, I have a passport, and I have lived a total of four years overseas in Europe, Africa, and South America. Despite my criticism of you, please know that I admire your professional work and your substantial contribution to the idea of world peace through education, understanding, and mutual tolerance. Your guides have helped me to find and enjoy some of the best that Europe has to offer.
When are you entering the primaries, Rick? You'll have my vote! These things can only be said by a born American — I have lived here for over 40 years (originally from England), and am now an American Citizen, but have to be careful of even approaching the views you so eloquently put here. All too often, I'm told to "go back where I came from" if I don't like the system. (Hardly what this country was founded on!) I'm disillusioned by the usual American travel experience by even our brightest — the semester abroad! Our own president until recently had barely crossed the Mexican border as his sum total of travel experience.
Is it the fate, after all, of all empires to succumb to their own decadence? So indifferent to others and so insulated by wealth that we are doomed eventually to be swallowed by our own fat? It may not be AIDS that gets us after all, but merchandising and the Big Mac!
-Valerie in Chicago
Or, how about this question: What's it worth to live in a country with 10% unemployment — will the masses be happy? Europe will soon have trouble (if not already) maintaining its socialist state. Those who rely on rhetoric are blind to this.
It is patently frightening to see so many of today's left such as yourself basically attribute people who have alternative visions as being stupid and ignorant (not a strong way of presenting an argument). How do you expect to be respected if you cannot respect others who merely believe in a different system?
It is also patently frightening to see you excuse the blowing up Jewish people. Come on, admit it, you are an anti-Jew, aren't you? I remember your glowing words about Passion Plays on this website. I encourage you to speak stronger about this subject. Any instance where you justify terrorism, you propose anarchy (contrary to your comments about big government). How can we live in a civilized society if anyone who feels disenfranchised is free to blow up civilians?
Long live Friedrich Hayek and freedom! I will execute mine by no longer buying your products or watching your television shows.
Great article! I am a study abroad advisor at Boise State University, in Boise, Idaho. Basically, I help college students study abroad for a semester or summer (lucky kids!). I love the printer-friendly format and "permission to copy" format. I can easily print it off and add to the students' pre-departure orientation packets.
Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful article! At a time when our country seems to have its priorities out of order, it's good to see someone in a position of influence to speak their mind and be honest about our shortcomings as a nation. Some may label this as being unpatriotic, but I think speaking your mind — and the truth — is one of the most patriotic acts. Speak up, even if it's not the popular and easy thing to do! I have always enjoyed the services your company provides us, and now knowing that you are honest and caring makes me admire what you stand for that much more.