Archive: More Talking Politics in Europe
This is a time when America's relationship with Europe and the rest of our world is on people's minds everywhere. What are your experiences discussing politics with Europeans?
Politics in Belarus
I noticed while I was in Belarus that the people I ran into always wanted to talk politics after they found out 1) I was an American, 2) I like to talk politics, and 3) I knew as much of their national history and curent events as they did. It was a great ice breaker just being able to talk with them about what was going on around us at a more than surface level. Then before long I was being invited into people's homes for tea, vodka, as they wanted to know more about me, America, and everything else. In a way, knowing history and politics helped me to see a slightly more intimate Eastern Europe than I would have otherwise. Seemingly everyone I met wanted to talk politics.
Ft. Collins, CO USA 01/14/04
Don't be afraid to talk politics in Europe
Talking politics in Europe is one of the many pleasures of travel. I actually find that it is far nicer to discuss politics abroad than it is to do so in the States. In my experience, you're more likely in America to encounter an us-or-them, sports-team mentality in regard to politics. Perhaps it is easier abroad as it is a degree removed which allows for a detachment, and makes for more rational discourse. I'm not sure, I just know that taking politics abroad feels more like intellectual inquiry and less like brawling than it does here at home (again, in my experience).
In fact, I never broach the subject either here or abroad, prefering to focus the conversation on common ground, i.e., how good the coffee is, how lovely the day, asking a question about the painting, asking to pet the dog, etc. However, I am continually surprised by how often Europeans broach the subject with me.
Typical was the approach of a cafe owner in Vienna who in a very charming, formal manner invited my wife and I to join in discussion. We wandered in, sat down and then he welcomed us to his small establishment and then encouraged us to discuss "music, art, politics or what you like". He wanted to talk about the world and nations and the state of things. And in this we were united. We sat, over a glass of his excellent beer, and we mulled the state of the world. We talked about the rise of far-right extremists in Austria. We talked about the rise of intolerance in other nations, including America. We bemoaned the decay of understanding between nations. We celebrated the little victories of understanding between countries. And in our very small way, in making our human connection with each other, helped to contradict the idea that people must arm themselves against other cultures and people from other countries. We both talked and listened and ended the conversation with more understanding than we'd started with. And the second round was on the house!
So don't fear to discuss the world with people
from other lands, just apply the same sense of courtesy you should use
at home. Be respectful, be rational and not overly emotional and let them
broach the subject first as some might feel uncomfortable. Don't ever
let fear shut you down from the possibility of engaging others. Keep the
milwaukee, WI USA 12/17/03
Switch your brain on before switching on your mouth!
Europeans usually do not want to accept political opinions different from their own. For example, do not discuss the beauties of Germany in Eastern France as for people living there all Germans are Nazis. The former territory of Yugoslavia, SSSR or any other Eastern Europen countries is even worse - you are risking your life by talking politics there. Brits will laugh if you criticize them as they think everyone else is an idiot and they are a superior race. People will usually qualify US people as invaders and occupiers of other countries to make money. Iraq is a very sensitive matter and sometimes as a US citizen you will be considered as a murderer or criminal if you show any sympathy for Bush. Be careful!
New York, NY USA 12/13/03
Europeans Like Governor Schwarzenegger
In general, we find political discussions with most Europeans very stimulating. They are well read, better understand global issues, and are much less partisan than Americans. Other than one hilarious experience in a cafe where a German woman was completely aghast at the Total Recall by the Terminator (Ahnold), then completely embarrassed learning we were Californians, surprisingly enough, many Europeans were impressed with Governor Schwarzengger. The fact that he was European was not influential in their opinion. Rather, he represented what was possible for an immigrant to accomplish in America. Also, that he seemed impervious to the political machine and couldn't be bought. Though they don't like our idolizing the entertainment industry, they did not feel he was in that category and anticipated great success.
mary ann crawford
san diego, ca USA 11/11/03
Talking politics in Belgium
Just got back from 12 days in the Benelux countries. Contrary to my earlier post where I stated that in my earlier trips no one ever brought up politics with me, it did happen twice on this trip, both times in Brussels. Message each time was that they respected the US and its people, felt sorry for 911 and understood the excursion into Afganstan but couldn't understand the war on Iraq. (one said it was really the Brits pulling the strings.) No Bush bashing. I told them I voted for Bush but for the life of me I couldn't understand the push into Iraq either. Nice conversations with lots of genuine concern for America and the path the country is taking. Good, thoughtful political discourse without emotion. I don't mind conversations like that.
Rocky Mount, NC USA 11/03/03
Politics over Pints
Over a few pints at the Gardiner pub in London, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of native Londoners. I was amazed at their misconceptions regarding George Bush. We discussed various forms of news and news reporting. It is always an interesting exercise to see American-related news in Europe, after it is "filtered" by the European media. In any case, having respect for other's opinions, and being a good listener is invaluable.
Detroit, MI USA 10/28/03
There's a difference between being "down on America" and down on its policies. We did talk politics in Germany and Austria, and it was always broached by the locals. Fortunately they are able to make the distinction between the actions of an administration and the citizens.
Stillwater, MN USA 09/29/03
Have made 5 trips to Europe, will do the 6th next month. I'm certainly not an accomplished traveler in any sense of the word, but in all my travels, I have never talked politics with any of the Europeans with whom I had contact. We talked about raising family, their travel experiences, food hints, etc., but no politics. And I've never had an European broach the subject. Seems to me that many of the posts on this board are from folks who are down on this country who relate their experiences with Europeans who also are unhappy with America. I suspect that they probably initiated those conversations by uttering negative comments about America. (and I have overheard at least one such situation.) To me, those folks are the true ugly Americans.
Rocky Mount, NC USA 09/21/03
Talking Politics in Europe
I am currently an exchange student living in France with a host family. As a Political Science student, it is natural for me to answer questions about what I think of America and the politics. But at the same time I think that you have to know when to as the French say fermee la bouche: shut up and listen. Don't be afraid to talk to people about what you think. Going to Europe about cross cultural exchanges. But be careful. Don't feel you have to talk about it if you don't want to. And of course if you don't feel safe in an area identifing yourself as an American citizen, don't let people engage you. But if you feel that you are in a good situation with good people, there usually isn't a problem with expressing your views, both liberal and conservative.
Poitiers, FRA 09/04/03
I found Europeans did not want to talk politics at all with us at first.
If we mentioned something political we'd seen in the papers they seemed
to feel it was okay to ask our opinion (which led to several long wine-fueled
discussions!), but good manners ruled. Truth to tell, we might touch on
Bush and Blair, but then spend an hour complaining about the vagaries of
our nations' convoluted tax structures and health programs, which we all
agreed are as snarled in red tape on our side of the Atlantic as they are
in the UK and Europe.
Tallahassee, FL USA 08/08/03
We met Europeans on our recent trip (who were not confrontational by
any means) who wanted to engage in political conversation. It's always nice
to see their surprised faces when a different point of view is presented
other than what they believe or are led to believe. I didn't feel that I
changed any minds, (not my intention anyway), but I do feel that they listened.
Evidently they only get one side of an arguement and think that all Americans
also hate Bush. I tell them that some do and some don't, it depends on a
lot of different factors, just like in Europe. I find that there are a lot
of people in Europe who like politics just like in the US. Not more, not
less. Some people care there, some don't.
Huntersville, NC USA 07/21/03
I enjoyed talking politics in Italy but avoid it like the plague in
the UK, France, and Germany as a rule. In the UK having the wrong politics
can have a negative impact on your career, while I personally find Germans
and French to be more American than the Americans in this respect....
London, UK 07/20/03
I ONLY talk politics in Europe. The average person on the street is
not infected with the rabid fanaticism and partisanship that Americans base
their beliefs on. "If its this its great - if its that its evil". Europeans
tend to base their beliefs on some knowledge and logic. They love to talk
but they also love to listen and to learn something. There doesn's seem
to be the fear of being wrong or not being part of a gang. I've noticed
in the states that when talking politics the "listener" isn't listening
at all but already forming his next assult. Disagreements in Europe are
usually defended with facts and reasoning. In the states they are defended
with name calling. "You're a racists - mean - idiot -selfish - lazy - sexist
and on and on." The interest in Europe seem more in becoming right than
just being right. The difference always amazes me. Here I hate politics.
There its fun and interesting. I also find the gap between worldly knowledge
stunning. Would more knowledge help Americans? Yes. But that takes a bit
of listening and humbleness.
FL USA 07/19/03
When we were in London last fall, we were buying some souvenirs, and
the guy selling them to us asked where we were from. When we said "Texas,"
he immediately said "God Bless Bush!" (Actually, his accent made it sound
more like "God Bless Boosh!") We immediately responded that we aren't fans
of Bush and he seemed to not be able to comprehend that people from Texas
might not like Bush. We had a good-natured discussion about American politics
and it was cool to "disprove" one of this guy's perceptions of American
Austin, TX USA 07/12/03
Hillary or Harry?
We traveled in Germany and Austria this May and June, and did not encounter any anti-American sentiment that we were aware of. People were interested in discussing Hillary Clinton's book, and wanted to exchange opinions about if/when she might run for president. People called her "Hillary" -- no last name needed! When I returned to work here in the US people were talking about the latest Harry Potter book, no mention of Hillary ... I miss the level of political engagement and openess I felt in Germany and Austria (and Australia, when I visited there).
Seattle, WA USA 07/06/03
I'm still discussing Politics
During the last month, I've travelled from Budapest around Romania, Bulgaria, and now Turkey. I discuss politics with everybody who speaks sufficient english. (Heck, I even discuss Islam with Muslims). I have had no problems whatever. In Budapest, a middle-eastern vendor at a tourist site, upon finding out I was from the States, asked "What do you think about Bush?", clearly wanting to get into it with me. After I gave him my standard anti-Bush rant, he grabbed my hand, and shook it eagerly. "You are my brother. Not just my friend--my brother", he declared. He would have kissed me on both cheeks had I not increased our personal space!
(On the Road) Urgup (Cappadocia), Turkey 06/29/03
No problem in Europe.....because we hate
Thanks to Rick Steves...we have traveled to Western Europe 5 times, with our last visit in October of 2002. We plan on returning to Europe next spring. On several occasions the subject of politics has come up in discussions that we have had with Europeans. Most of the time we find ourselves agreeing with them.
Oklahoma City, OK USA 06/23/03
Just be yourself!
After having travelled Europe for just over two months, I have to say that I have encountered zero anti-Americanism. The few times that I have discussed politics with people, the discussions have always remained friendly and polite. I am open about being American, and when asked I tell folks that I am a conservative and a Bush-supporter, and still do not have any problems. People will treat you the way you treat them, so can the arrogance and superiority and just talk! To those folks who try to hide being American by stating they are from Canada, I ask why? Talk to folks as an American so you can get through the stereotypes and make some real acquaintances! One last thing to add, after reading the comments on the French...some of the nicest people I have met in my travels have been French, and have treated me consistently with kindsness and respect.
Zagreb, Croatia 05/30/03
Following is an item that popped up on a Paris hotel web site that I was looking at, I thought it was interesting:
An Open Letter to Our American Friends
"Dear American Friends, These last few months, politicians and the mass media on both sides of the Atlantic have been bashing us with two versions of the same story: Frenchies are arrogant traitors poking America in the eye! Americans are a bunch of war-happy loonies looking for world domination! Baloney. Folks, let's put the show on hold, and think together for a minute: who is holding the microphone for dear life, and pounding the message with a tremendous whack? Not you, not us. Not the little people. But journalists and politicians. Politicians will always put their own interests before yours - remember 'Follow the money trail - and journalists love the sound of their own voices, and a good controversy - whether rooted in fact, or totally fabricated.
The truth is we, French people, like American folks. Beyond our pride of being French, we greatly admire the American people. We always have. We know that we owe your parents and grandparents a great deal of gratitude. They paid the price of war with their lives on our beaches, and on our land. We are deep in their debt, and our streets will long carry the names of American generals. But our admiration goes way beyond, extending to your entire culture.
We love your music - blues, jazz, musicals, rock, hip-hop, what-have-you. New Orleans' legend Sidney Bechet was our hero when he was still little known in America. Louis Armstrong is arguably the best-known black musician in France. Jessye Norman, one of your greatest opera singers, sells out concert halls when she graces us with her presence. And Elvis still reigns as king in the heart of all those who listened to him in the fifties and sixties.
We love your cars and motorcycles. Ask about Cadillac and Harley-Davidson around here, and you will get an instant smile. We admire your movies, as witness box office successes such as Saving Private Ryan, Back to The Future, Casablanca, and Unforgiven in France. And in our minds, John Wayne and Gary Cooper are still true heroes.
Our teenagers adopt your casual wear, just as their parents fell for Levi's jeans. We also smoke more Marlboro, Philip Morris, and Camel cigarettes than you do, guys! Cheeseburgers and Coke did not originate in France. Yet, judging by sales of sodas and fast food here, we are addicted to them. So much for the journalistic myth of snooty Frenchies only eating French cuisine. And English is still the first of our second languages. The truth of the matter is, we simply adopt a lot of America's goods and customs. And another truth is we like to receive you folks amongst us.
Over the years, we took notice
of your commendable efforts to speak French. Yes, some of us won't tell
you, but we generally appreciate your efforts to address us in our language.
We also try to better our English skills (please don't laugh at our accent).
We appreciate your polite, non-intrusive behavior when you come to visit.
We cannot say that all of us Frenchies behave as well when we visit you.
We gotta try harder. All of us who have travelled abroad know that the
cultural differences which exist between Americans and Frenchies can be
resolved with a smile and a good word. There cannot be any lasting misunderstanding
between two peoples of goodwill. You are very welcome in our country.
We have many good things to offer, we hope some of them appeal to your
hearts and interests. You are welcome in France. Don't listen to tall
tales to the contrary. We the people are not our 'governing elites'. You
folks are not your government or the press. Let's remain friends."
Columbus, Ohio USA 05/27/03
Talking to a Hungarian
I had a fun conversation with a Hungarian. I asked him "What do you think of Bush?" He thought a moment, and said "Not too brainy, is he?" I laughed and said "That is an understatement." He had to think about 'understatement', and started laughing "Ah, I get it". We laughed. Later that evening, in line at an all-night grocery, an old pensioner started talking to me (in Hungarian). When I said (in Hungarian), "I don't speak Hungarian" he asked me in English where was I from. "Amerikoi", I replied. He had a full handbasket of things to buy, but insisted I go before him. "Please, American.." he motioned with his hand. I thanked him in Hungarian. I was touched by the kindness in his manner.
Budapest, Hungary 03/09/03
My wife and I just got back from a week in Paris. We were
treated with universal courtesy and politeness. This is in contrast to forty
years ago when I considered Paris the low point in my three year stint abroad
largely due to out and out rudeness. We loved Paris and can hardly wait
to go back.
Hemet, CA USA 03/04/03
Things have changed in just the past few weeks in Europe; there is
a lot more obvious anti-Americanism. Two years ago we were practically hugged
by everyone. Last fall there were a few louts, but not many. Now, some people
spit. Just smile and tell them that in the Greek culture, spitting is for
good luck! (you did all see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," didn't you?)
Corrales, NM USA 03/04/03
I travel to Berlin and Paris multiple times a year. The only Americans
who have problems are those who do NOT stand up proudly for who they are!
Do not allow them to intimidate you! I've been confronted on several occasions
and simply posed point blank questions to those whom asked rudely (mainly
younger generation). When they could not provide adequate answers or rebuttals,
the rudeness and confrontational attitudes were quickly gone. Many of them
even kept talking and saw my point of view and understood more clearly.
So, having recently returned from Berlin, (2-27-03) I will emphatically
say, do not hide or lie. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.
You will then earn their respect, which in essence seems to be the problem
St. Louis, MO USA 03/04/03
As the daughter of a WWII vet and grandaughter of a WWI vet, I became so
incensed by deGaulle's anti-Americanism that I swore I would never set foot
in France. After 40 years of importuning by my family (all of whom had been
to France and loved it), last October I broke down and spent 10 wonderful
days in France. The people were wonderful, some even coming up to us and
saying, "Don't listen to the newspapers and the press; when the time comes,
France will be there with you!" We did not have a single bad incident, a
single bad hotel experience or a single bad meal. I fell in love with France
and the French and cannot wait to return. I hope that this nonsense will
end soon and no permanent damage will be done to the Franco-American alliance.
I now more fully understand the old German toast: "May we live as well as
God and the French!" Vive la France!
Plymouth, MA USA 03/04/03
Appreciated Rick's comments in the 3/3/03 edition of USA Today. Having spent a fair amount of time in Europe myself, I am amazed at how one-sided the press is. Here in the States, we can get left, right, and center viewpoints. Across "the pond" they receive, with the exception of the UK's Economist, left and "lefter." This, of course, has resulted in a skewed view of the U.S. and our leaders.
My wife, my parents, and I were having dinner in Lyon with my American-born cousin, her French husband, and their family. They were discussing their perceived flaws with America and our President. They were genuinely shocked when we not only refuted their arguments, but informed them that we thought quite highly of our President. We also informed them that, regardless of what they had read in French papers, the majority of Americans supported the President. It seems they had never heard that point-of-view.
It is unfortunate that Europeans do not receive
more balanced information, it would improve relations between "us" and
"them." Having said that, it is truly unfortunate that Americans are not
better informed about Europeans and their domestic concerns.
Boise, ID USA 03/04/03
Good article in USA today and Rick is quoted. Sounds as if [some] Americans
abroad are being hassled. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2003-03-03-anti-american-usat_x.htm
Woodstock, GA USA 03/04/03
Talking to Europeans
In the year I lived in Denmark as an exchange student, I never encountered any envy of the US or hate toward Americans. I talked with adults, teenagers, and children from Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Australia. Overwhelmingly, the emphasis was on how we everday people live, not on what our leaders are doing. If anything, the many centuries of nondemocratic rule in European countries have made them more aware of the gap between the politician and the populace, and I was never made to feel personally to blame for even the dumbest of the United States' political blunders. (And it is not unpatriotic to admit that we, like every other group of human beings since the dawn of civilization, have screwed up on occasion!) The thing is, American democracy works - in America. Danish socialism works - in Denmark, an extremely homogenous society of around 5 million, most of whom live in the same town their grandparents grew up in.
I loved it in Europe, but I am an American, a member of a vast, highly diverse society that supports and even requires plenty of differing opinions just to keep us honest. If anyone in Europe wants my opinion, they may have it. They may have yours, as well. Chances are they are more fascinated by the fact that we actually like peanut butter and lite beer!
The closest I got to a political discussion in
Greece was in a bar when a young man expressed disbelief that in America
the government tells you where you can smoke. "You call that the land
of the free?" he asked in disbelief. As I choked on his exhale, I decided
only Socrates could have handled that one, and since he was dead, we just
had another beer.
Tallahassee, USA 02/22/03
I disagree that many Europeans are envious of perceived American freedoms.
All now enjoy similar freedoms, and many had them before or at the same
time as America (notably San Marino, England (later UK), Denmark, France).
If anything, a European is likely to assume that an American is less free
that they are to express their opinion, as Americans are bound by a society
that requires fervant patriotism in an indevidual, simply for them to be
regarded as normal.
Cadnam near Southampton, Hampshire UK 02/09/03
I travelled to Europe for the first time as a college student during
the Vietnam war. When we met other young people, they would be negative, "why are you at war with Vietnam?" When they took the time to listen to
our own opinions about American aggression, they were surprised. All of
us need to remind each other, it is not students, or mothers, or workers
or travelors that declare wars, it is the politicians.
Kelso, WA USA 02/08/03
The opinion of Europeans regarding Americans may be summarised as: Europeans
who have been to the US or know people here are very appreciative of our
freedom. There is tremendous understanding of American democracy and values.
On the flip side, everyone I met was skeptical of American foreign policy.
There is a view that the US is not giving a damn as to what the world thinks
and is following a policy reminiscent of colonial actions of the Europeans
themselves!! I was startled to see the degree of disdain for George Bush,
cutting across all sections.
Columbus, OH USA 02/04/03
Many Europeans are personally openminded. But in groups? I don't think so. Allowing the nutters to speak in Hyde Park does not an open mind make. In its own gentle way, the UK is as repressive as any place I have ever lived (mustn't hurt feelings you know). Then again I've only lived in the US, Italy, Belgium, France, and Germany.
The risks in Yankees discussing politics with Europeans vary considerably depending on what political orientation. If one is a left-wing democrat everything can be sweetness and light, particularly if you are against the Iraq war. But if you go any further right it is a much different ballgame. Most Europeans simply don't understand even a center-right viewpoint (US-style). I've found it best to keep my opinions to myself while living in the UK. The disapproval can be very heavy and have serious consequences.
On the other hand, probably my best friend in Europe
is an ex-communista from Bologna in Italy. We discuss politics freely
if infrequently. But I have to admit that I knew her for several months
before politics ever came up, and she knew me quite well before I let
the cat out of the bag that I supported Ronald Reagan.
London, UK 01/24/03
Discussing politics? I mostly don't unless I know someone pretty well
and they really want to know why the US thinks in the crazy way that we
do (as they see it). Most people do not wish their preconceptions challenged
and I respect that. "The reason Europeans seem openminded despite all that
"wacky liberal propaganda" is because politics here runs the gamut from
hard right (nationalism) to hard left (communism). Whereas in the States
it runs the gamut from hard right (GOP), right (Reform, Dems) to slightly
left (Greens)." Or, from the US POV, the conventional wisdom is that the
political gamut in Europe runs from the hard-left (ex-communists) to the
smug left (Greens, Lib-Dems) to the slightly right (Tories). Of course this
doesn't take Jorge Haider, Le Pen, or the late Pim Fortyn into acccount.
Not to mention Lega Norda, Berlusconi, or the Facisti in Italy..... I believe
that the governing consensus has some interesting surprises from their bodies
politic in the years ahead. Pim Fortyn and Le Pen are only the precursors.
London, UK 01/23/03
It is fair to say, that most Europeans think Bush is more of a threat
to world peace than Saddam Hussein (based on various polls), but to assume
Europeans are one big family and think the same is wrong - 15 different
countries in the EU, most with significant differences in outlook and persuasion.
Cadnam near Southampton, Hampshire UK 01/21/03
Despite what some American ex-pats would have you believe, I'd like
to dispell some myths about Europeans before engaging in conversations with
them. 1. Europeans do not sit around all day reading newspapers laden with
Anti-American rhetoric. 2. They don't think BUSH=HITLER (you'll find the
same signs and placards in NY's East Village) bent on World Domination.
3. They do not share a single monolithic opinion about the US, Middle East,
or anything else. There may be a substantial and justified amount of anti-American
rhetoric due to the Iraq situation. But to exaggerate and generalize the
situation is self-degarding to Americans, and unfair stereotyping of Europeans.
Hobken, NJ USA 01/20/03
If you want a news channel that does not offer a bias (right or left)
then i would suggest the BBC. BBC News 24 or BBC world is available around
Europe, and News 24 will be available in the US later in the year.
Cadnam. Near Southampton, Hampshire UK 01/20/03
CNN International is available in the US on most cable and dish networks.
The listings may show it as CNN/fn, but it's the same thing, just includes
some extra programming. Regarding the International Herald-Tribune, since
the NY Times bought out the Washington Post, the paper is really just NY
Times-lite. It's good if you're already overseas, but in the US, you should
just buy the Times.
Philadelphia, PA USA 01/20/03
CNN International here in Europe has lots of business news. And 'Moneyline'.
Int'l Herald Tribune (which picks up a lot of the NYT wire feeds) is much
more availalble than NYT but being seen reading it screams "I'm a Yank Expat".
Seems like the english-language newspapers usually available are UK's "Financial
Times" and the UK "Guardian". The reason Europeans seem openminded despite
all that "wacky liberal propaganda" is because politics here runs the gamut
from hard right (nationalism) to hard left (communism). Whereas in the States
it runs the gamut from hard right (GOP), right (Reform, Dems) to slightly
Budapest, Hungary 01/19/03
I recommend talking politics with Europeans if given the opportunity.
It can be both fun and enlightening. Don't be afraid to disagree or question
your hosts, just do so in a respectful way and you'll get along fine. That
said, I really think that our cousins from across the pond are done a great
disservice by the one sided reporting that they seem to get (via US sources
like CNN/NYT or European sources like Der Speigel). I thought my conversations
proved interesting once my hosts learned that someone with a political science
degree from a well respected university could be a Republican. The discourse
was fair, fun and open. In the end, you can learn a great deal if you choose
to listen and carefully articulate some real thoughts rather than simply
spouting the rhetoric (left or right) that seems to pervade the media.
Burnsville, MN USA 01/16/03
Political discussions with Europeans don't always need to revolve around
U.S. foreign policy. It's nice to sometimes put the shoe on the other foot.
Especially as a traveller, you don't want to always be hearing about how
awful Europeans think Bush is.
New York, NY USA 01/07/03
I like www.worldpress.org, which has links to most non-US newspapers
(thoughtfully categorized by editorial ideology...conservative, centrist,
liberal, left-wing, communist), with some selected articles translated into
English, often from unusual sources (say, Japanese newspaper articles filed
from the middle east). I also like the UK weekly The Economist (economist.com,
but also on newsstands in the US quite a lot)which is unabashedly pro-capitalist
and pro-western, but surprising non-ideological and openminded, and covers
global macroeconomic, political, and cultural trends with just enough sly
british wit thrown in to make it entertaining. Both sites are a refreshing
change from the US media echo chamber.
Budapest, Hungary 01/02/03
I am taking a course entitled EU in the 21st century and one of the
web sites we use all the time is http://www.fpa.org/index.htm check it out-
it is a great foreign policy advisory website
Woodstock, Ga USA 12/27/02
The best media source in America do update yourself on European and
foreign affairs, by far, is the New York Times. There are dozens of articles
every day about the goings on in Europe. (no, I don't work for the Times)
For the most part, Europeans like a good political conversation, just like
Americans, as long as it doesn't get personal. Keep the criticism to governments,
not persons, and you'll have a good time.
New York, NY USA 12/26/02
We don't know much about the policies of other countries and neither
our government nor our media help much. And that in a nutshell is why travel
is so important in such a dangerous age. A dialogue requires both speaking
and listening. Try to do both. Listen with an open mind and speak knowledgeably
and honestly. Oh, and be sure to eat lots of gelato.
Charles M. Luther
Katy, TX USA 12/25/02
Good points are being made here! However, I don't hear anyone claiming
superiority when I speak to my European friends and relatives. Europeans,
American, anyone - we are all human with human frailty and human strength.
Our governments are not immune to greatness nor atrocity. The US is no better,
no worse. At this time, the spotlight is on us and we're not looking our
best in the eyes of most of the world, but there is plenty of ugliness to
go around - we are certainly not alone on that score. Does anyone have a
very specific story to tell about exchanging political ideas with someone
while on holiday in Europe?
Sacramento, CA USA 12/24/02
Many Americans visiting Europe are very susceptible to fall into the "Europeans are so much more worldly and informed than we are" Generally,
this may be true. But it doesn't give Europeans the high-ground to claim
intellectual, cultural, and philanthropic superiority to Americans. Remember
that Europe still produces prominient right-wing fascist leaders like Jean-Marie
LePen and Pim Fortuyn, a fact they'd like to over look, and are much more
xenophobic than they'd care to admit. Calling Bush a fascist is more than
just a slight exaggeration, and they know it. Europeans *are* more informed
than we are, and thus can hold us and our policies under a microscope. If
we were to do the same to them, we'd find they have their own issues. Such
as refusal to allow Turkey, a muslim country, into their EU, their strict,
nearly prohibitive immigration laws, the mess their old colonization has
left behind, and their willingness to leave an old friend(America) in the
dirt when we need them the most. They are perfectly justified in critiquing
our president and our foreign policy. But in the matter of claiming their
superiority, they are not qualified.
New York, NY USA 12/24/02
I found this article in the International Herald Tribune a great piece
of information that might stir some conversation on a trip http://www.iht.com/articles/81250.html
I would be interested in what the Europeans have to say about this as in
my summer trip I did find immigration a hot topic- no one wants it.
Tx USA 12/24/02
Europeans get their information about the US from their national papers
or TV. CNN Europe is available on cable, but there's no US local news on
it. Actually, I find Europeans more like *informed* US liberals, they know
what the US positions are, they acknowledge the great good the US has done
and admire its successes, but also point out the inconsistencies and blatant
hypocrises of US foreign policy, and in that regard I think have a more
realistic and balanced view of the world than most americans.
Budapest, Hungary 12/23/02
I found that talking with many Europeans about politics is not unlike talking
with uninformed liberals in America. They only get the NY Times/Washington
Post/CNN spin on the US, so they never get any balance and don't know many
facts or specifics. That is why they are so confused about President Bush's
popularity -after all, if CNN tells them 24 hours a day he is dumb, dangerous,
etc., how can Americans like him? I found, though, that many Europeans were
actually open to being educated and fascinated to learn that so much of
what they hear about the US is one-sided and biased. So, don't be intimidated,
just be polite and respectful but see it as an opportunity to educate and
Richmond, VA USA 12/23/02
I've discussed politics with Europeans in 10 countries this year. As
an individual, it's been no problem...although Brits and Aussies like to "take the piss out of you" with provacative comments (like calling Americans
"seppos"...Yank->Septic Tank-> Seppo. They assure me it's just Cockney rhyming
slang and not specifically derogatory). Brits despise Tony Blair for being
Bush's lapdog (at least every one I spoke to, but then again I don't hang
out with Tories). Continental Europeans (even when they speak fluent english)
seem more reticent to criticize US policy or Bush to Americans. However,
Bush isn't perceived as a moron. He's perceived as a facsist ("BUSH=HITLER" read one signs in Prague during the recent NATO summit) bent on world domination,
destruction of the environment, and enrichment of the US at the expense
of the rest of the world (at least, to the European left). Even European
conservatives seem uneasy with him. Just this ex-pat's observations, standard
Budapest, Hungary 12/23/02
In speaking to many in Portugal, I hear a great respect for our tenacity
as a people, our loyalty to Europe and our ability to create technology
and advance science. However, they also see us playing with a loaded deck
on the world scene and promoting the ideals of freedom and democracy only
when it suits our own interest. Europeans, on average do not appreciate
unilateral, pre-emptive action. These people have known war in their own
streets. They know that survival and prosperity come from mutual respect,
equality, and lifting up those with little means. They expect more from
the United States than the attitude "we will do it because we can - whether
you like it or not."
Sacramento, CA USA 12/20/02
I travel about three times a year to Europe and I read with interest Amanda's
comments. I too have heard Bush referred to as a moron, which strikes me
funny as he has an undergraduate degree from Yale and graduate degree from
Harvard. I was recently in Germany and, after speaking to the locals about
the state of their economy and inability to find work, I am grateful to
be able to leave and come home to my job that affords me the opportunity
to actually earn a great living and travel. How many Europeans are able
to travel to the US to learn about us- not many because their wage base
is so low that travel is truly a luxury. And when they do get here, they
go to Disney World! What does that say about them wanting to learn about
us? Don't make generalities about a culture without taking the time to be
more discerning in specifics. I always research places before we go to visit;
some cultures I like and some drive me insane, which I'm sure is the same
way Europeans think of us.
Miami, Fl USA 12/19/02
I have lived in London for the past year, and have observed several
typical viewpoints shared by my Brit, Aussie, French and Swiss friends.
George Bush is a complete moron. Most Yanks are fat, rich, loud annoyances.
America is exactly as it appears in the movies. Now I too have had to deal
with countless groups of insensitive American tourists crowding the tube
and the Covent Garden bars. I admit that I have flinched a bit when I hear
a nasal Yankee voice shout across the carriage, "Is this Lyesester Square?" But I refuse to tell people that I'm Canadian as I've often been advised
to do. Instead I point out to my mates that, like Britain, America is a
complex country. Some things are better there, some are worse and the only
reason it is so highly criticised is because it is visible and powerful.
Everyone I've met here does have a negative view of the U.S., but it's a
cartoonish, generalized picture of a pugilistic government and its people
straight off of Jerry Springer. The more polite, humble, interested Americans
they meet, the weaker that stereotype will become. And every European I've
met that has actually visited the U.S. has really enjoyed it.
London, U.K. 12/16/02
Americans traveling in Europe need to bear in mind several guidelines: While it is true that American blood was shed to "liberate" Europe 50 years ago, much European blood was also spilled, and in the minds of locals, that blood is always going to carry more weight than that of "liberators." Americans are frequently described as ugly tourists, basically because of the idea that American ideals, politics, views and customs prevail everywhere. If you take, as Rick urges, the time to study your destination and its culture in advance, you will likely be more appreciative of what a trip to Europe can teach you. Remember, European cultures are centuries older than the Americas and can teach us much.
If you believe that "America is always right" and "America, like it or leave it" are the best policies for its citizens, you may want to forego visiting Europe, or for that matter, anywhere outside the U.S. If you believe that the rest of the world is just as important to the U.S. as it is to them and that the U.S. is but one part/member of a wider world community, then by all means, go explore.
Be aware that much negative opinion abounds about
the U.S. throughout Europe due to a few facts Americans frequently forget
- 1) The U.S. occupied various territories (esp. Germany) until just a
little over a decade ago, and occupiers, no matter who or why, are always
ill-regarded and not held in high esteem. 2) Many American budget tourists,
being culturally insensitive or unaware, frequently behave objectionably
by assuming that "it's that way at home, so it must be that way here."
Examples: loud, touristy dress; bare shoulders in ancient cathedrals and
places of worship; shouting loudly across town squares and similar boorish
behavior; poor table manners and being totally unaware of proper etiquette
and customs. I applaud Rick for his gentle, caring efforts at converting
"ugly Americans" into world-savvy and appreciated tourists. I do caution,
however, that when traveling abroad as an American, the safest method
to discuss political views is NOT TO.
Rockville, MD USA 12/03/02
We spent 2 1/2 weeks in Tuscany and had a few very memorable conversations with Italians regarding history and politics. The first was with an 81 year old owner of a winery in Rufina. I asked him through an interpteter how he and his family survived WWII. He said the Germans tried to kill all of them and the Americans saved them. This may be indicative of the feeling of many Europeans, especially the older ones who remember what happened. The younger ones have little concept of how the US saved Europe.
My next conversation was with the curator of a museum in Lucca. We covered
history from Roman times thru the present but eventually discussed the
current Iraqi issue. She said Italians are worried that a larger war may
result and terrorism would come to Italy. I told her that 9/11 has changed
the US, we are now at war, it is difficult to just try to defend against
terrorism, you must go on the offensive, Pres. Bush was doing the right
thing, that war with Iraq is only a result of Saddam's actions, the UN
should have been backed up previously and now would be, keep faith with
the US,we are not perfect but we are all in this together. The current
times may be tough but good will come from disarming this area. Europeans
like Americans, the more experienced ones realize from Normandy to Anzio
to Rufina that we stick together
San Diego, CA USA 11/18/02
Just got back from Germany and a little traveling around Eastern Europe
with some friends. We did run into some "What do you think about Bush?"
stuff, but most people were polite and were more interested in hearing our
point of view, rather then making their's known. In fact, the more conservative
"American" point of view gets almost no airtime over in the European media,
save a few newpapers in the UK. I think that explains a lot of the attitude
of people there. One more interesting thing, Eastern Europeans were much
more likely to show sympathy toward the American viewpoint, then people
in Germany. I found this especially interesting, considering only a decade
ago, they were communist countries. But, in the end, everyone was friendly
even if we didn't agree completely. Don't buy into this whole, "they hate
us because of Bush" bit. No one, save for a few real left-wing extremists,
is really anti-American. And the few that are, have alway been and would
still be with or without Bush as president.
Arlington, VA USA 10/30/02
This past April my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the American
Cemetery in Normandy. It was a very moving especially after the tragedy
of 9/11. Any American who has been there cannot supress an overflow of tears,
yet at the same time feel an overwelming sense of pride. Standing at those
graves I realized that these Americans did not die to conquer the people
of France, but to liberate them. And now America has been challenged by
a cowardly foe who strikes and then hides from our view waiting to reap
even greater death and destruction. No one wants war, but sometimes you
have to fight for your ideals. America is by no means perfect, but I find
many Europeans have a short memory when it comes to the sacrifices this
country has made in the name of freedom.
Chicago, IL USA 10/29/02
While in Ireland last month, we had questions like "What do you think
of George Bush?" In any major city in Ireland you could see placards for
anti-war rallies. It seems like the policy of war itself is placed strictly
with the administration, and not the people of the US. We also talked to
an Israeli couple. In general their comments were, "hurry up and bomb Iraq,
we will not have peace of mind until that war is done".
I was in Scotland in June, and whenever people (across different races,
genders, ages, etc.) asked me where I was from 9 times out of 10 the very
next question they asked was how could you Americans support such a moron
(with "moron" being one of the nicer names I heard Bush called) for President
of the United States? People were definitely not happy with his foreign
policy stance and did not hesitate to tell me so. Though folks tended to
soften on their views of Americans as a whole when I mentioned that there
are many U.S. citizens who are just as troubled as they are about Bush but
their concerns are rarely--if at all--covered in the U.S. and British media.
Philadelphia, PA USA 10/18/02
For what it's worth, I was visiting Ireland in September, and found
the same reaction from people. What I noticed is that you didn't even have
to be in a political discussion with the natives. Inevitably, they will
make a comment to the effect of, "What's up with George Bush?"
chicago, IL USA 10/15/02
So without exception in June '02 in Italy, and I mean without exception,
we would get friendly with some local who would finally look up at us with
sleepy eyes, or hooded eyes, or slightly suspicious eyes, and ask, Now what
do you really think of Bush? In Italy, even the most right-leaning folks
we met questioned our sanity in having Bush as our leader. No one -- but
no one that we met said anything better than, Well, he's got good people
around him. No one -- but no one that we met thought well of our foreign
policy. No one thought we should have been attacked -- everyone deplored
the trade towers attack, 9 months later -- but no one thought US policy
had even the slightest appearance of applying to the world at large, as
opposed to American interests, and all laid this directly to Bush. We found
this interesting; are we alone in having this happen to us? And granted,
we only visited Italy this year -- only saw one friend from Northern Europe,
didn't visit our German friends at all, so we only got the one-country view.
Portland, OR USA 10/15/02
The comparison between European press opinions in 1938 and opinions of today are not really comparable for several reasons. First of all, Iraq and Nazi Germany are not the same. Germany had arguably the strongest military in the world in late the 1930s, and the same cannot be said of Iraq. Second, Iraq's adversaries possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Hitler's adversaries did not. Hussein is surrounded by hostile forces, including the US and British air forces who control the skies over Iraq, therefore, he is contained. Hitler had no opposition that was able to keep him from invading other countries.
These are differences the European press is trying to point out to us
because they are trying to prevent another world war. My European friends
echo the opinions that I am reading in the foreign press. My friends are
certainly not "elite." What they are is better informed than most of my
friends in the US. I think it's important for us to be aware and to care
what others think of us. If we don't, we risk making more enemies. Is
that really what we want?
To many of us have studied (or experienced) modern history, the current antagonism between the U.S. and its foreign policy and that of the (heterogeneous, of course) Europeans' is reminiscient of what went on in the 1930s. Read the Swiss, the Dutch, the French, the Swedish, etc., press from those days, listen to what their politicians had to say, and ask "are things really different now?' They were no less convinced then that they had all the experience and wisdom (which the U.S. lacked) than they are now. Only the British can look back at those days without feeling real shame and embarassment.
We should listen to the Europoeans, of course,
but we should remember that they have a terrible track record. Naive,
shortsighted, far more self-interested than the United States. This is
in part because the European people who are heard on TV, in newspapers,
and the politicians are usually part of the elite which has always been
charge in Europe and still is. The Europeans I know do not sound like
their leaders -whether the leaders are "left-wing" or "right wing" or
"centrist" or whatever.
New York, NY USA 09/12/02
I think that USA citizens' knowledge about what the rest of the world thinks about the USA is increasingly important. To make a very broad generalization, most people from outside of the lower 48 are sympathetic to and express liking for US people -- many have been there or have relatives living free lives there. They have experienced the wonder of freedom and reward for enterprise afforded those with the will to succeed on the grassroots level. But many think that US foreign policy is out of touch with global reality.
There is a strong suspicion among many that the heart of US foreign policy is protection of fossil fuel interests so that the US can continue to guzzle the world's energy assets as a rate way out of proportion and make oil company executives richer and richer. As US citizens, we would like to think that this is not true -- that we bomb Iraq and Afganistan because we want freedom in the world and girls to go to school. But when the Iraqi Foreign Minister charges that it is all about oil, he has more than the benfit of the doubt abroad.
If the US people would bring the morals and standards
of scrutiny to foreign policy that they do a not-bad job of in national
policy, the Europeans and others would have a lot more respect and fewer
cynical impressions of hypocracy on behalf of our democracy.
Kyiv, Ukraine 09/11/02
It's fascinating to read the variety of thoughts here about what talking politics (in this context) means. We're all opinionated or we wouldn't join in. Some of us seem to feel we have to make definative statements about US or Europe or policy or whatever. The really great thing is we want to talk to each other and we can. I've lived and worked in one South American country during and after a dictatorship, worked in one West African country 25 years after dictatorship and studeied in one European country 15 years after WW II.
The ability to talk about things and not be carted away for it is one of today's great pleasures and reliefs. Deliberation rather than debate is so much more satisfying. Finding out the common ground leads to more creative understanding, is less tiring (and tiresome) than trying to convince someone. Talking about Europe as an entity isn't very helpful as someone here has said. Each country has its history with us, with its neighbors, but we are all part of the larger world. There is no longer a "them" and "us."
When I go overseas I try to draw analogies using the history of whatever country I'm in. In most cases the only difference I've seen with discussing Europe and US is that many older Europeans have a good grounding in political movements and we don't seem to remember ours. It's not really the case of defending US, but having the pleasure of a good political conversation with people who also find conversation to be an end in itself. We spend hours on cell phones, but have little patience for a deeper conversation when we're overseas.
I'm off to a ETBD tour of Italy soon and hope to enjoy it
the way I enjoyed last year's France. Good discussions with French people
(although limited of course. I read the newspapers in French, but my speaking
is now rudimentary). Best of all is hearing all the world travelers who are
encouraged by Rick Steves and each other to continue to broaden their personal
Virginia Beach, VA USA 09/10/02
I saw an interview recently with Beppe
Severgnini (author of Ciao, America!, a good read by the way.) who stated
that the Europeans were truly sympathetic with the US after 9/11. They understood
our horror, "but..." Mr. Severgnini points that there should be no "but."
He tell those (mostly his Italian compatriots) who say that to imagine the
Duomo in Milan and the Vatican, full of innocent people, your family and
friends, being attacked. Imagine the horror you would have at seeing such
an event and suffering the loss of so many loved ones. There is no "but"
after that. There is no justification. No matter how much one disagrees
with US foreign policy -- there is no "but" after 9/11.
WV USA 09/05/02
There is no such animal
as "European Politics." Even within the European Union there are countries
such as Spain and Greece which are still emerging from the shaddow of dictatorships
and to whom democracy is a relatively new concept and then you have countries
like Britain and Denmark where democracy has been an established fact for
longer than the existance of the USA. For half of Germany the democratic
process is still new. Some countries have monarchies some are republics.
Some European countries have infrastructures that rival your own and some
are still at third world status. The continent of North merica represents
just three countries while I have no idea how many countries constitute
Europe ( theres no point in learning how many there are as it will have
changed in ten years time ). Some European countries drive on the left and
some ( strangely ) drive on the right. There is not even a unifying language
( try asking for a Big Mac in Albania ). To try to compare and contrast
what does not exist is sadly futile but a mistake frequently made by visitors
to Europe and a trap you seem to have sprung on yourself.
Nottingham, UK 08/28/02
I don't think you can categorize or pigeon hole the opinions of Europeans, just like you cannot with Americans. I just returned from London after being there and in Bath for the last couple of weeks. The folks I happened to talk politics with were all very much in favor of direct military action against Iraq/terrorism with or without European support. I suppose that if I talked to others, they would have felt quite strongly the opposite.
The news media I watched seemed to be lined up heavily against the US
(shock!). It all depends who you talk with... just like here. If I'm in
a coffee shop near a large state university, it's probable I won't run
into a lot of political conservatives. From reading Rick's comments, he
seems like a sincere guy, but I do get the impression that he concludes
that what European's think is largely the same and bears greater validity
than that of an American, especially from the "red" areas.
austin, tx USA 08/21/02
Unless you speak the language--French, German, Spainish, Italian, Portugese--you are not getting anything close to a fair sample of what Europeans are thinking. You skew the sample if you only speak with ESL Europeans: very few working class, very few people over the age of 50, in fact very few people that are not involved with the tourist trade. How many of you have had deep political discussions with the guy driving the shuttle bus from the airport?
I guarantee you outside of Great Britain, Rick has never really talked politics
with a European. He is blissful in his ignorance of even one of the beautiful
languages of the continent of Europe. After 25 years of travel in Europe
I find that sad. Hundreds of days a year in Europe is great but unless you can
converse beyond "pointing at your camera and saying "photo?" you will
not come to know the mind of the real Europe.
Denver, CO USA 08/16/02
Bush is not my leader.
He happens to lead this country at the moment, much to my dismay, but I
am not required to bow down to him or automatically support his policies.
His success as a president is yet to be decided. Once again, you are entitled
to your opinion, something you seem to want to deny Rick and anybody else
who disagrees with you. Let me remind you that this is Rick's web site and
he is free (do you remember what that word means?) to express any views
he wants on it. He allows others to post their opinions on the Graffiti
Wall, so you and like-minded posters are expressing the other side. It is
your right not to read it. No one is cramming Rick's views down your throat,
not even your local PBS station. Please use your freedoms as you see fit
and allow the rest of us the same privilege.
Odessa, FL USA 08/16/02
Here is probably the crux of my concern and what I take issue with. Rick has used his web site which is supposed to be travel advice to espouse his political views and made the site one of political agenda. I would have, as it appears the majority of the poters would have felt, more comfortable if he would have given a balanced perspective such as having someone who has a dissimilar view from him on the staff give their side as well. No conservative likes liberal view points crammed down their throat and vice versa.
I just think there would have been a better acceptance if there were two view points and two sets of facts from which to draw. I read his column and was intensely angered. Alhtough I had a mediocre feeling about some of his topics after I finished the entire piece I was so anti Rick that even if I had some liberal thinking on issues such as global warming I was going to come down on the side of a more conservative view point.
Again all I am saying is don't use the power you have just to push your agenda or you are no better than the people you are mocking and criticizing .
And enough of the Bush campaign get over it- he is a great leader and
as Al Gore said "He is my commander in chief and yours" so if he can be
gracious why can't others?
Ga USA 08/16/02
I am a middle-aged homemaker and mother of two teenagers with a college degree, post graduate work, and a teaching certificate. I read several online newspapers every day (including international papers), and go to many different web sites for information. I am a news and C-SPAN junkie (my husband even gave me a satellite radio for Christmas so I could listen to C-SPAN while I carpool).
And, I have traveled fairly extensively through Europe and the Middle
East over the past 30 years. I proudly admit that I am a liberal and perhaps
I do seek out sources that support my way of thinking. Doesn't everyone?
Obviously you do the same since the sources you reference are the Wall
Street Journal op-ed page and the Washington Times. I am quite familiar
with all of the issues you mention. I, like many other people in this
country, just happen to have a different view. Is this a crime? ...or
unpatriotic in George Bush's America? I think not! You must realize that
your way of thinking is not the only way of thinking and that sometimes
other people might be right.
Odessa, FL USA 08/16/02
I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of Bush and was always sceptical of many of his positions...mostly his positions of social issues.
But, after traveling to Europe, talking to friends there and listening and reading their media...I have to say my attitude toward Bush has changed drastically. I respect him a lot more because he is willing to stand up to immense international pressure. I don't always agree with everything, I respect that steadfastness...somehing we dearly need in wartime.
One more thing, Europe's stance in the whole Middel East issue has completely
turned me off on their other positions. Their basically terroristic sympatheis
is so grossly unmoral and repulsive, it's really hard to take anything
they say at face value. How can one support a group of suicidal terrorists
who celebrate when their children kill themselves aboard buses and inside
Arlington, VA USA 08/15/02
I am for helping third
world countries with debt but no one should get a free ride; I am for signing
international treaties if we are not held to a higher standard because we
do so much nor are we going to box ourselves into something we cannot live
with like the ICC and Kyoto and arms control; I am all for helping control
AIDS in Africa when the men start wearing condoms and the women refuse to
have sex with men who don't wear condoms and I am all for revisting our
middle east policy when our Arab friends stop blowing themselves up like
4th of July fire crackers. It's great to do group hugs and kumbaya but it
also is nice to leave my home and not worry about being blow to bits on
the bus or at the supermarket (yet). And if I was a young person thinking
of joining the military and knew I could be held accountable by some other
countries laws for my peace keeping efforts that may be in apposit to the
US I would not join. I personally don't think much of foreign jails (ever
seen Midnight Express or Eed Corner?)
GA USA 08/15/02
As an American living in Spain, I can only say that we as a nation
really need to wake up and pay attention for a change to the rest of the
world! The Bush admin is refusing to sign any international treaties, forgive
debts, tackle AIDS in Africa, and re-examine our foreign policies in the
Middle East. I am an extreme liberal and I believe America can do a better
job of taking care of its own people as well as taking an active part in
what is going on in the rest of the world. I am afraid by the end of the
Bush term, the world will be tired of the US and will start looking at Canada
and Europe for guidence and help in international conflicts.
Los Angeles , CA USA 08/15/02
The article about International Court of Justice is at http://washingtontimes.com/world/20020813-660018.htm
titled EU warns against US Immunity
To those who love Great Britain and find they are not as vocal as the continent. The British have their own problems with immigration that tends to make them a little more understanding of our positions. The only thing I found was that many disagreed with our politics regarding Isreal-Palistine.
Of course the USA Today is voicing Rick's concerns, it is a liberal left wing newspaper. Try reading the Wall Street Journal (especially the op ed section) and compare the two views. Most newspapers are left oriented and that is why we have to seek out our own information from other sources or as many varied sources of news reporting as possible.
One of the hot topics is the EU fighting us over exempting our soldiers who are peace keepers from falling under the jurisdiction of the new International COurt of Criminal Justice. Big thing about this- some US papers side with the EU- Wall Street Journal ran a great piece the other day and basically said- you don't want to exempt us then let's get our boys out of there. The EU should not be dictating our international policy to us- we are doing Europe a favor being there- let the Germans and French send in their people fine with me and we can bring our guys home or send them other places to knock out the Al Quaeda.
Liberals of course seek validation from liberal left sources such as
the press. However we all need to do our own research and decide what
is best in our opionion. Go to some of the university sites and read published
papers or go to government sites and read published reports then go to
the newspaper and see how they slant and distort things.
Perhaps we should all re-read Rick's post and then check out the front
page of USA Today (8/14/02). That article pretty much echos Rick's points.
We need to be aware of how others view Americans whether we agree with those
views or not. We ignore them at our own peril. Our world is too interconnected
for us to ignore the criticisms of our friends and allies.
Odessa, FL USA 08/14/02
I have yet to go to Europe (will next summer) but have been to Canada and had many discussions with friends from various parts there - So here's my two cents. I know that everyone have their own opinions about all these areas in the discussions, but I am of the thinking that they have their's & I have mine and we can agree to disagree. I know that our Country is not the best (but who can say that theirs is best either?) All countries have problems and their good / bad sides, I can accept that & Go to other countries to experience those differences and find the areas that we are the same.
I may not agree how my goverment handles everything, but I still have
freedoms and a lifestyle that I am happy to live with. I see a lot of people
coming to the US to make a better life for themselves & family -If our
way of life is sooooo terrible, why do people come here? I am looking
forward to visiting Great Britain next year & if someone wants to pick
on the country I am from - I would ask if they have ever been there or
met the people (outside of major cities - NY, ....) If they have spent
time here, then I would willing to share ideas - Otherwise not.
Hughson, CA USA 08/14/02
How surprising that Rick's very moderate comments are seen by so many as "left wing." A sign of the times, I guess. Based on the response here, one might conclude that Rick's principles (whether one shares them or not) are gutsy, but make a bad business strategy. Why risk turning people off?
Rick's idea, as I understand it, is that travel is not just about consuming
fun. Travel broadens, makes connections, challenges. So, Rick's "business"
is not only about selling books or tours, it is also about making connections
and challenges. Re-read the last paragraph of Rick's opening essay. As
the man said, "More than ever, we need to travel-to learn, discuss, and
listen to many different points of view."
Boston, MA USA 08/13/02
I don't really want to talk politics while I'm on vacation. If it happens, oh, well. But I'm not going to go looking for it.
For the record, I pretty much fell off the right end of the spectrum, and, oddly enough, one of my closest friends is a socialist. Imagine those debates! To top it off, she's English, so I've got a pretty good idea of where we (the USA) stands in many Europeans' view. We talk, we debate, we even argue (rarely), then we agree to disagree. That's the only way we can stay friends. And I think that's how we need to deal with anyone (here or abroad, wherever that may be) who doesn't agree with us. It's not exactly a "why can't we all just get along?" approach, but it's an understanding that you're not going to change their mind.
One quick note about us evil conservatives. We're not all that evil. Nope, I didn't want Kyoto ratified, but, if the Smart Car ever makes it to the USA, I'll probably get one for my kids for high school/ college. Nope, I don't want the US to forgive Third World debt, but I support anyone who tries to make the lives of the poor in those nations better. Yes, I think we've got the best thing going here in the US, but if the people (and not some half-baked dictator) wants a different form of government, then I say "more power to them." I will probably get an SUV in the near future (kids, sports, and Boy Scouts take up a lot of space in a vehicle), but I conserve energy whenever possible.
I'm not going to argue who should have won the 2000 election, or whether
the US should become more globalist or more isolationist. I'm just going
to suggest that, if you choose to engage in political conversations, here
or abroad, know your FACTS (not what someone else told you was the facts)
and know WHY you believe what you believe. And go into it knowing that
you'll just have to agree to disagree.
Leander, TX USA 08/12/02
Hello there from southern US. I'm slowly reading
the politics "graffiti" and haven't yet reached the "beginning" of the conversation
so am fascinated, but confused. Is there a theme or context ? My interest
in Rick Steves tours comes from years of living overseas (lke many of you
I'm sure) as a former Peace Corps Volunteer etc et al. I find the very fact
he is interested enough in combining his business with a philosophy and
lifestyle he clearly espouses, riveting. I hope to be able to continue this
conversation as I begin to understand the themes within it. I'll be taking
my 2nd tour this year and I am not a tour person. The ETBD staff and Rick
Steves himself have helped to reinforce my own belief that Americans are
an incredible resource when we access our enthusiasm, sense of what liberty
and citizen responsibility means.
Virginia Beach, VA USA 08/12/02
Rick was in Atlanta this weekend for a PBA pledge drive and usually I wait until he is here to renew my membership and receive his books as my gift. This year after 5 years of contributing to PBA when he is here is the first time I refused to contribute on his watch due to his political agenda published in June. If he does not want to support American I don't want to support him.
I love going to Europe as much as the next guy but I am not going to
give up my values or put a dent in my economy to be more like them or
please them. I will continue to visit but as they say it's a great place
to visit but I would not want to live there.
Atlanta, Ga USA 08/12/02
So Rick may
not be totally accurate in his historical narratives...At least he sparks
interest in the subject matter which encourages people like me to dig out
my encyclopedias and history books when I get back home. His entertaining
style of writing in Mona Winks helped us keep the attention of 10 and 11
year old boys while we trudged through major European museums on their first
trip abroad. They were especially captivated by the stories of Van Gogh,
and one of them even requested a poster of one of his paintings for his
bedroom when we got back home. Rick's interactions with Europeans have given
him an insight that can't be learned from a visit to the library. His love
of different cultures and his enthusiasm have done more to educate the traveling
public than most history courses ever could.
Odessa, FL USA 08/10/02
Claims that Rick Steves' opinions are worthwhile because they are informed by over 25 years of European travel raises a question, how much do you really learn about Europe's history by spending time there?
Take his travel guide, Spain and Portugal 2002. Like Steves' other books, it contains a wealth of good information and travel tips. Then one turns to page 143's discussion of a room in the Alhambra:
"For four years Isabel had put off Columbus as she focused on the Reconquista. That accomplished, Isabel and Ferdinand finally received Columbus in this room. Imagine the scene: The king, queen, and the greatest minds from the University of Salamanca gathered here to hear Columbus make his case that the world was round – then a still-loony notion that got people burned a few years earlier. Ferdinand and the professors laughed, calling Columbus mad."
The laugh is on Rick Steves. He is repeating what historian Daniel Boorstin called a "vulgar legend." By the 15th century educated Europeans knew that the world was round. The debate between Columbus and the experts was over the size of the world, not its shape. Spanish (and earlier Portuguese) experts resisted the Enterprise of the Indies because they believed that Columbus had drastically underestimated the size of the world. As it turned out, Columbus was wrong and the experts were mostly right; Columbus underestimated the distance westward from the Canary Islands to Japan by 8,000 nautical miles. If he hadn't unexpectedly landed in the New World, Columbus and his crew would have perished at sea. Despite his time in Europe, Rick Steves' knowledge on this matter is less than what could be found at the local library. (Back in the 1980s my tour guide in Granada got this right.)
While everyone has freedom of expression, opinions are not valuable unless
they're supported by facts. Readers are not well-served by opinions
from an author who is indifferent to historical facts. In particular,
Europe 101 needs a historian to fact-check its information. Next year
check the new versions of the books to see if anything has changed.
alexandria, VA USA 08/09/02
My original post did not say that America took on Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union alone. Nor did it say that the U.S. didn't benefit from the eventual victory. It's indisputable that left on its own Europe could not have held off the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. And if Europeans had been so superior at geopolitics, these dictatorships wouldn't have caused as much trouble and grief as they did.
As far as my personal role, I performed arduous sea duty on several Navy surface combatant ships during the Cold War. This included deployments in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans as well as the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
To the best of my knowledge Rick Steves did not mention one instance where he disagreed with the Europeans. I will say that it's to his credit that this site includes very critical posts. P.S. As long as I'm here, below is some more information for responding to European complaints:
Population control -- Recently it was reported that the United Nations partially funded a program in Peru that forcibly sterilized 200,000 poor women.
Land mines -- American land mines used to protect our troops are "smart" devices that can be programmed to automatically deactivate. The only U.S. "conventional" land mines are in the DMZ in Korea. These mines are absolutely essential for defending U.S. troops and S. Korea. Europeans would do better spending their time removing old land mines.
International Criminal Court -- Under International Law a treaty is only supposed to apply to countries that ratify it. It's the Europeans that are trying to impose on us.
Opportunism in energy policy -- In the 1980s the Europeans financed a
pipeline to import cheap natural gas from the Soviet Union, and provide
that dictatorship with much needed hard currency.
Alexandria, VA USA 08/09/02
Ah, C'mon Rick. I've been traveling to Europe for as long as you have and can't remember a time when I wasn't on the receiving end of some European diatribe on this or that aspect of American politics that met with disfavor. Remember Vietnam? Remember the "nuclear freeze" movement and all the hubbub over stationing of Pershing II's and air-launched cruise missiles in Europe? The litany changes but there is always one there. These days it is: the Kyoto Treaty, the International Criminal Court, Israel, Iraq, and the all-encompassing (crypto-anti-American) movement against "globallization." To which I say, so what?
Rick, you strike me as having been brow-beaten by too many European harangues over the year. In his classic book "Painted in Blood: Understanding Europeans" Stuart Miller makes the point that Europeans have long engaged in political discussions as bloodsport. It is a take-no-prisoners style that is often unsettling to Americans. It is my experience that even left-leaning folks highly critical of their government (as I tend to be) tend to reverse course abroad in the face of the relentless, unnuanced attacks on American policies and culture encountered there. Nobody likes to be perpetually on the defensive. So, while not defending EVERYTHING my government does, I nevertheless tend to make the strongest case I can for the American perspective. I can play that take-no-prisoners game too!
The simple fact is that Europe and America ARE growing further and further
apart. Europe has largely abandoned the old power game in favor of mutual
cooperation and integration. Good for them! But as the sole remaining
superpower, the USA still has to play the power game in a global environment
that is still pretty rough and hostile. We thus often have to play the
role of the heavy and almost nobody likes "the heavy." This is the way
it is going to be for the forseeable future, regardless of whether Republicans
or Democrats control the White House. The Europeans may not like this
but they are going to have to get used to it. And, as travelers to Europe,
we Americans will just have to adjust to the turbulence this creates and
make our case as best we can.
A small town in New England, USA 08/07/02
I have already stated my opinion that while I disagree to some degree with Rick's leftward leanings and believe he should keep politics and religion out of business, I do think we should cut Rick some slack. If Rick and ETBD is ever bought out by Microsoft or somesuch, we can all insist that he keep politics out of business. Until then it needs to be recognized that Rick not only provides unparalleled travel info but also that he has kept his company small and attentive to the individual. That is a rare accomplishment. Most entrepreneurs would have long ago sold out his business AND US. He trusts us enough to bring this subject up and deserves our respect in turn.
I read the Graffiti Wall practically every day and contribute to it often.
One thing I have noticed about ETBD posters, that's all us, is that we
are a more intelligent group than you will see posting on the web anywhere
else. I get hundreds of requests for travel help from Rick's readers and
visitors to the Wall and I have never gotten a stupid, rude or immature
email from anyone. I think we all deserve a hand and Rick and his team
Charles M. Luther
Katy, Tx USA 08/06/02
People often are ignorant about
current events and take sides based on what they hear from the press. The
press in the US is clearly biased towards the left. Unfortuately it is mostly
the same in Europe. People need to think through the issues to their logical
conclusion and definitely consider the source. Leslein provides a good example
of thinking things through to their logical conclusions. I bet many who
read his post never have heard that side of those issues before. It was
good to hear from Patrick, and in leslein's defense, I don't think he meant
that America saved his country at the exclusion of the other Allies. Keep
up the discussion!
Flower Mound, TX USA 08/06/02
There are just too many prejudices and wrong assumptions about Europeans in this forum. The recent post from Leslein is a typical example. I quote: "Never let them (the Europeans) forget that if it wasn't for us (the Americans), they'd be living under Nazi or Communist rule".
I am a 42-year old Belgian. I know, deep in the heart, how much we owe to the American soldiers who so efficiently contributed to the liberation of my country in 1944. Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge are still present in every Belgian mind. But I know also how much the Belgians contributed to their own liberation. I could give you many names of relatives or family members who suffered in Nazi camps or died in the Resistance. It is the same Resistance who ensured that the Antwerp harbour, a crucial asset in conducting the war to victory, fell intact in Allies' hands. A Belgian brigade was part of the Normandy landing and liberated the French cities of Deauville and Cabourg. Why do you think these cities have a "Boulevard des Belges"? World War II was won by the Allies, not by the Americans single-handed. To constantly ignore this fact is an insult to the multitude of Europeans who resisted and fought the nazi's. Similar stories exist for all occupied countries.
Furthermore, the defence against the Warsaw Pact was a collective endeavour of all NATO members, not just the United States. When I was 23, I was drafted in the Belgian Army, who maintained throughout the cold war an army corps, staffed with draftees, at the border between the two Germanies. Many young Belgians did their duty in this collective effort, and were not offered the option to refuse. Other NATO countries, the Netherlands, France, UK, even Luxembourg, also had permanent troops watching the East border, alongside US units. So don't tell us that we owe our freedom to you. While protecting the eastern border, we contributed to the safety of both Europe and North-America.
Finally, if the American objective was to restore democracy, then why don't you accept that we exercise our freedom and express our viewpoint? It is a fact that Europe and the United States cannot possibly agree on all topics. To express our differences is not to hate the United States. If Americans want to silence us each time we have a different view, then the whole purpose of restoring freedom is defeated. We also have legitimate interests and valid points.
The next time an American wants to lecture me about "owing my freedom
to him", I'll ask him whether he was wearing a uniform back
Rick Steves is right that visitors to Europe should expect complaints about America. The problem is that he lacks the knowledge or inclination to respond properly. Below is some helpful information.
When Europeans complain that we pulled out of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, mention that we never ratified it in the first place. Ask "What global warming?" and point out that air temperatures show no warming trend in the last 20 years. Mention that complying with Kyoto could cause a depression. Tell them to go to www.spectator.co.uk and search for Andrew Kenny's article on global warming. Point out that Enron wanted us to implement the Kyoto treaty. Do a little research and you can find serious flaws with the other treaties mentioned.
Point out that if our policies are so opportunistic we wouldn't be supporting Israel. Remind them that we're supporting a democracy while they're basically backing Palestinian terrorists. Ask them why they didn't speak up more when we got Israel to offer the Palestinians all of Gaza, much of Jerusalem, and 97% of the West Bank. Remind them that Palestinians murdered 5 Americans last week and cheered the mass murder of Americans last September. Mention that if it wasn't for the Arabs' desire to destroy Israel, there would have been a Palestinian state over 50 years ago. Ask them to point out to the Palestinians that the world is a cruel place for people who start wars, lose wars, and refuse to make terms. Remind them that for obvious reasons, Jews aren't inclined to trust their security to Europeans. If you're in Norway, ask when Arafat's Nobel Peace prize will be revoked.
Remind Europeans that it isn't a "handful" of Cuban exiles that drive the Cuban embargo. The embargo has been enforced by presidents from both parties and has substantial Congressional support. Mention that it's not a "no-winners-only-losers" policy; if the embargo were dropped almost all the money would go to Castro and be used to stir up trouble. The Cubans would get very little. Tell the Europeans that if the Communists cede power, the embargo will be lifted.
We suffered thousands of deaths, spent hundreds of billions of dollars,
and risked nuclear war to protect and defend Europe. Never let them forget
that if it wasn't for us, they'd be living under Nazi or Communist rule.
Ask if America is really a bigger concern to Europeans than al Qaeda.
The least they can do for us is keep out of the way when we fight terrorists.
Alexandria, VA USA 08/05/02
JP- I guess you can't win with the Europeans- they were critical when Bush was moving toward isolationism, yet they want us to go away. Where would they be without our computer genius, chip genius, telecommunication genius and from whom do they buy their air transport. If we went away then I guess so too would their leap into the twenty first century n'est pas?
There are things I love about America that I could never live without and there are things I love about Europe that I would love to adopt. Blending cultures and ideas- I love Italy's old villas but don't want to give up my air conditioning. I love Ireland's landscape but don't want to give up my washer dryer unit. I love the Netherlands flat lands but don't want to give up super wal-mart or Kroger. There are always trade offs. I could live without my 3,000 square foot house if I could have a home in the Cotswolds.
I think all Americans who travel know that there are pockets of Europeans
who do not like us but they take our money and welcome our tourism. That's
OK because I take back with me the memories of great museums and parks.
All in all I wish we would be a little more isolated and keep some of
the money we spread around to others to ourselves- maybe my taxes would
go down and maybe then other countries would appreciate our generosity.
KY USA 08/05/02
I've worked and travelled extensively
in Europe, and have many friends there. From talking to them and reading
the newspapers there, I can't avoid concluding that people disagree with
the US, and generally would be happier if the US would just go away. Whether
they are right to feel that way I'll leave to others to discuss, as they
already have. All I want to point out is that the sentiment exists, and
hopefully by accepting that fact and understanding the reasoning behind
it, some US citizens may be led to a more enlightened perspective.
Ottawa, ON Canada 08/05/02
I would like to respond to USA. To quote someones ideas as "silly"
shows just how ignorant you can be. What makes your ideas not "silly"? On
one hand you talk about the "sensible" European, which I take means they
have the same ideas as you, and then on the other hand you talk about "left
wing nonsense that dominates public discussion in Europe." If it dominates
public discussion, don't you think that many people may agree with it. I
assume you are one of those people who still believes that George Bush won
the popular vote, for your information he didn't -- he won the electoral
vote. That is our system and that is fine with me, however I think when
you say "majority" you might keep that in mind.
I beg to differ with KR. Tha intense criticism of Rick that has appeared
here is not based on the belief that he should not express himself (though
using his travel website for the purpose has been questioned). Rather, it
is that his ideas are silly and many of his "facts" are simply wrong. And,
to suggest that these ideas are what one learns from experience in Europe
is wrong, and, in fact, something of a slander of the majority of Europeans
who are sensible -as are the majority of Americans. Rick is voicing simply
the left-wing nonsense which dominates public discussion in Europe, which
as someone noted, tends to be rather elitist and anti-American. If anything,
ascribing these views to "Europeans" suggests a lack of aquaintance with
I find it funny how the conservatives who responded to this website,
think Rick should keep his views to himself while they are free to expound
on their own. Is the US always right -- no. Are Europeans always right --
no. Do other countries have ways of doing things that might benefit us here
-- yes. If one doesn't want to explore ideas and culture and maybe question
their own, then why travel in the first place. Just look at a picture, that
way you won't be challenged.
seattle, wa USA 08/04/02
It seems pretty clear to me why Rick would hold some of his opinions, political and otherwise. They are informed by over 25 years of travel in Europe. His whole philosophy of travel is to live like the people you are visiting--"when in Rome..."
I think Rick's understanding of Europe and Europeans is a result of his
willingness to look at the world through their eyes, a mindset that many
Americans seem constitutionally incapable of assuming. We imagine that
those who don't do things like Americans, see things as Americans do,
are simply goofy or misguided or ignorant. Pity. I love my country, but
I don't think we have a corner on the truth. Of course, I'm one of those
oft-berated liberals, so those of a different bent can feel free to reflexively
ignore what I've said. Can't consider alternate perspectives now, can
Indianapolis, IN USA 08/03/02
I like Rick's products but do not like his politics. Am I going to boycott his products-no . Am I going to ignore his views of politics-yes. I realized he had no loyalty to America after the 9/11 attack when his sole interest was in making sure that America kept bolstering Europes economy through travel instead of using his name and influence to help his fellow Americans. Will I give to his charities-no. Will I give to public broadcasting in his name-no. Will I cut off my nose to spite my face and not buy his books-no- unless something else comes along.
We all care about foreign policy to a certain extent but we cannot let
Europe's needs dictate our agenda to keep us safe and economically sound.
I love learning about history from my travels through Europe but does
not that history tell us the ones who forge forward survive? I think from
my summer trip to Europe I have found alot more things that we have in
common with them then Rick lets on- foremost he fact that all countries
are now making immigration their top priority and agenda. I think Rick
is way off base on his opinion but that is his his right to give his opinion.
I just think this web site to offer it is inappropriate.
Portland, OR USA 08/03/02
Antoine, I agree with your last statement. We all should be proud of what we have to be proud of. The problem is, too many Americans (Americans are citizens of the USA; North America is the continent which includes the countries of Mexico, USA and Canada), either don't know what to be proud of (ignorance) or choose only to highlight the negatives in the past (why?). Your political points regarding the Kyoto treaty...C'mon...when is the last time an international treaty was the solution...Oslo accords, Treaty of Versaille,...The USA will choose another path to achieve the result desired.
As for McDonalds, et al...they sell a product to people who want to buy it so they can make a profit. I personally don't eat their products, but damn if they don't keep building them anyway. I guess I just don't weild the economic power to shut them down...much like the European countries. In Paris there are Mikky D's and Burger King too...not very many though...so how does their very presence translate into some movement to "invade" Europe?
What is wrong with Frenchmen thinking their country is the best...the
supreme...better than my country (they do you know...just ask them)? Nothing.
That's fine. Just don't deny me the same attitude towards mine. Look,
we are all humans...we are on the same planet, we basically want the same
things...different political forms are structured to achieve them...you
like yours...I like mine. I also like some things about yours...hopefully
you will find something to like about mine. If not, shall we go to war?
Columbus, OH USA 08/02/02
what an interesting suject! This opinions comes from french canadian, so it migth be biased, but i will give it anyway. Sorry about spelling, english is my second language. I see and read a lot of passion in what i read. Ricks Steve's, in his opening statement doesnt seem to talk about his opinion, but what he think europeans think about the states. Secondly, i read in quite a few comment about the Americanisation of europe (and the rest of the world). American seem to think that they only offer a product, and people have the choice to take it or not. But most of the time, this is not the case: one good exemple is cinema. Take Montréal, a predominantly french city in Canada, The movie distribution business is mostly American. The have the money to buy the screens to show american! In fact, they own the screens, . Canada in considered as a home market, so we get to see all the latest blockbuster and not so blockbuster, were as the canadian industrie have to fight to show it's own movies. I do enjoy my will smith movie once in a wile, but sombody in New-york or L.A. shouldn't dictate the choices i make when i go to the movies! The same can be said about McDonald's, Starbuck, etc. These companies have the means of almost imposing their products on the masses, again, nobody forces anyone from goin to the Champs Elissés McDonald, but it is there, it is cheap and taste somewhat good! The americanisation is not necessarily that McD is everywhere, but that this way of eating is getting more popular and the way of producing this type of food is not as good for the environement.
True, the racism is rampant in Europe, but those who oppose it are virulant.
Americans can feel righteous about racism, but not even 40 years ago,
African Americans could not take the same buses as Europeen Americans,
or go to the same stores, and that was permitted by the States governement.
So neither Europeens or American should feel superior about the way they
handle racism. American are very proud of ther country, and they should
be. But to always scream at the worl face taht they are the best, numero
uno, the greatest, they should be leaders, and your governement should
lead the way and set an exemple to the world when it comes to polution
( kyoto anyone?) arms, economics (freetrade with canada, have heard about
the wood controversy ). Americans, as people, what ever their political
leaning, should be more open to critism from people from other contry
and try to see if the critics are valid. Whatever american may think,
there is a reason why the rest of the world is uneasy with the United
States (and there are real reason to feel uneasy about alot of other country).
So we should all love our countrys, be patriotic, learn from one onother,
even about our own country, even if it hurts, even if we dont want to
Montreal, qc canada 08/02/02
Just thought I'd check back in to follow the discussion...I scrolled
down and read Mike Kruger's response to Rick Steves' original post. Mike's
post is the kind of insightful analysis I would expect from Rick Steves!
A man who has bridged these two "worlds" for as many years as he has, certainly
should be cognizant of the underlying causes for the inherent differences.
Surely, he must be. Whether his neglect to address these issues in his post
is due to advancing a personal political agenda or merely to stimulate a
response is open to question. However, issuing voting directives to his
clientele seem to indicate the former. I find his tour information excellent.
I thank him for his ETBD books and the associated philosophy. I was disappointed
that he chose this venue to disclose a personal political viewpoint.
Columbus, OH USA 08/02/02
The comment by "Steve" below that "Rick will continue to advise us
about...," is rather depressing. Who would rely on the other Steve(s)? Most
of his political and historical facts are wrong and his opinions informed
by serious prejudices. And, especially, he doesn't know -or let on that
he knows- what Europeans really think. The ideas he attributes to Europeans
in general actually are held only to a certain (anti-American) elite. Remember
that public discourse in Europe is quite undemocratic, whether it is called
right- of left-wing.
The USA is not Europe; BY DESIGN. Our governmental and economic system
is totally different. We can visit France, Italy, wherever...enjoy it, etc.
We do NOT need to learn how to change our way of life to be more like them.
Why would we? We are covering ground that they can't even imagine. Why should
this American experiment "be more like" them. What would be the point of
going backwards in time? Excuse this if it is "rant-like", but I'm tired
of apologies for the great things we have done and for the great people
we are, and will become even better. Thank you.
Columbus, OH USA 08/01/02
Steve why in heavens would you be ashamed of people voicing their thoughts
and opinions? Just because the majority of readers do not agree with you
and Rick does not mean that you are wrong, it merely means people are exercising
their right to free speech. This appears to be a site read by highly educated
high achievers who have done research that is in confict to your opinion
and Ricks and are not afraid to speak out when something offends them. I
for one enjoy reading the posts because political correctness is thrown
out the window and people are saying what they feel. I am proud that we
have a system that allows us to vote for whom we want and has checks and
balances to determine if things go awry (your anti Bush and Anti Supreme
Court reference)and proud we do not take steps to assassinate party members
as they did in the Netherlands when it appeared a right wing contender may
take the forefront of a political race. every country has its way of dealing
with political issues differently. I think Rick's memo was very "in your
face" and may have been written like that to stir up the controversy that
it has. Whether he expected it to be so heavily weighted against him I do
not know nor do I think he expected outcries of not doing business any longer
with him becuase to some people his views seemed unAmerican. Calm down it's
good to hear all sides - there is in fact no thing really as "the truth
" but rather facts being interpreted by people as they see it. Everyone
sees a different truth.
New York, NY USA 08/01/02
I recently returned to the graffiti wall after having made one of the early posts commenting positively on Rick's advice to be prepared to talk politics when in Europe. I am surprised and ashamed that so many travelers have responded in negative terms to Rick's advice. I know that my German cousins and my French friends are overwhelmingly interested in American politics. They were awestruck that a presidential candidate who won the popular vote was not now president. They are amazed at the intervention in a state election by our Supreme Court to award the presidency on a partisan basis, a move disparaged by most law school professors in this country. Now Europeans will suffer from the nonparticipation of the US in many treaties that worked to build world security and environmental safety.
As Rick first pointed out, education is the key to an informed response
to questions from foreigners about our policy actions. Our Constitution
guaranties us the right to speak out. I applaud Rick for his outspoken
stand to educate ourselves about what our government is doing in our name
that affects our foreign friends. Not knowing what our government is doing
in our name and then criticizing someone for simply advising us to investigate
is a serious lapse in our responsibility as a US citizen. I know Rick
will continue to advise us of the changing intellectual environment in
other countries despite the negative postings from those who have have
not learned anything from their travels in Europe.
Cary, NC USA 08/01/02
I would like to make one more quick point on something that divides Americans and Europeans (and something Rick made a slight reference to). It's the issue of Israel. For those that have been living in Siberia for the last 50 years, Americans are much more likely to support Israel, while Europeans are much more likely to support the Palestinians. This is something I can almost guarantee will come up while you travel over there.
Now, Europeans often claim that our support for Israel is based on economic reasons (military sales, etc) or some kind of Jewish lobby power (borders anti-Semitic claims of Jewish conspiracy theories to me). Although there are more Jews in America then in Europe, most Americans support Israel because they feel that after the Holocaust, Jews deserved a homeland to call their own. People realize they need a place where they could receive sanctuary from the many people of the world who, frankly, hate them. If we supported Israel for merely economic reasons, we would be much smarter to instead throw our complete support behind the Arabs. We could sell a lot more planes, tanks and guns to the many Arab countries in the Middle East, not to mention the benefit of oil.
And this leads to another point, much of the reason Europeans side with
the Palestinians and are much more likely to take the Arab perspective
in this conflict is because of their economic interests. They are highly
intertwined with Middle Eastern Arab countries for trade and business
dealings. They are also extremely dependent on the Middle East for their
domestic supply of oil. We get most of our oil from Western Hemispheric
sources. So, don't let Europeans give you this aloof, high moral nonsense
on how "simple" we are on our position in the Middle East. Their policy
is just as money and oil driven as they claim ours to be.
Arlignton, VA USA 07/31/02
Just a thought regarding the "New Enlightenment" addendum in the back of most, Europe 101 books, by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw. This seems to be the only place on the website to enter a comment such as this, so forgive me if it is a bit "off topic".
My point is concerning the third to the last paragraph in which Rick "marvels at how politically active American Christians can believe that we're all children of God-while fighting aid for the hungry and homeless."
I nearly fell off my chair when I read this! Think of all the privately funded relief operations in which Americans RISK THEIR LIVES daily to feed, clothe, medically care for and educate multitudes. Think of the tens of thousands of hospitals built and hunger relief efforts developed to help "the least of these". How many of those hospitals were built in the name of atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Allah or socialism? The record shows that the majority of these efforts were and are painstakingly envisioned and brought to fruition, I'm sorry to say, Rick, by Christian organizations, be they Methodist, Baptist, Presb. Catholic, Lutheran. If you disagree with that then you are simply mis- or un-informed.
I certainly don't wish to exhalt American Christians above any other
nationality's people of faith, and I am thankful for ANY medical and hunger
relief done in the name of Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo, IF IT WORKS, but
it tires me to hear that particular liberal diatribe that says that "You
Christians should stay out of politics!!!" Then, when a Christian seems
misinformed about a topic, we are awarded the label of "bumpkin" and "why
don't you get informed on the politics of the day???!!" Just had to make
SC USA 07/31/02
My wife and I have been Rick Steves' fans for several years, watching his shows and purchasing his travel materials. Recently, however, it appears that Mr. Steves has decided since he is an expert on European travel, that his expertise extends to other areas, in this case international politics, economics, and sociology.
Mr. Steves should stick to travel, a topic he knows quite well, and avoid politics, a topic that, with his extreme left-wing views, can only be devisive. He is clearly of the "blame America first" persuasion. It is too bad that he feels the need to bite the hand that has fed him so well. It is terribly ironic that he is so critical of capitalism, a system that has made him a multi-millionaire. He has spent too much time listening to Europeans that are prohibited from getting ahead by hidden regulations and onerous tax rates.
While I realize that this forum is his to do with as he pleases, he should
at least restrict it to travel, there are thousands of other sites for
his political views.
Boise, ID USA 07/30/02
What an interesting and exciting wall on which to scribble -- Good idea, Rick! Susan is absolutely right about the average American being far less informed about world news. Just read your local newspaper or watch/listen to the radio or TV. Little is said about events in other countries. On the rare occasions that something is mentioned it is only half-hearted and simplistic reporting.
Josh, too, is right about some of this being due to the sheer size of this country. After all, you can drive for days and never leave the US, sometimes, never leave your state. Europeans can never understand that about us. And they probably never will unless they come here and see it for themselves.
And Peter from Belgium struck things on the head by noticing that in the US, we tend to see things as either black or white,liberal or conservative, with-us or against-us (especially in the post 9/11 mood). I am postulating that this lack of "nuance" might be due to our so very short history, relative to the Europeans.
We get all breathless and excited over a 200 year old house still standing -- they walk past Greek, Roman, Etruscan ruins on a daily basis. No wonder Europeans see the world in different terms, in long terms. They know anything worth having will still be there next year, next decade, next century. Anything not worth having will be built over, recycled, or forgotten. We have to go out and get things (whether good, bad, ephemeral) right now while we still can.
The adage from a recent movie, "instant gratification isn't fast enough" fits most of us in the US. We seem to act as if there is no tomorrow (witness our waste of natural resouces, especially oil), Europeans are only too sure there will be plenty of tomorrows in which we need to survive. Sometimes it completely boggles my mind to see these differences.
The wonder is, not that a lot of people don't like the US, but that any of them can stand us, little up-starts that we are. Rick has been doing a wonderful job of getting Americans to understand that "different" is not "bad," and "disagreement" is not "hate." And that we all should consider ourselves ambasadors of the US whenever we travel. Be polite, be kind, be interested, and enjoy your surroundings and the people for what they can teach you and how that enriches you.
So, has anyone out there read CIAO AMERICA? It sounds very entertaining.
Sutton, WV USA 07/28/02
I must correct the comment I just made. Steves does not use the words "noble, failed" explicitly to describe communism. It is, however, his position
as evidenced by the very charitable, apologetic comments he makes about
communism. He aparently regards communism and American democracy as fundamentally
equal in their treatment of their citizens.
My advice to those who are reading this topic is to check out the reviews
of Steves' "Europe 101" at Amazon.com. Amongst many other absurd, false
and asinine things Steves' has said is to call communism a "noble, failed"
experiment. The founders of Communism -Lenin, Mao and so forth were murders!
"Noble experiment!!" -how can anyone be so stupid?
A man with a lot of knowledge of Europe and the US
One thing that this discussion has highlighted is the fact that the
political scene in the U.S. is much less diverse than in Europe. Either
you're a conservative, or a liberal. Either you love America, or you hate
it. Etc. In Europe, by contrast, every country has multiple political parties
that represent all parts of the political spectrum. Which partly explains
why Europeans in general possess a more "nuanced" (as they like to say)
view about politics, society, and culture. As wrong as it is for some Europeans
to stigmatize all Americans as clueless cowboys, it's equally wrong (if
not more so) for us to view all Europeans as socialist America-haters.
Brussels, Belgium 07/26/02
I think of myself as lucky that I have been able to travel over to Europe as much as I have and that I have made many great friends there that I continue to keep in touch with and visit. I would agree with Susan that many Americans are insular and oblivious to the outside world unless that world directly threatens or challenges them. I see this as mainly a consequence of the size and vastness of our great country.
Europe is a small place geographically and countries there have traditionally had to rely on the outside world for natural resources and other goods. They also have a colonial past that America never quite experienced on the same scale. This adds to their international worldview.
Now, I may be heartless as the saying goes (I'm a 26 year old and fairly conservative), but my experience with my friends in Europe has shown me that many of their views are not that different then ours. Many of their complaints (our cars, our taxes, our house sizes, our flamboyant lifestyle) are based in envy. My friends are the first to admit it! Steve Zavocki has it right on this one.
The main reason Europeans drive small cars and don't have AC in their house, is because they are forced to through economic policies of their governments. Most don't see it being a moral argument (although some do). Most see it as just part of life. My friends complain about it all the time!
And this leads to another point, Europeans have more of a live-and-let live attitude toward their government. I think this is why there are so few public complaints against some issues like taxation, environmental and national sovereignty issues. The change over to the Euro is a perfect example. Almost every country that has the Euro now had no direct say what-so-ever in that choice. In fact, their attitude seems almost blasé when asked about it. I mean, can you imagine the outrage that would occur here in the US if the government just stated we were going to start using the North American Peso in five years?
Anyway, I guess I'm trying to say that America has her faults, but in
many respects they are due to human nature and part and partial to living
in a country where in most respects, the government pretty much lets people
live their life the way they choose. And on a side note, my friends are
all on waiting lists to get green cards to come over here. We can't be
all that bad!
Arlington, VA USA 07/24/02
Susan is right, we should learn not to be so fragile of debates that
don't necessarily end on a happy patriotic note. Rick has always been political
or realistic. All through every book of Rick's, he's very honest and gives
opinionated details that sometimes sound political. But that's why RS is
so popular. (You should see the ladies swoon for him at the packing light
sessions.) Thanks for 'keeping it real' Rick.
Denver, co USA 07/24/02
Susan - you're my hero!
CA USA 07/24/02
After just completing my 10th trip to Europe, I think Rick is right on target with his comments. (A word of caution, I'm a 53 year old liberal, not young like Rick, so maybe I have no brain!) I generally find Europeans to be much better informed than Americans...maybe because they read more and aren't afraid to engage in political debate. Americans are so concerned that they'll offend someone that politics are an "off-limits" topic. How weird is that? Politics control our lives, so we'd better engage.
As to the "smart" car comments...Maybe those long commutes would quickly end (with better community planning and mass transit) if people were forced to sit in tiny energy efficient vehicles to get to and from their jobs so far from home.
Rick, keep saying the things you want to say. People don't have to read
them if they don't want. If they can't separate your travel guidance from
your politics, then perhaps they aren't ready to venture out into this
big beautiful world we live in.
Odessa, FL USA 07/23/02
I believe Rick's statements about the state of America is a very watered down, politically correct version of what he really wants to say. Naturally, this is a business, can't offend everyone. I base this on the fact that anyone who travels very much begins to see the US as it really is, good and bad.
Detroit can make jokes about the 'smart' car, but the reality is if gas prices suddenly become unstable most of us won't be laughing. Suburban living could end as we know it. No more Mall of Americas, Walmarts, and 60 mile commutes all in the name of cheap fuel and cheap homes.
And why isn't there a separate section for Ireland now? :-)
Denver, co USA 07/23/02
I am a long-time Rick Steves/ETBD fan and an experienced traveler. I have met Rick and he is young, intelligent, good-hearted and concerned. It should be no surprise then that he is very liberal. That doesn't bother me any more than the knowledge that the New York Times is liberal and the Wall Street Journal is conservative. When I daily read them I know there leanings and take them into account. You should approach Rick the same way.
That said, I think it is a mistake for Rick to use his prominence as a travel guru to promote his political views. I read him for his knowledge of travel, not for his knowledge of politics. His piece at the start of this new topic is simplistic and un-informed. I do not support all my governments' approaches to world problems and I try to always examine our motives for their intellectual honesty and ethical value as well as their practicality. I apply the same standards to Europe's approach to the problems and often find similar questionable motives. Some of the examples Rick alludes to are simply not true and others are stretched beyond recognition.
For example, though I fault Detroit and Americas love of the car for contributing to our energy and environmental problems, the mini-car he mentions would never work in American where the average commute, as I read today, is 38 minutes compared to 9 minutes in Europe (I don't confirm these figures, I only quote them from today's paper) The distances to commute are correspondingly disparate.
Elsewhere Rick has encouraged his followers to get our government to forgive the Third World debt. A noble desire but not wise. Much of this debt was caused not by the poverty and backwardness of the nations but by the corruption of the leaders of those countries. If you forgive the debt these leaders will simply steal more and their people will be no better off and have no reason to overthrow their corrupt leaders.
As a young man I was told to keep my politics and religion out of business. I think Rick should do the same. I know Rick means well and I applaud his concern but he does not know enough about social dynamics, politics and economics to put himself forward as an expert on anything except travel.
One final thought. Rick has changed a lot over the years (I have read
all his books since 1990 and I could cite specific examples) and he doubtlessly
will change more. Most of us will if we are smart. Someone once said that
if you are not a liberal when you are young you have no heart and if you
are not a conservative when you are old you have no brain. Rick has a
very good brain and a kind heart. He will learn the same way we did.
Charles M. Luther
Katy, TX USA 07/22/02
On our recent RS trip to Turkey, I was pleasantly surprised to see
how much the Turkish folks were happy to see Americans (or at least American
dollars?) It was disappointing that the guide presented a very Political
Turkish propaganda version of Turkish history and the so called I quote, "Exchange" between Turkey and Greece. When challenged on some of his political
views, the guide was defensive and insulted to think that we Americans didn't
buy his story as being the whole story. I guess they just aren't ready to
openly talk about what really happened with the Armenians and Greeks. None-the-less,
I was touched by the actions of a small boy in a rual country store who
proceeded to count to ten in English, and teach me how to count to ten in
Turkish. I gave him a small American flag (the kind on a toothpick) which
he promptly held next to his Trukish Flag and kissed both. There is hope
in the hearts of the children
Cincinnati, OH USA 07/20/02
I'm probably a tad right-of-center myself, but I must say, all you
conservatives who are villifying Rick here have seriously misread Rick's
piece. It was not intended as an expose of his own political thought, but
to enlighten you on the present mindset of Europeans - to tell you what
you might expect should you become involved in a real conversation with
a real European sometime, and in this regard, I think he has very accurately
spelled out the kinds of concerns that Europeans have. It's true that Rick's
political opinions do seep into his material at times, but so what? You
won't recommend his products anymore now that you understand him better?
You only want to do business with people who are such panty-waists that
they always hide their true feelings? In the old days, when you walked down
to the hardware store for some nails and a chat, you got an ear full of
politics too, but you still did business there. We all do business every
day with people whose political ideas don't match ours - it's just that
these people don't have the cajones to tell you what their opinions are,
so you have no idea you're patronizing a Nazi or a communist. Kudos to Rick
for being man enough to be open with his clientele.
Galt, CA USA 07/19/02
It's unfortunate that most of the world doesn't like us. But, I do not know how any American can be under the opinion that we are universally loved. Some might say we should reflect on events like 9/11 to change our whole way of thinking. I think the events of 9/11 validated what is good and right about America....
I have never understood this "Americanization" arguement...The undeniable symbol of this is MCds. If people want inexpensive, tasty, (apparently over 4 billion think so) food served quickly, a McDonalds will pop up. It is neither the fault of America or Americans. I can assure you that McDonalds Europe is not propped up by gluttonous, loud Americans "looking for some real food" when traveling. Can it take away some of the European charm? Sure... I think it is silly to think that American is forcing anything down anyone's throat (both figuratively and literally).
I am awaiting the stories out of Vienna about Starbucks...Largely publicized small protests followed by lines out the door of Viennese folks clamoring for a triple Venti..stay tuned....
I just think much of the European crticism such as that is trivial and
inconsequential...Euros need to lighten up on the US..we really don't
effect their lives that directly...at least not until the collapse of
communism..thank you Ronald Reagan....
Wow, I'm amazed at all the conservative vitriol Rick is taking here. First off, it's always been pretty clear that Rick has a liberal & open-minded bent, in both his TV shows & books. He doesn't hide it, & I always welcome it.
Travel is about broadening your horizons in every way, not just taking pictures & relaxing. Travel exposes you different viewpoints so you can learn about the world outside your own home. Americans, IMO, need this more than anyone.
We Americans are pretty clueless about how the world perceives us. You'd think 9/11 would have woken us up about that, but clearly, not everyone understands that the world doesn't universally think we're so wonderful. It's not just the Middle East -- Europeans have diverse views on the US, & they're not all pretty. Just like Rick says, we're the global 400lb. gorilla, & other countries resent that. America could do with a little humility, & Americans abroad might think twice before trying to impose their views on others.
In our last trip to Europe, my husband & I had a wonderful, enlightening experience. In Paris we stumbled upon a large political demonstration. Several Frenchmen tried to explain it to us. While the language barrier prevented us from understanding the fine points, the general idea was that this group wanted more socialist governments in Europe that would take better care of the poor & working classes -- they thought that Europe was getting too Americanized! It wasn't until we explained we don't agree with Bush & are liberals ourselves that these men smiled & laughed with us, instead of criticizing our country's actions.
The person who thinks travel is not a political event is wrong. Politics are everywhere. The very fact that we have enough money to travel to another country means we're privileged, elite, & this has political repercussions. This is even more true when visiting Asia than Europe, but it still applies. We take our social & political positions with us where ever we go, & these will butt up against the positions of others.
Unless you travel on a sheltered tour bus with no local contact (which
is NOT Rick Steves travel!), you will encounter politics. Accept it, be
prepared for it. And please don't go making Americans look even worse
than much of the world already thinks we are.
Silicon Valley, CA USA 07/18/02
Rick, we are big Rick Steves travel fans in Atlanta...we are not big
Rick Steves political fans. You might be aware that while the Seattle enclave
in which you live (along with some other large metro areas-San Fran, NYC,etc.,)
is strongly left wing, it is a probability that the majority of your customers
throughout "fly over" country is conservative. Suggest you might wish to
factor that into your thinking as your seek to market your products (travel
products). We have worked to promote your products because we enjoy them
and most of our affluent friends trust our travel recommendations (I own
a management consulting firm). We are less likely to recommend them now
as prior to the comments in the June newsletter. Attached is a European
Union article I suggest you read. If you are as open minded as I think you
would claim, you will read it in full. I've read articles from The Nation
and find it to be unmitigated nonsense....but, only after serious consideration.
We want to continue to support your products but only on the basis of political
neutrality. If not, we have to make decisions based on your political left
leanings. I hope you understand. Regards,
Peachtree City, GA USA 07/18/02
In reality I don't think that there is any "perfect" place on this planet. Therefore, perhaps, we should not use travel as a way to count up all of the bad and terrible policies other countries have, but rather focus on what is good and can be applied in the US. Perhaps looking at the way other countries handle their problems or their approach and way of thinking about an issue can aid in resolving issues in the US.
I think if there were a country where we could all live in a 3,000 sq foot house, use all the electricity we want and get free medical care with 6 weeks paid vacation and no taxes, while burning no fossil fuels - we would all live there.
I find it sad that people still can't listen to each other's view points without getting upset. Is Europe biased towards foreigners from poor countries? Certainly. Do European countries continually cram the idea of "all MEN are created equally" down your throat? No. Is there racism in the US? Heck yeah!
The issues with the Turkish guestworkers have been around for as long as there have been guestworkers. The "problem" is purely cultural. Many are only in countries, such as Germany, to make some money...and eventually many move back home. Therefore, for most there is no need to assimilate into the mainstream. In fact, when I went to school there, they even had their own all-Turkish classes.
Now my cousin (a female) is a teacher in Germany and had in her class several Turkish teenagers. She found it nearly impossible to handle her class because they did not respect her. Again, probably a cultural issue.
However, my neighbors were Turkish and my family developed a great friendship with them. So, as with anything else, the problems are generally with individuals.
On a greater scope, however, guestworkers are seen as abusing the "system". My grandparents, now in their 70's, for example, who feel they have worked very hard for what they have all their lives, see foreigners who actually immigrate to Germany and receive exhorbitant amounts of money to get started in the West. In the 70-80's quite a few of my ethnic-German friends from Romania ended up buying property and building houses with the money they received - while my family lived in in a 2-bedroom state assisted apartment. I would assume that this kind of thing would cause people to be just a tad resentful.
Naturally, discrimination is wrong any time, any place and should never
be tolerated. However, you can only fight a problem if you understand
the root cause - and without truly listening to each other, how can we
I guess some of the people who responded to this board failed to read
the topic. The question was political interaction with Europeans not Rick's
views. Get a clue people read the topic before you rant on someone else's
Seattle, WA USA 07/15/02
If you haven't been able to glean Rick as left leaning you're simply
not a Rick Steves fan....The example that comes to mind is Dutch drug policy....although
decriminalization and legalization does have some merits, it is no coincidence
that Holland is the hub of hard and elicit drugs for Europe. It's also a
center for child pornography, not to mention the exploitation of third world
women on the streets for similar "enlightened" attitudes towards sex ....If
you just want to smoke legal dope is somnething that I can understand...
it's the self righteous proclamation of their perfect, enlightened, crime
free system that is laughable....
seattlre, USA 07/14/02
Bad move Rick. You should keep your politics to yourself and just stick
to travel. Maybe it's about time the rest of the world started to police
itself. We have our own problems here and I don't mean the spotted owl and
Monica L. Jobs for one thing so Americans can earn money to travel and buy
your books and tapes.
Mt Holly, NJ USA 07/14/02
Rick, Why are you letting your far left liberal views muck up my otherwise
very favourable views of your great travel site/books. I highly value your
advice on travel but am disinclined to purchase any more of your books since
you have absolutely no respect for my kind -Republicans! I will miss your
books,but I can't give my business to somebody who thinks I am a fool!
West Hartford, CT USA 07/14/02
After just returning from a trip to Holland, Belgium, France and England I found for the first time in my travels that I had to defend my country and my views. As a Republican I even found my views more challanged.
My Trafalgar Tour guide a wonderful dutch man constantly engaged and challenged me on topics of politics in american and his sentiment was definitely anti Bush, calling him chicken for not bombing afghanistan sooner than we did, although I tried to explain why we needed a coalition first due to our Saudi and Jordan connections. My tour companions from Canada were hostile to the way Bush engaged Blair but did not get down and kiss their feet when they joined the coalition, and my British companions voiced deep concern over the fact that we should be supporting a Palistine state . I felt very very uncomfortable for the first time in my life traveling in Europe, not from a safety view point but from having to argue about politics while I was on vacation. I was ready for global warming to come up but that never hit the deck, however our dutch tour guide kept making reference that everyone in America rides in big Cadillacs and uses too much energy.
The European people I encountered were sympathetic to our 9/11 plight but did not understand why we did what we did or do what we do because their press is presenting slanted views to them. Watching CNN europe and BBC europe gave me a knot in my stomach and every day seemed to a new challenge.
While we were in london and across the street from the Parliment there
was a large sign of George Bush on a wanted poster for crimes against
humanity being touted by some group. Other people verbalized outrage that
we were not ratifying the International Court treaty and exempting out
our peacekeepers. My son who is in the Jr Air Force ROTC was ready to
engage in a verbal altercation with these people and I had to drag him
away before he let loose. There was lots of anti US sentiment abroad and
this in addition to the Euro making it expensive to travel stressed us
out on what was supposed to be a light hearted vacation. I was looking
to get away from argumentative behavior by going away on vacation and
was put from the frying pan into the fire. I hope when we go back next
year things will have settled down.
Atlanta, Ga USA 07/14/02
Sorry Rick, I enjoy your show, but your anti-Republican views have
no place on the show. I am an 18 year Army vetern and a Republican. The
Clinton years were tough; and the Gore years probably would have been worse
for us. I would keep your political views and thoughts to yourself and focus
on the task at hand which is Travels in Europe.
Olympia, WA USA 07/11/02
I think this is a great topic, because politics is a subject that will come up while traveling in Europe. Especially, if you are a person who makes an effort to talk to your hosts, and other people you meet on the street. These are my observations, the Europeans are not against us, the press certainly is, but not the average person. I had people come out of blue to tell me what a great president we had, I told them that I agree too. I think that Joe from Seattle is right on in that there is some envy out there. But I heard just as much envy from other countries to Germany.
I also think that nearly every European would own a 3000 sqft home and an SUV if they could afford it (ie not overtaxed). I saw many more SUV's this past trip than ever. Loads and loads of Jeep Grand Cherokees, and even some Trailblazers, and 4-Runners. As was said, I don't believe it is a moral issue for them.
On a different topic, I think the next hot bottom topic in Europe is immigration. Over an over especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland I heard talk to anti-immigrant meetings. I am all for people immigrating legally in search of a better life, but in someways I understand their gripes because the immigrants don't seem to make an effort to fit in, like learning he language, etc. This is not my observation but of some of the people we talked to.
We did had a negative experience with the Muslum Turks we saw in Austria at a playground. They let their young boys run wild throwing rocks at each other while the robed mothers sit on the bench nearby and do nothing. Eventually, my wife had to yell at them to get them to stop.
After that experience I can see how easy it would be for a politician to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. I should also add that the gripe is not based solely on race. There seems to be a real bias against people from the former Yugoslavia (who are white) in the German speaking countries as well. I would also like to add that I also believe, like it or not liberals, that America is in a position to call the shots in the world. We should not have to submit to treaties or courts created by people who would like to bring America down. I don't blame some Europeans for not liking it, but they would do the same thing, if and maybe when, they are in the same position.
I guess my bottom line is not to think that Europe has it all together.
I also want to say that I don't have a problem with Rick expressing his
political views on this site or in his books. No, I don't agree with most
of them, but he has earned the platform in which to share them. His biased
opinion is what we liked about him in the first place.
Lewisville, TX USA 07/10/02
Sorry, Rick, but I think you are on the wrong track here. I do not
share your political views and, personally, don't care what they are. I
travel so I can form my own opinions. I don't believe anything concerning
politics is as black or white as you seem to think. Conservatives are not
all gas-guzzling, air-polluting, children-starving monsters just as liberals
are not all save-the-world do gooders! Keep your political views to yourself.
Houston, Tx USA 07/09/02
I thought this was very interesting topic to add because in all my trips to Europe I have always chatted politics with relatives, strangers, and fellow Americans.
What I always found remarkable was peoples reactions when I was unwilling to pile on America. This always led to differing, sometimes heated, opinions. But I always thought more understanding and clarifications of misconceptions resulted.
To be perfectly blunt, European resentment comes from a form of envy. I am not saying every European would jump a boat (although many still do) and immigrate. But the basis of disagreement is always what America has that the rest of the world (including Europe) does not. Now this is the type of viewpoint that gets me branded as another arrogant American. But it then followed by a litany of reasons why their culture, economic system, and country is better. I never doubt their conviction or belief but I don't brand them arrogant either. I think that the perception of arrogance comes from the supporting facts that America really ain't all that bad.
I believe America's status as numero uno (no one really disputes that) has resulted from hard work and economic freedoms. Although I could really get used to the idea of government imposed 6 weeks paid vacation, afternoon siestas, wine/beer at lunch, it's really not all that practical for me. It doesn't make me or any other American a bad or greedy person.
I think alot of criticism of America comes from ignorance. The seem to cling to things that are almost cliche (which is to say there is an element of truth.) A fine example of this is telling my German cousin that American does indeed have programs such as Welfare (income), housing subsidies (or even cost free housing), food stamps, medicaid. She is an educated person, but she was under the impression that no such system existed. I am sure she is not alone in her thinking.
Europe is a wonderful place with wonderful people. I found the recent antiamericanism in Europe a bit annoying but it would never stop me from visiting.
Note to Rick: Is it really the perception in Europe that the Cuban Exile
community in Florida delivered the Presidency to Bush? At least have them
stick to the American left version of having 5 judges being responsible
(Who Filed the Suit?). That would would at least be partially true. Also,
you'd be remiss to mention that the numerous recounts didn't exactly confirm
a Gore Victory?
Seattle, wa USA 07/09/02
Dear Rick, I am a huge fan of your guidebooks. I first started using your guidebook when I was planning my honeymoon for the summer of 2000. My wife and I have traveled extensively through France, Germany, Switzerland, London and Italy because of the great advice and travel skills we have learned from your books. This year, I have your entire 2002 library of guidebooks because my wife and I are living in Europe.
Part of the reason for the move was because of our experience traveling with your guidebooks and partially because I was fed up with America. I was tired of everything being trampled in the name of the Almighty Dollar. I was tired of being sold about by a politician who claimed to be liberal, but when took office immediately held the status quo. When I got my job teaching English here in the Veneto region of Italy last September, I left America unsure that I would ever return. I couldn't wait to be among the socialists of Europe that appreciated time off for vacation, a good wine, and caring for all people regardless of income level.
It would seem that I would be just the type of person that would be ecstatic about your latest monthly update on your website entitled "Traveling to Europe This Year? Get Ready to Talk Politics!" but I am rather displeased with it. Not only are the "facts" you stated untrue or misleading, but I don't believe you should use your position, following and expertise in one area to push a political agenda in another. I respect your opinion highly when it comes to traveling in Europe; I believe there is no one else who has as much experience as you do. However, that doesn't translate into the same respect for your political opinion, even though I agree with your liberal beliefs. Here is why. Travel is not by nature a political event. Communists through Fascists can travel and enjoy themselves, sometimes even in the same crowd. Politics is about creating a future and travel is about enjoying the now. Politicians are about wooing the crowd and travel is about being part of it. Travel and politics are not natural bedfellows. While you are certainly allowed to express your political opinions on your website, I wish you wouldn't. If you become the liberal who travels and not a traveler who is liberal, you risk alienating people.
My in-laws are a fine example of people you risk alienating. They are solid Republican voting, Limbaugh listening, Clinton-hating conservatives. They had no intention of traveling until their daughter, my wife, moved to Italy. When they decided to visit us, I directed them to your books and office in Edmonds. They read Europe Through the Back Door and attended a few weekend sessions. They were immediately hooked on your philosophy and decided that rather than tackle Italy cold turkey, they would book a Rick Steves' tour of Rome to warm up. They took that tour March 17-23. They had a fabulous time and, I believe, have recommended your tours to others. They traveled with us through parts of Italy and Germany and saw two societies where the haves and have-nots are closer, public transport works, and money is not always the prime consideration. They returned to Seattle thinking that a light rail commuter system from Tacoma to Everett wasn't such a bad idea (they were STAUNCHLY against it last Christmas) and that maybe slowing down their own life would lead to a higher quality of life.
This valuable experience, and change in thinking, was almost lost by a comment you made at one of the big weekend events in early March. At a general session, you made some comment about not voting Republican because they were against debt-relief aid to African countries. This angered them and had it not been so close to their tour date, I have no doubt they would have canceled. They were in Europe to see the sights, be taught about the history, and learn about some of the cultures that contributed to create America. They were not interested in going with an organization that would chastise them for their political beliefs. They definitely had reason to be upset about your comment anyway because the debt relief package that passed in 2000 had bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
That leads me to my second point. A majority of facts in your last e-mail were wrong or misleading. Europe is not a socialist paradise where everyone gets along and everyone works together to raise the standard of living. It has a variety of opinions and actions, some of which make every socialist smile, and some of which make the most ardent nationalist cheer. You stated that "for the average European, energy conservation is a responsible part of daily life.", but that doesn't truly convey the facts. Energy conservation is an economic requirement. Most countries have utilities that are monopolies; therefore utilities cost more so Europeans must conserve. High taxes throughout the continent leave people with less disposable income so they must buy smaller cars and more fuel/energy conscience devices.
Italians don't drive fuel-efficient cars because they are morally superior, but because they have less disposable income and the cars are more practical for their lives. Smart Cars and other smaller cars are in demand because they consume less gasoline, yes, but again you didn't mention that gasoline costs $4 a gallon and anyone who owned an SUV would need to be quite rich. Smart Cars also make sense because of the lack of parking in European cities. Because they were built prior to the car, the city centers don't have ample parking. America, building cities mostly after the automobile, has worked that machine into its urban planning.
History and population diffusion are very different between the two continents. In Europe, the distances between population centers are shorter and require less time in transit than America. From Seattle, the two closest major cities are Portland and Vancouver, Canada. Each is about 4 hours on the Interstate. However in Italy, 4 hours of driving is a lifetime. From Venice, I can reach Milan, Turin, Florence, Bologna, Parma and Rimini. If you have ever ridden in a Smart Car for a long period of time, it isn't comfortable. Smart Cars work fine for getting the groceries, but are uncomfortable and unsafe for long drives on the Autostrada. Even here in Europe (Italy and Germany mostly), the current trend is toward bigger, more "American" sized cars.
In Bassano Del Grappa, where I live, I see plenty of SUVs because it is a rich area. People are vain and everyone wants to show off their wealth, regardless of political leanings. SUVs are a sign of wealth and power, like a mansion on wheels. They are safer in accidents than a Fiat Punto, more comfortable and appeal to the consumer's vanity. In a continent with powerful Green parties, it' surprising how un-eco-friendly Europe can be. A recent study by the European Union has stated that fishing stocks in the Atlantic and Mediterranean are at dangerously low levels. It recommended quickly reducing the fleets in all countries, which would be the most logical and eco-friendly thing to do. Spain, Greece and several Scandinavian countries quickly balked at the idea and said they weren't going to reduce their fleets because they had reduced them in years past. While it is easy to ridicule America for not approving the Kyoto treaty (which we should responsibly do), European nations are dragging their feet on other ecological issues here on the continent.
As for the oil, money and control of politics, you again brush over the facts too quickly and don't give enough room to other ideas. For instance, America doesn't practice a formal cultural imperialism. We try to lead and offer others the chance to emulate. You can ask Britain and France how well it works to impose their culture and systems on people not ready for them. Or better yet, maybe you should ask the people of Algeria, Zimbabwe, or Kashmir how they feel. Bush wrongly said that he wasn't for nation building, but is doing just that in Afghanistan for the good of the Afghans and Americans. He isn't trying to get cheaper access to oil; to say otherwise would be to insinuate Bush had something to do with the September 11th attacks. As for an Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline for oil from Central Asia, Time magazine ran an article about it 2 months ago and the consensus is that it isn't feasible based on the local people groups, the politics and mostly the geography. One person interviewed by Time said a pipeline across Afghanistan-Pakistan would make the Alaskan pipeline look like a small erector set.
One thing you didn't mention in glorifying Europe was the racism (blatant or hidden) that is much more of a problem here than in America. With the exception of maybe Britain, no country values multi-culturalism like the United States. The mentality here in Europe is always us-versus-them. Americans are acceptable because they are rich, white, Christian and will go home. However, for others escaping a bleak existence in Africa, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East, the reception is one of open hostility and discrimination. I'm sure you've seen the job opportunities for blacks in Italy. They can either sell counterfeit purses on white sheets to tourists or work in the kitchens of restaurants washing dishes. Europeans are so in favor of immigrants that all have strengthened anti-immigration laws. Italy, Netherlands, and Denmark have recently passed laws that make it almost impossible for an immigrant to enter the country legally. The Swiss have long been at the forefront of keeping out immigrants, which is why they are able to offer so many social services to their people because they aren't helping any new arrivals get established. Rather than seeing immigrants as able to add value to their communities, Europeans see immigrants as importers of all things evil, like drugs, prostitution and disease. America has shady and sometimes embarrassing policies, but I think we excel way above the Europeans in this area.
I know that this is long and Rick is probably in Europe now researching
the 2003 guidebooks, but I would like for him to read this. Rick is extremely
busy and I don't expect a response, but I hope this gives everyone
at ETBD something to think about next time Europe seems like such a wonderful
place to live.
Having been to eight European countries for both busness and pleasure and
working with many Europeans in the business world I must say that the root
cause of European frustration seems to be that Europeans no longer call
the shots internationaly. Just think back in time, only 100 years ago, this
would have been unfathomable to a European. Their 20th century wars are
responsible for their impotence and they don't like it. As students of history
we must all think of which 21st century superpower would we want...The Nazis,
the Communists, or the Americans. I am sure we on both sides of the Atlantic
can agree on this one.
Houston, Tx USA 06/30/02
What a wonderful surprise to read Rick's article "Get Ready to Talk
Politics"! Though I read The Nation (and other "progressive" publications)
I rarely hear any one else voice those "unpatriotic" opinions, and I fear
he is correct about the American mainstream drifting to the right! Thanks,
Rick, for taking a stand publicly, and for describing so eloquently the
growing differences in(and the reasons for) the American and the European
views on almost everything!
Manhattan Beach, CA USA 06/28/02
In Rick's section on "Talking Politics" with Europeans he recommends
the weekly magazine The Nation. I heartily agree. You can find out much
more than the US media will ever tell you by reading this magazine. In addition
I recommend "World Orders Old and New" by Noam Chomsky, Professor of Language
and Linguistics at MIT. What could be more important when traveling to Europe
than language? This book gives a detailed history of the Palestinian situation
which will help us understand "why they hate us". Other chapters of the
book present our government's misuse of language in describing what they
are doing on our behalf in the rest of the world. I hope this advice will
help some of you traveling ambassadors out there.
Cary, NC USA 06/23/02