Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act

Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act


Rick: Hi I’m Rick
Steves, in this Travel as a Political Act
special, I’ll share experiences and lessons
gleaned from a lifetime of traveling, adventuring
from Iran to Denmark and Morocco to
El-Salvador and I’ll explain how travel can
humanize our world and give us a better
understanding of the challenges that come
with globalization. My goal to inspire you to
travel out of your comfort zone, gain an empathy
with the other 96% of humanity and bring home
what I consider the greatest of all souvenirs;
a broader perspective. Thanks for joining us. [music] Speaker: Ladies and
gentleman, Rick Steves. [applause] Rick: Thank you so much. I’ve been fortunate to
spend a good part of my adult life traveling
out of my comfort zone, hanging out with
people who find different truths to be self-evident
and God given. It really challenges my cultural self-assuredness, it
wallops my ethnocentrism. These experiences I consider
the most valuable travel experiences that I’ve ever
had, and I’d like today to share them with you and
talk a little bit about an hour of how travel can
be transformational. It’s a talk I call Travel
as a Political Act. Now, I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve spent a third of my adult
life living out of 9 by 22 carry-on airplane size
suitcase hanging out overseas. You know I’ve just
had this passion for teaching, I love to make mistakes, take careful notes and bring home
the lessons from that experience. I’ve been teaching now
ever since I was a college kid and I didn’t
have a grand plan but if I look back on it over
the decades, there’s been a logical evolution
in my teaching. At first back in the
1980s I wrote a book called Europe Through The Backdoor and it was all about the basics
skills of independent budget travel. How to catch the train, how to pack light, how to get a
good hotel and so on. I would go to Europe and
I would take notes. Somebody would rip me off and
I’d get all excited, “Thank you now I know that scam,” I’d bring
it home and teach people that. In the 90s I thought, “You know
we know how to catch the train, let’s enjoy and appreciate the
history and the art.” I was all about teaching history and
art for travel, so I wrote a book called Europe 101 and that
was to me the big challenge. I wanted to help smart people who
were sleeping in history and art classes before they knew they
were going to Europe remember who the Etruscan were and what’s the
difference between Romanesque and Gothic and that would help their
siteseeing be more meaningful. I’m sliding up that
maslow’s hierarchy of travel needs if you
know what I mean. Since 9/11 it occurs to me that the
pinnacle of that hierarchy of travel needs is traveling in a way that
gets us out of our comfort zone. Traveling in a way that gives us
an empathy for the other 96% of humanity and lets us come home with an inclination to build bridges rather than building walls, and
I think that’s what’s called Travel as a Political Act and we’re
going to talk about that now. Have you noticed how
riddled with fear our country is lately? We’ve
never been more afraid. I’m concerned about
that because when a society is afraid, people
with a wrong motive can take advantage of
that society and make them become something
that they’re not. There’s a lot of fear
right now in the United States of America and the
most fearful Americans are the Americans that
are buried deep in the middle of this country
with no passports. This is a concern. Fear is for people who
don’t get out much. The flipside of fear
is understanding, and we gain understanding
when we travel. It’s important for
our very democracy, it’s important for our
stability that we get out there, we
travel and we gain an empathy for the other
96% of humanity. Now did you remember in the old days people used to say,
“Bon Voyage.” When was the last time you
heard somebody say, “Bon Voyage.” We don’t
say that anymore. What do we say? “Have a safe trip. We’ll pray for you. Do you think it’s a good
idea to be going over there considering all that’s happening?
Have a safe trip.” When somebody tells
me, “Have a safe trip,” I’m inclined to say, “Well
you have a safe stay at home,” because where I’m
going, if you understand the statistics and I know the
statistics are optional these days but if you
understand the statistics, where I’m going is safer
than where you’re staying. This is critical that we get out there, we get a grip,
we don’t confuse fear and risk and we learn how to
play ball with the rest of the world. Now my job as a travel writer is
to inspire and equip Americans to get out there and celebrate
the diversity on this planet. My beat is Europe, my
favorite country in India. My mission really is to get Americans
just to go beyond Orlando. I got no problem with Orlando
but if you’ve gone to Disney World four or five
times, consider Portugal. Now this is a tough sell
for a lot of Americans. There’s only one guide book in this
country that outsells the Rick Steves’ Italy Guidebook and that’s
the guidebook to Disney World. That’s a huge market because for
a lot of Americans travel is La La Land and that’s exactly what
Disneyland is all about you know. It’s fun, it’s cool,
it’s La La Land. There is a reality considering
the complexity and the importance of the challenges
facing our nation today. I think it’s constructive
that we get beyond La La Land and we
connect with the world. That’s what we’re talking about
now in Travel as a Political Act. As I mentioned my beat
is Europe because to me Europe is the waiting pool
for world exploration. Go there first, have a good time
then you can go further a field. Most of my anecdotes
and experiences are in Europe and we’ll talk about
a lot of those today. For instance my job as a
travel writer is to bring home the magic and boy there is
a lot of magic to enjoy. There’s natural wonders. We have great wonders here
in the United States. The great thing about Europe’s
natural wonders is they’re so accessible and you gain
an appreciation for nature. I mean here we are high
in the Alps, can you imagine tight roping on a
ridge high in the Alps. On one side you got
lake stretching all the way to Germany,
on the other side you got the most incredible
alpine panorama anywhere [???? 00:06:40]
and ahead of you, you hear the long legato
tones of an [???? 00:06:43] announcing that the helicopter stocked mountain is open just around the corner and the
coffee snaps is on. That’s good travel. You come home in forever,
you’re more clued into nature. That’s a beautiful thing. Culture is another thing we gain an
appreciation for in our travels. I’m just a cultural
bumpkin from Seattle. I go to Europe and these guys
are evangelical about cheese. When I grew up cheese
was no big deal, it’s orange and the
shape of the bread. There you go, cheese sandwich. You go over there and it’s like a festival of mold when
you step into these cheese shops and this cheesemonger
he sees me, “Monsieur come here.” He takes me to the
goat cheese corner, picks up a moldy goat cheese, takes a deep whiff, “Smell this cheese,
it smells like the feet of angels.” “Smells like the feet
of baseball players to me, but it’s okay it’s actually all right.” Now I don’t need to go
home and be all crazy about stinky cheese and spend a
lot of money buying that but I do have that option and it is good to know that some people
are excited about stinky cheese. All over the world there are
people enthusiastic about things that we didn’t know you
could be enthusiastic about. As travelers we can bring home, it
become a little hybrid that way, but it is good to know that different
people have different passions. One great thing about travel
is the people you meet and it’s clear to me, people
carbonates your travel experience. That’s the essence of good
travel is people to people. When you travel you meet people
you wouldn’t meet otherwise. It’s really remarkable
how many interesting people you can meet
when you leave home. We generally surround
ourselves with people who are like us at home and it’s
a natural thing to do. It’s very nice every
once in a while to put yourself in a
situation where you are not the norm, where people are staring at you because
you’re different. I find that stimulating. Now these encounters
don’t need to be heavy-weight, they can
be silly sometimes. I was in Italy recently and this
little kid was staring at me. It was rude. Finally his dad said, “Excuse my
son, he stares at Americans.” I said, “What’s with that?” He
said, “Last week at McDonald’s we were having our hamburgers
and my son noticing a fluffy white bun said, dad why do
Americans have such soft bread?” And the dad said, “Son, it’s
because Americans have no teeth.” I don’t think the dad meant
anything by that it’s just what dads do when they’re out with
the kids, they say nonsensical stuff to entertain themselves
and it confuses the child. He was looking at tourists
to see if we had teeth. I showed him mine to
overcome that little bit of misunderstanding
between people. But to remind you that there are
silly misunderstandings between cultures that when we travel and
meet each other we can overcome. It’s so important that
we get out there and we humanize people that we might
be afraid of otherwise. One of my favorite
places to travel is Ireland and I think in part because in Ireland I have the sensation that
I’m understanding a foreign language. The Irish people love to talk and
they got this great gift of gag, they’ve got a flowery delightful
creative entertaining way to talk. Now my favorite part
of Ireland is the far west of Ireland, areas
called the Gaeltacht. These are national parks
for the preservation of traditional culture where people are subsidized to leave
their traditional ways by their national
government and where people actually
speak the old Irish instead of English and
there it’s way in the west coast where
people stand on the bluff and they gaze
out of the Atlantic and they say, “The
next parish over is Boston.” Now, when you
go there you’ll meet people like this, if
you’ve got a busy list of sites today and
you meet these guys and you get in a
conversation forget the sites this is why
you’re in Ireland to talk to these guys and
you get caught up in their wonderful
art of conversation. I’ll never forget talking to
these guys, after a while the guy on the left I asked him,
“Were you born here?” He said, “No, it’s about five miles down
the road.” Later on, I asked him, “Have you lived here all
your life?” He said, “Not yet.” You just you just get
caught up in that and this is the beauty,
when you’re traveling find a way to meet people, it really makes the whole
experience more vivid. Another great thing about travel
is you gain an appreciation for history, it is more important than
ever that we learn from history. I don’t understand why our leaders
and people that have very important decisions don’t really
respect history very much. For me it’s the greatest
story to learn from, we’re part of history, it’s shaped
who we are, we’re shaping where it’s going, it’s
happening all around us and when you travel you’re more
likely to realize that. I was in Berlin, for example, a few
years ago on the opening day of their new capital building, the
Reichstag and this was very exciting. The Reichstag was full
of history in the story of Germany in the last
century, of course, the last days of World War
II were fought on the rooftop of this building,
Soviets against Nazis. After the war Germany is defeated,
destroyed, it’s divided there’s a no-man’s land
with a wall right through Berlin and the bombed-out Hulk
of their capital building there hence the Berlin
capital moved over to Bonn. After the Cold War is over
Germany is united capital goes back to Berlin they
need a new capital building. In good European style,
they don’t bulldoze the bombed-out Hulk
of their historic one they renovate it and
they design into it a modern element, a
beautiful glass dome. I was there on opening day,
it’s free, it’s designed primarily for German citizens
but tourists are more than welcome to walk up that
spiral ramp to the very top and appreciate the
architectural symbolism here. It’s designed so the German citizens
can literally look down over the shoulders of their legislators and
see what’s going on in their desks. They’ve been jerked around too
much in the last century and the German citizens are going to keep
an eye on their legislators. I was on top of that
dome on opening day surrounded by
teary-eyed Germans, any time you’re surrounded by teary-eyed Germans something
exceptional is going on. It occurred to me wow, the opening of
this great building is the symbolic closing of a difficult chapter in the
history of a great nation, no more division, no more communism, no more fascism, a united
government with a new capital building
starting a new century looking into a promising future. It was exciting, I was
caught up in it, and I looked around and I saw
the other American tourists on the top
of that dome that day none of them had a clue
and it saddened me. I thought I’m living in
a dumbed-down society, I don’t want to live in
a dumbed-down society. It occurred to me there
are powerful forces in our society that would
find it convenient, profitable if you and I
were all just dumbed-down, just go shopping
we’ll figure it out. We don’t want to get
into that situation. Germany has learned and paid a
steep price for a dumb-down electorate and in Germany,
I’ve noticed they invest in a smartened up electorate,
it’s no political agenda it’s just good for everybody
to have a smarter citizenry. I vowed then and there
in my own work as a travel writer to
expect my travellers to be engaged, to
smarten up, you make more money off of people when you just take them to the beach, frequent
flyer miles, duty-free shopping, fun in the sun, what’s the power of your
sunscreen, that’s all fine and dandy. But if it bullies you out of a
meaningful experience in your travels you’ve lost something,
it’s a lost opportunity. I would think in all of
our daily walks of life it’s important for us to
expect our neighbors to be engaged because the
consequences are really tragic for a country when its
electorate gets dumbed-down. I was in Munich recently and
I saw this photograph and it haunted me, this is 1932,
these are people just like you and me gathering
together listening to some charismatic politician trying
to take them down his road. Looking at that crowd
gave me the chills because I know how a
fascist leader with a lot of charisma can capitalize
on people’s fears and anguish and lead
a society astray. We’ve learned it’s not just
Hitler in Germany, most of Europe went down this road
between the two world wars. What was the environment that made Hitler possible?
Germany was humiliated in World War I, people were disillusioned, they
felt insulted, they wanted to be made strong again, it
was the depression and people lost their jobs, people
wanted a charismatic politician to promise them jobs. There was hardscrabble downtrodden
people who felt that immigrants and people from afar were cutting
in front of them in line, there was scapegoating, there was
blatant racism, there was a fear of communists so the capitalist
powers endorsed this movement. There was an amazing ability to
control the press and to manipulate people through propaganda, there
were rallies that just amped up the base and there was charismatic
politicians who could tell lies repeatedly and so convincingly
that people followed them and. Then they had what every wannabe
dictator gets or dreams for or prays for and that is an excuse
to turn that democracy into a law-and-order society, a police
state when you have a 9/11 it lets you circumvent civil liberties
and assert your autocracy. In Germany, somebody burned down the capital building, and
Hitler from then on out controlled the
whole society, it was incremental and then it snowballed. Turkey same thing with
Erdoğan, incremental, failed coup, bam, dictator. We
need to learn from history, Germany was bamboozled by a
charismatic leader and that country went right into a
war that devastated Europe. Europe today is a result of the
devastation of World War II. Can you imagine people gathered in
the rubble of a bombed-out continent in the late 1940s shaking their
heads thinking, my goodness we bombed ourselves into rubble twice
in this century, we’ve got to do something creative, or our children
are going to be digging out again. Europe got together and
they decided we need to create a United States of
Europe, a European Union so that we can weave the economies
of Germany and France together and another war
would be inconceivable. It’s a very interesting
thing what they’ve done, you can complain about all
the bureaucracy and the political correctness and
the encumbrances of the European Union, but the
triumph of the European Union I believe is that
there will never be a great war in Europe again because
France and Germany are woven together
economically, and that alone I think is reason to celebrate
the European Union. By the way, this is Verdun right here
and Verdun it was just the battle zone where France and Germany just bashed their heads
together mindlessly. Today when you go back there, I was just there in the
hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Verdun what you see
along with the European flag is the flag of Germany
and France together, brothers and sisters, not enemies, committed to the notion that we can
never have another war like this. It’s a beautiful thing
when you think about Europe has learned from its history. Along with becoming
interwoven that way and in avoiding future wars the
European Union has endeavored to create a free trade
zone to compete with free trade zones like the
United States and China. When we think about
the evolution of the European Union it’s
been a clumsy, awkward evolution ever since
the 1940s, two steps forward, one step back,
two steps forward, one step back, every
time they take one step back we see
headlines here in the United States and it
seems Europe’s falling apart but Europe has
come a long way. It’s a tough sell to give
proud nations to get them to give away sovereignty
in the interest of real union but that’s what you
got to do, you got to give up sovereignty and
Europe is here to stay. The question is how big will it be?
How will it be run and so on?
That remains to be seen. But when we think about Europe
it has created an economic free-trade zone to compete
with the United States and when you put it in relative
terms, Europe produces $16 trillion of stuff a
year within the west of Europe about 400 million
people, the United States with 300 million people produces
about the same $16 trillion of stuff a year. A lot of
Americans who are threatened I think by Europe’s social
sensibilities will put that economic system down
by saying, “Look, it takes them 400 million people to
produce $16 trillion and we can do it with 300 million
people, we produce more per person.” Well, that’s true,
but if that person was going to give you an honest
and complete assessment they would also say but the
European worker chooses to work about 25% fewer hours
and willingly makes 25% less stuff so they can spend more
time with their family. It’s not a right or
wrong, everybody has the right to choose how
they want to organize their society and I’m
certainly thankful that I ran my business
here in the United States as an entrepreneur.
I can turn on a dime, I can employ
people efficiently, I can produce great stuff
I think for a great price and still,
make a lot of money. That’s the American system
and I think it’s a real blessing in a lot of ways, but
we can learn from Europe. The annoying thing about
going to Europe is you realize they work hard but
they also play a lot. I mean I was in Amsterdam and I was just doing my research
work and I came upon a rental party boat filled with
people on a Wednesday afternoon. These are not students,
these are growing adults. I thought, maybe there’s
a festival I should know about, I should ask
them what’s going on. Hi, what are you doing? They
said, “It’s Wednesday afternoon. We get together with our mates we
get out of work early, you want to join us we’re having a party?”
I just thought this is annoying. What about the work ethic?
Then I remembered and it occurred to me just recently their work ethic, we’re we raise saying a work ethic
or the work ethic. The. There’s only one, you work hard. We Americans have the shortest
vacations in the rich world. Our friends in Europe look
at us and shake their heads thinking, what’s
with you guys working yourself so frantically
into an early grave, what’s it all worth? But we don’t
even question that. It is a work ethic. My Norwegian relatives
do not have the American work ethic, they have a
different work ethic. I think it’s just important
to remember, it’s not right or wrong but we have a work
ethic, not the work ethic. When you travel in Europe you’re
going to see a lot of demonstrations and this can be unnerving to
a lot of American travelers. What’s going on? Well, they’ve got
the same challenges we’ve got, refugees, immigrants, frustrations
because of budgetary concerns, what are you going to do with
your entitlements? There’s a lot of demonstrations in Europe
because of entitlement reform. Now Europe has entitlements that make
our entitlements look really stingy. I mean Europe’s
entitlements are lavish. I mean this is ridiculous. They get healthcare, they get
education, they get retirements. I mean it’s enough to
really be frustrating. Those entitlements were
instituted a long time ago when Europe was a
very young society. A lot of people working, not
a lot of people retiring and those who retired didn’t
live very long after that. These entitlements
were so successful, so sustainable, so impressive that they created a situation
where there’s a different demographic makeup now. When a society becomes wealthy
and well-educated two things happen, they live longer
and they have fewer kids. In Europe now you have a geriatric
society, it used to be a pyramid-shaped demographic mix
with a lot of people working. Now it’s an inverted pyramid with relatively few people
working, lots more people living to
retirement and those who do just live way too
long after that. Now the unfortunate lot in
life for a politician in Europe is to stand before
their workers and say, sorry we have to change
the arithmetic here, it doesn’t add up anymore, you
don’t get the promise. Your parents got it, your
friend who retired five years ago got it, but you’ve got
to work an extra five years. That’s enough to
really anger people. That’s enough for people to get out
in the streets and demonstrate. The workers go on the rampage, la
manifestation they call it in France. Well, I think it’s a healthy
way for a society to vent during complicated
and frustrating times. They get out and they march. Again we have the same frustrations
too here in the United States, but all that marching
is just way too much exercise. As a society, I think
what we do to vent as we go home and find
a TV network that affirms our frustrations
and then we just shake our hands in unison all right. I think it’s the same dynamic. If you find these TV stations
either on the left or the right it’s an alternative to actually
getting out there and marching. Europeans march. What I’m saying is don’t
shy away from Europe just because people are
marching in the streets. It’s healthy, it’s part
of their democracy. Big news in Europe in our
lifetime is the end of the Cold War, the falling apart
of the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact basically
switching from communism to capitalism and joining
the European Union. Overnight, a hundred
million people went from being communists
to being capitalist. It’s really quite a
striking event and when we travel today
we go into Eastern Europe and it just
feels like a festival of pent-up entrepreneurial spirit. Of course, there’s lots of struggles
in Eastern Europe and so on. But in historical terms,
times are great in Eastern Europe and they are working
hard and they are thriving. They’ve got the same
infrastructure in the East now as the West and the whole
economy is almost there. This shot here reminds
me of how Eastern Europe is just feeling
really energized. This is in Krakow in Poland,
and it reminds me during the bleakest times of
communism, such a demoralizing situation with these
government’s completely ignoring the laws of supply
and demand and so on. That if you were lucky enough to
own a car in Poland for instance, you would actually
take your windshield wipers in with you at night. Why? Because they had this clueless
command economy ignoring the laws of supply and demand, somebody upstairs forgot to order
windshield wipers, demand exceeds supply, thieves get wind of that and common sense
steal the wipers at night and sell them for a fortune
in the black market in the morning. That’s how a black market
happen is when you circumvent the laws
of supply and demand. Of course today in Eastern Europe
the laws of supply and demand are kicking in, there is more
than enough windshield wipers produced and distributed to
meet the demand, and people in Warsaw are leaving their wipers
on their car all night long. It’s an amazing time to be in Eastern
Europe and to celebrate this. Something that I just love
about Europe is the diversity. Now you’d think as Europe is
uniting the diversity would melt away, wouldn’t you? And
everything would be like a strip mall, but the
counterintuitive result of the unification of Europe is more
not less ethnic diversity. Let me explain why, in Europe
there are three levels of loyalty, the region,
the nation, and Europe. If you have a friend
in Munich and you ask him where he’s from, he might say I’m Bavarian and proud of it,
or I’m German or I’m a European. If you have a friend in Barcelona
he very likely would say I’m Catalunya, but he might
say I’m Spanish, then he might say I’m European. If you look at any city hall
in Europe these days you will see three flags one
for the region, Scotland. One for the country, Great Britain. One for Europe. Now the headlines in
our lifetime have been regions challenging nations. Regions wanting more autonomy
and nations threatened by that. As Europe unites the nations realize
that they’re going to be less of a player in the future, Europe is
favoring the ethnic regions and the regions are waving their flags with
more freedom and with more vigor. All over we see this dynamic playing
out and it’s quite exciting. Edinburgh for the first time since
the 1700s just a couple decades ago, got its own parliament building,
in Edinburgh not in London. In fact a couple of
years ago London gave Scottish people the
opportunity to vote if they wanted to be independent
or not, just that was quite a statement for
independence for Scotland. Here’s that ATM machine
language buttons in Barcelona. If you went to Barcelona
want to change money the top four buttons
are Spanish languages. Fascinating to think that there are
four different languages in Spain. On the top left, you
would find Catalan, that’s for the local
people in Catalonia. Across from that, you’ve got
Espanol for most Spanish speakers. Below Catalan is Gallego
for the people of Galicia northwestern Spain, who
speak their own language and then across from that
is Euskara which is for the Basque people, all
languages within Spain. Now after that you see a button
for the German speakers, the French, the English and in the
bottom left one for everybody else. If you were to go to Basque Country
you would find the same four buttons on top, not because
Catalonians couldn’t speak English or Espanol to get their money out of that cash machine,
but as a matter of solidarity for their fellow victims of the tyranny
the majority the people in Catalunya. They really appreciate each
other’s struggles when it comes to being what they call
a nation without a state. I was recently in Barcelona
I was trying to sort stuff out and I was
saying, “Okay so you’re a region of Spain?”
“No, we’re not a region of Spain we are a
nation without a state. When they drew the
lines they ignored us. When they drew the line
between France and Spain there’s a bunch of
Basque-speaking people. What about us? You
guys learn to speak French and you guys learn
to speak Spanish.” Well, that Fester’s you
can draw those lines but centuries later you’re
going to be dealing with the problems as we’ve
seen and we’re seeing right now, with what’s
going on in Catalan. So it’s exciting in our travels
to be tuned into that. It’s exciting to remember that
these days the little languages are more widely spoken today
than they were a generation ago. When you go to Barcelona today,
you’ll find the kids are speaking Catalan first and they learn Spanish
as a second language in school. Just a generation ago Catalan
was outlawed, you couldn’t dance the sacred Sardana dance
outside of the Cathedral on Sunday after mass, and
you couldn’t even wave your Catalan in flag of course
now you can do all of that. So Europe has come a long
way that in that regard. This man is named Armen
Walsh, he’s a friend of mine who’s the Indiana Jones of
Tyrolean archaeologists. He’s got these schemes where he wants
to renovate these old medieval castles and make museums so people know more about the
Tyrolean heritage. Takes a lot of money. When he needs money he does
not go to Vienna because he won’t get any money,
he’ll go to Brussels. He doesn’t go to Brussels
and say, I got a great idea for Austria because
he’d go home empty-handed. He says I’ve got a great idea for the
Tyrol and Brussels gives him money. Brussels funds the ethnic regions
more than the political states with lions border lines drawn after
wars to keep various powers happy. Because Brussels is smart. It is ethnic sectarian
squabbling within fake borders that causes so many of the
problems in our world today. Look what’s happening in
the Mediterranean Basin, you got Libya, you got
Iraq, you got Syria. The way I understand it all
countries created by European colonial powers who drew nonsense
lines in the sand ignoring ethnic realities, and then the
only way those false countries can stay together is with a
strong-armed dictatorship. Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Assad. 100 years later we get on this
democracy kick, and we say you can’t have a strong-armed
leader so we get rid of them. Well, that’s nice if it would work,
but the fact is then you got the reality underlying that is these are
nonsense states and they fall apart. Today we’ve got literally
millions of refugees because of that knocking
at the door of Europe. These are important issues and
Europe is smart in recognizing in the long term, you’ve got to
honor the ethnicities in Europe. It’s a fun thing to
follow in our travels. In the European Union,
you have a situation where it’s all for
one and one for all. Rich countries give more
than they take out and poor countries take out
more than they put in. When it comes to investing
in the infrastructure the rich countries subsidize
the poor countries. Remember when the
United States built the interstate system, rich
states and poor states all got the same quality roads
paid for by federal taxes rich states were
subsidizing poor States. When I first started traveling in
Europe the four poor countries Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece
none of them had any freeways. Today they’re laced by German
quality beautiful freeways. When you look at a new
freeway here in Ireland you will generally see a sign
with a European flag on it that says, this
project has received 85% financial assistance
from the European Union. That means Germany and
France paid for this freeway and you Irish people got
to stop drinking so much Guinness, get out of the
pub and work because we got to keep up with the
United States of America. It’s exciting to see Europe investing
in itself and moving forward. One of the joys of travel is
to use this infrastructure. This is the great train
station the Bahnhof in Berlin, it’s just breathtaking. Just to ride the trains in
Europe for me is a thrill. I was recently in the
train station in Munich taking pictures of trains
coming into the station specifically taking
pictures of what used to be cute little birds squished
under the windshield. I know it’s terrible let
me give you a closer look. When I looked at that little
bird I thought two things. First of all, I
thought, man this is a dangerous continent if
you’re a slow bird. Secondly, I thought this
is a surreal image. I don’t know about trains
where you live but in Seattle where I
live, you would never see a bird squished
to the windshield of a train because it
was going so fast. I can imagine a bird sitting on a
folding chair in the rooftop with the cigar in a cocktail
enjoying the ride, but not squished to the windshield. Trains are going faster and
faster in Europe because they’re investing in their infrastructure
like you can’t imagine. All my life I’ve been going
to Greece and when I get to the Gulf of Corinth I just get
on a funky little ferry to go across that body of water.
Few years ago I came there and I had a double-take,
where’s the ferry? It’s gone. There’s this big fancy bridge and
I thought, that’s not a Greek bridge, that’s a German bridge
that somehow landed in Greece. What’s going on with this? Well, it
was probably built with German money. Why? So German trucks filled with
their gummy bears could get over that body of water and get into the Peloponnesian Peninsula
and make the sale. That’s the rationale for all of
this investment, it is trade. Europe is really into that
free-trade within the European zone.today as
tourists in Europe we get to travel freely also,
throughout that vast free-trade zone called
the European Union. When I think back on
my youth, I remember thinking of the world as a pyramid with the United States on top and everybody else trying
to figure it out. Believe it or not, until
well into my adulthood I believed that if some other
country didn’t get it, we had the right because we cared
to go in there and give them a government that did
understand it correctly. Well of course now I’ve
traveled and I’ve hang out with enough people that have
put me in my place, and I realized that everybody has
a different approach to similar problems, and there
are different solutions. When you travel it’s humbling. We have the 4th of July, it
doesn’t mean anything over there. In Switzerland, you’ve
got August 1st. In Norway, it’s May 17th. In France, it’s 10 days after our
holiday, Bastille Day, July 14. When we travel we realize we have the
American dream maybe they don’t. It’s not an insult to our dream
to think that the people of Sri Lanka have a different
dream because they do. My Norwegian relatives,
they don’t have the American dream, they’ve
got the Norwegian dream. My Bulgarian friends, they’ve
got the Bulgarian dream. As we travel we get
to celebrate that. When we travel we gain an
appreciation of how much pride and how much spine there is in
this beautiful world of ours. I traveled across Asia
several times and a long time ago I
was in Afghanistan. I’ll never forget sitting down
at the cafeteria in Kabul and just minding my own business
as a backpacker going across that country, and I was joined
by a local man and he just sat down and he said, can I join you?
I said, you already have. He said, are you an American?
I said, yes. He said, I’m a professor here in Afghanistan and I want
you to know that a third of the people
on this planet eat with spoons and forks like you do. A third of the people
eat with chopsticks, and a third of the people on this planet eat with their
fingers like I do and were all civilized
just the same. I still remember how he said it and
we’re all civilized just the same. I thought boy you got a chip
on your shoulder about this. Later on, I went on and I thought
about it and I realized he was right. I thought less of him because
he ate with his fingers. I thought, okay, across
South Asia I’m going to go local and I’m going
to eat with my fingers. I went into fancy
restaurants all over India filled not with
tourists but with professional local
people, had plenty of money who had no
silverware in that restaurant, just a
ceremonial sink, they would wash their hands
before dinner and they’d use their
fingers for what God intended them to be used
for to nourish them. After a while it actually felt
right, it became natural for me. In fact, I had to be
retrained when I got home. It’s just humbling. Later on, on another trip I was in
eastern Turkey with one of our tour groups, I loved taking
groups on eastern Turkey and we went into this dusty village and I think we were the first
group that ever went there, and it was big news, and the mayor took us
on a tour, he took us into his house. We’re all dancing like
they do in Turkey, and I was the big shot
because I was the tour guide, he said, come
with me and he took me over to his the most
holy place in his house. It was his Quran bag, where
he where he hang his Quran. He said, in my Quran bag I also have
a copy of the Torah and the Bible because we’re all people of the
book, children of the same God. These are moments that I wish more
people could have, they really are. Later on, we went to
the woodcarver shop, he was the big shot in this village. He was the man, the
best-known guy in the region, everybody wanted a prayernage
carved by this guy. We gathered around his
work table and he was working away showing
off really puffed up. Suddenly he stopped, he held his
chisel high into the sky and he declared, a man and his chisel,
the greatest factory on earth. I thought, wow I don’t
need to encourage this man to go to night school and
become computer literate. He’s plenty, he’s contributing, he’s confident, he’s doing
what he’s meant to do. Later on, I asked him if I
could buy some of his carving. He said, “No for a man my age to know
that some of my work will go back to the United States of America and be
appreciated that is payment enough. Take this as a gift
from me to you and when you get home remember
our village.” So beautiful, this is
the magical little souvenirs you bring
home when you travel. I was on another trip in Turkey
in the shadow of Mount Ararat, we’re tooling around looking
for something interesting. We came upon a stadium filled
with high school kids, stopped the bus, go in see what’s
happening, 200 kids having some a rally, singing in unison, thrusting
their fist up in the sky, and singing we are a secular
nation, we are a secular nation. I asked my guide,
what’s going on here? Don’t they like God?
She said, oh no we love God but considering
the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism
just over the border to the east we’re
very concerned about the fragile and
precious separation of mosque and state here
in our country and we’re having a pep
rally for secularism. A pep rally for secularism at a high
school in eastern Turkey? Who’d a think? What a treat to be able to
go into there and experience that. There are these challenges all
over our world right now. In Turkey right now
they’ve got a major threat to that pluralism
and that secularism. To watch that and to know
that the struggles and the passions and the reality of
that it’s just so poignant. I grew up thinking Nathan
Hale, and Patrick Henry, and Ethan Allen were the
ultimate, great patriots. I was so inspired they
only wish they had more than one life to
give for their country. Then you travel and you realize,
there’s a lot of Nathan Hale’s on this planet, valiant patriots
that wish they could give more than one life for their
country, and it’s really constructive and healthy for us
to recognize that in our travels. I think a good thing to
do in your travels is try to get your brain around
a contemporary Nathan Hale, Nelson Mandela,
Lech Wałęsa, Archbishop Oscar Romero and get caught
up in that struggle. It’s really instructive. A very good example is
Archbishop Oscar Romero. Remember a long time ago, they had
the Civil War in Central America, the Sandinistas and the Contras,
and the United States was involved in this, and it was framed for all
of us, and I completely bought it, that this communism
against capitalism, and it’s freedom and so on. I went down to Central America,
on several trips over the years, with educational tour
companies to learn about this in person, from South of the border.
It occurred to be no, it wasn’t this simple as
capitalism against communism. There was an oligarchy of
three or four families in El Salvador that effectively
owned all of the arable land. If you’re a rich elite in a Banana
Republic like El Salvador, and you own all this land, are you going to
grow rice and beans to feed your poverty-stricken peasantry? Or are
you going to get a reasonable return on your land by growing fancy stuff
to export North of the United States? Of course, you’re going to grow
the fancy stuff for export. What happens is, eventually, there’s
almost no land left for peasants to grow rice and beans, the
peasants have no alternative but to work on the plantation, and they
have to, with their plantation wages, buy imported food from the
United States from the commissary. They get it coming and going. That’s called cash cropping and
that’s called structural poverty. It’s fascinating to go down there
and study it from that perspective. It’s interesting, in
the Bible, it says in the Old Testament,
the Jubilee year, every 50 years you’re supposed to re-divide the land and
forgive the debts. It says it in the Bible, every
50 years you’re supposed to forgive the debts and
redistribute the land. Now, rich Christians know
God must have been kidding. This is just nonsense. I think there is
some common sense to that, because it takes
about 50 years for things to get so out
of wack that the rich elites would have no
end of their greed. Get a situation where
there’s no middle class, there’s so much desperation
down here and so much unthinkable wealth up there,
that these people have to rise up violently just
to get some dignity. If you look at Central
American history, every 50 years there’s what I call
“A Jubilee Massacre”. 1830s, peasants rise up, slam down. 1880s, peasants rise up, slam down. 1930s same thing, and
then in our memory, 1980s, peasants rose
up and slammed down. Archbishop Oscar Romero stood
with the landless peasants. He said, “I’ll probably be
assassinated, but I’ll rise again in my people.” He was assassinated
and he rose again in his people. It’s so amazing to witness
that, to go down there in person and understand and
empathize with these struggles. These are real struggles. Much later, I was due for
a vacation in Mazatlan. I was frazzled, I was burned out
and I needed a family vacation. I was fantasizing about
a pristine stretch of tropical beach,
swept free of local riffraff, just me and my rich white friends, it was going
to be wonderful. [laughter] We’re going to have
plastic straps on our wrist, didn’t even dirty
our fingers in the local currency, all
the margaritas we wanted, it was going
to be a nice vacation. Then my friend said, “Rick,
it’s the 25th anniversary of the assassination of
Archbishop Oscar Romero. We’re going to go to San
Salvador and march with the locals, do you want
to join us?” I told my family I’m not going
to be any fun on the beach, I needed to go to El Salvador.
This is perverse, this is so weird
that an American would trade a vacation on the
beach in Mazatlan to march with peasants in San Salvador.
It was the most beautiful travel
experience I’ve ever had. It was cheaper than
Mazatlan, perfectly safe and it was life-changing. Two days into that trip, I
realized I’m so thankful I’m here. I was covered with bug
bites, sleeping in a sweaty dorm, eating rice and beans
one day and beans and rice the next, but I was
with the people of El Salvador. Gaining an
appreciation of their reality. We marched. I’ll never forget, in their
capital city, marching with tens of thousands of Salvadorans,
came to this monument. I thought, “Now, wait a minute. That’s my monument,
that’s our monument. This is the Vietnam Memorial, what’s
it doing here in El Salvador?” They said, “Well, it’s your design. We took it.” Okay. “This is our monument
and there is just as many names to chiseled
into the black granite here as on your
monument, but these are 50,000 people who died
fighting the United States of America.”
Here we have a little country of five million
people that lost as many people as we
lost in the Vietnam War. That’s a 40 to 1
ratio of heartache. Think of the impact the Vietnam
War had on our society. Think of the baggage in El
Salvador when they lost that many people over this
fight for land rights. That’s baggage, isn’t it? It occurred to me when I went to
this wall, there’s baggage here. I’ve thought a lot about baggage
because I am fascinated by how our country has been
burdened by the baggage of 9/11. When I was a kid, it was
Depression-era baggage, it was German-Japanese baggage, red
scare baggage, Vietnam baggage. Now it’s 9/11 baggage. 15 years ago we lost
2,800 people, and frankly, it changed who
we are as a nation. We’re a different nation,
we torture people now. Not because we want to torture, but
because we were hit and we have to do it because we care about our
security or whatever the excuse is. We’ve got the political situation we
have today, I think, because of 9/11. Now, that’s baggage. Okay. We want people to give
us a little slack and understanding because
of our baggage, I think we should give
other people a little understanding because
of their baggage. Because I would bet most
nations have heavier baggage than we have, but we don’t
really acknowledge it. Iran, there’s a country
with some baggage. I had the great challenge and honor
of going to Iran a few years ago with our public television film crew
to humanize 70 million Iranians. To understand how could they
vote for a guy like Ahmadinejad. What is their baggage? What makes
them tick? It was a great experience. People ask me, “Why are you
going to Iran?” I thought, “Well, it’s good style to
know people before you bomb them.” Sometimes you have to
bomb people, but it should hurt, and I wanted to know
who these people were. I wanted to know how
they could vote for, what seemed like a
buffoon, Ahmadinejad. It’s curious, isn’t it? [laughter] I wanted to go there. Who is his base? Who
is his base, what do we know about Iran? I’m a pretty well-educated guy, everything I knew
about Iran I learned from Ted Koppel. That’s pretty pathetic, really. It’s pretty pathetic. We ventured over to Iran. I was a little nervous, what was
a reception going to be like? We almost left our big camera in Athens
and decided to take the little camera, the little sneak camera
because we thought they’re be throwing stones at an American film
crew on the streets of Tehran. I’m so glad we brought
in our big camera because I, honestly,
have never been received so warmly on the streets
of any city that I’ve worked as when I was in Tehran. It blew me away. Now, you’ve got this
odd situation of incredible friendliness
and hateful propaganda. An eight story tall propaganda
mural of our flag with dropping bombs for stripes,
and skulls for stars. Imagine, as an American,
walking underneath that. Awkward. [laughter] Awkward. It occurred to me,
everybody I saw on the street wasn’t even
born when this was painted, and they’ve
got a dictatorship they can’t challenge
the existence of that. The friendliness just confused me. Hateful propaganda,
super friendly people. I was caught in a traffic jam
on this very street that day. It was just silent, and finally,
the man in the next car wen’t like this, “Roll down your window,”
to my driver. I’ll never forget this, he handed over a bouquet of
flowers and he said, “Give this to the foreigner in your back seat
and apologize for our traffic.” [laughter] I don’t know about
where you live, but in Seattle that never
happens on the freeway. It just never happens. Later on, I was in
another traffic jam. It was just quiet, and
suddenly, our driver just blurted out, he said,
“Death to traffic.” [laughter] I said, “Now, wait a minute. I thought it was death
to Israel or death to America.” He said, “Well,
right now it’s death to traffic.” I said, “What is
this with you Iranians, all the death to?” He said,
“Well, here in Iran, when something is frustrating
us and out of our control, we say death to
that.” I thought about it and I thought, “He
doesn’t speak very good English, he’s translating
stuff in a stilted way. What is he really saying?” Death to. Damn. He’s saying, “Damn the traffic. Damn election fraud. Damn Ahmadinejad. Damn Obama”, whatever.
How do you translate it? Well, he’s trying to
translate it, “death to”. Now, have I ever thought,
“Damn somebody?” Have I ever thought, “Damn those
teenagers?” Well, sure I have. Do I really want them to die and burn
in Hell for an eternity? Not yet. [laughter] “But it’s after midnight,
turn down the music. Death to teenagers.”
I’m just saying, it behooves us to have a
little more nuanced understanding of what
society is angry and frustrated or trying to
tell us when they translate something that is more
complicated than a bumper sticker. When
you travel, you meet these people, and you
need to find that out, and they say “damn”
to a lot of things. I don’t want to apologize
for the bad things Iran does, but it
is worth us getting a better understanding by traveling there and getting to
know these people. I had the opportunity to go
there and make this show. I’m so thankful that it could air
on public television because it wouldn’t air anywhere else in the
dial, I can promise you that. We were able to try to
understand the baggage of Iran. What’s it like? What really
challenges them? They’re not living in Mr. Rogers
neighborhood, that’s for sure. What challenges them is
incursions from the West. In 1953 they had a
democratically elected prime minister who was apparently quite a popular local
guy in Mossadegh, and he nationalized their oil. You cannot nationalize your oil if
you’re in the developing world. Britain and America
orchestrated a coup and threw him out and put the
Shah on the throne, and now we had somebody
reasonable who we could negotiate with to get
our hands on that oil. Well, oil, all that
kind of stuff, for the local people, that was beyond them, they just had a
puppet of American values on the throne in Tehran, and for a whole generation, these
people in the big city were bragging that the miniskirts are shorter
in Tehran than they are in Paris. This was American
values on their throne. When you talk about regime
change, that’s quite a challenge to people
who care about these values, and we really
have a tough time understanding how important
those values are. Another incursion from the
West was the Iran-Iraq war. They lost a couple
hundred thousand people in the 1980s when they
were invaded by Iraq led by Saddam Hussein funded
by the United States. Now, maybe we don’t
like to think that we funded him and maybe
we don’t believe we funded him, but most
people understand we did and Iran suffered
incursion from the West. When you go to Iran
today, every town has what they call a
Martyrs’ Cemetery. A vast Martyrs’ Cemetery,
and it’s alive with grief today as
it was 25 years ago. It’s amazing to me, and
if you go to a Martyrs’ Cemetery in Iran and you
see a woman who every Friday for 25 years of
Friday has gone to the tomb of her husband and
wept, that’s baggage. There’s 200,000 of those mothers. We need to understand
that, we don’t need to justify it, we just
need to appreciate it. On the last day of my shoot, I
was just doing some work on a street, and a well-dressed
professional woman came across the street, and she said, “Are you
an American journalist?” I said, “Yes.” She did one of these things
with her finger on my chest. “I want you to go home
and tell the truth. We’re strong, we’re united,
and we just don’t want our little girls to be
raised like Britney Spears.” [laughter] I said, “We got something in
common here, let’s talk.” Right there, it was coming together.
Why did 51% of Iran, not the big city elites,
who was Ahmadinejad’s base, who voted for this guy?
That just seemed so loony. Who voted for him? Small town,
less educated fundamentalists. Think about it. Ahmadinejad base, small town, less educated fundamentalists,
good people, I want to stress, good people riddled
with fear and driven by love. This is really important
to appreciate as we try to figure out what’s
going on this planet. You don’t know that unless
you travel, that’s for sure. I love our idea of
liberty, but there are places that say, “We
got liberty too.” In fact, the hometown
of Salvador Dali apparently has double the liberty. All over Europe, you
find people celebrating their culture and their liberty. I’m just a real sucker
for how different societies make sure that traditions are sent from generation
to generation, it’s worked into the festivals. A little town in northern Italy
has a festival every summer where the older kids teach the younger
kids how to make a good ravioli. A little town in France in Burgundy
where they make great wine, the chamber of commerce has gathered its
money together and produce these beautiful orbs so visitors can enjoy
and appreciate the fine difference in the bouquet of the different
wines they produce in that valley. Apparently, a good
nose is a life skill worth investing in in
that part of France. I like going to towns where people
enthusiastically paid too much for their loaf of bread in order to buy
it from the person who baked it. I think here in the
United States a lot of times we’re inclined
to be efficient. You’d save a lot of
money and a lot of time going to the
store if you just had a freezer in your
garage, and you could stock it up and go
to a big-box store. In Europe, they have
a different passion. They managed to have a
little tiny refrigerator under their sink, so
every morning they have to go to the market to
check in with their neighbors and pay too much
for that loaf of bread. Again it’s a choice a society
makes, and I can be inspired by it. Europeans love their
fine wine and they know where to fill
it up really cheap. The cheapest liquid you can
buy in the Mediterranean part of the world is table wine,
and they’ve actually got literal filling stations where
people a couple of times a year drive up with all their
empty jugs and fill it up. I’m fascinated by how
in the United States we seem so eager to
legislate morality. You ever thought about that?
In Europe, my friends tell me, a society has to make a choice,
tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. Then they always remind me of that
annoying little statistic, “You Americans lock up 10 times as
many people per capita as we do. Either you are an inherently
more criminal people or there’s something
screwy about your laws.” Now, we’re all moral people
here, and I would imagine everybody in this room has
a different morality. If one person here was able to
say, My morality is the law of the land”, that might
impinge on a few other people. A society has to
finesse that, to what degree are you going
to have your morality part of the land? In
the United States, I think we’re going in
the wrong direction. We already have a mass
incarceration problem, and we’re going in
the wrong direction. When you go around
Europe, you find that Europe is motivated
not by moralizing and incarceration, but by
what they call pragmatic harm reduction, pragmatic
harm reduction. We’re struggling with the same
challenges on both side of the Atlantic and we address
them in two different ways. Prostitution is interesting, nobody
would say prostitution is a healthy thing, it’s going to happen anywhere regardless of how
strict the laws are. In the United States,
we have lots of crime and violence and disease
associated with it. In Europe, they want
to address those challenges and take that
out of the equation. In Europe, you have legal
brothels, it doesn’t mean they’re endorsing that, they’re saying
pragmatic harm reduction. The sex workers in
Frankfurt or in Amsterdam are going to be
licensed, and they get their license by going
to a doctor and make sure they’re not
spreading diseases. The notion is if they get a dangerous
client and they push their emergency buzzer, they’re not
rescued by a pimp, but they’re rescued
by the policeman. Now, it doesn’t work out quite
that nice, but that’s the hope. They’re struggling with it that way
and it’s certainly an interesting tourist attraction if you happen
to be walking down that street. Another interesting
challenge is drug policy. Of course, marijuana is
a big discussion in our country and we’re starting
to make some headway on breaking down the prohibition
against marijuana in our country, and we’ve
learned a lot from Europe. In Europe, joint is
about as exciting as a can of beer. My European
friends have sort of challenged me with
this notion that more people are going
to smoke if the laws become more loose,
because Europeans know that a country with
the loosest laws on marijuana anywhere in
Europe, the Netherlands smokes less than the
European average. Europeans smoke less than
we do per capita, and you can do hard time for it
here in the United States. Europeans remind me that there’s
not a reservoir of decent people that would love to ruin their lives
smoking pot if only it was legal. [laughter] People who want to smoke
pot, do, it can be an illegal activity that
fuels a black market that empowers organized crime
and gangs or it can be a highly regulated and
highly taxed legal market. By the way, I was one
of the co-sponsors and the funders and spokespeople of our I502 on Washington state
where we legalized marijuana. Marijuana was a black
market industry that was rivaling apples in my
state, that’s a big deal. Today my governor is getting 300
million dollars a year in tax revenue because we’ve legalized
tax in regulating marijuana. Now, you might think, “Well, that’s
conservative smoking pot now.” No. Statistically, there’s
been no change. You’ve just taken a big
black market and taken the money out of that and put
it into a legal industry. There are track
records in right now, we did this on a hunch
four-five years ago, but now we know
when you legalize smartly, use stays
essentially the same. Teen use does not go up, DUIs do not
go up, and crime doesn’t go up. The only thing that goes up is tax
revenue and mature adults who want to exercise the civil liberty of
enjoying recreational marijuana. Now, in Europe, you’ll find
that there are different ways to deal with this challenge
in different countries. As a person who has
an interest in any kind of these sort of
challenges, you go over there and you talk
to people and it’s a fascinating dimension
of your travels. Hard drugs is another story. We have an opioid
crisis in our country. Europe has an opioid challenge
in their countries. I was in a restaurant
recently in Switzerland, I went downstairs to the
men’s room, stepped in, blue lights, what’s going on?
Ah, you can’t see your veins when
there’s blue lights. They’ve got a lot of drug
addicts on the streets in Switzerland, and they don’t
want them into their restrooms shooting up to get out of the
weather, it just makes their clients uncomfortable, so you
put the blue lights there. Anywhere in Europe, if you go to
a troubled neighborhood or an area where there’s a lot of
junkies, you’ll find blue lights. Doesn’t mean there’s more junkies. A lot of my European–
my tourists will say, “Look at these
liberal Europeans, there’s more addicts.”
No, they’re just still alive and they’re not in jail. They’ve got the same
amount here and there. In Europe, the word for addicted
in many languages is enslaved. It’s fascinating. These are not criminals,
these are sick people. Drug addicts don’t need
lawyers and cops and judges, they need counselors and
nurses, they need compassion. It’s fascinating to me how we can’t
figure that out here in our society. Across the street from that
restaurant, bolted to a bridge, was a machine that
used to sell cigarettes, now it’s been rejiggered
and it sells government subsidized syringes, almost
free, two for a franc. Now, in the United
States, you might say, “You’re not going to
give these people needles, that’s just endorsing this horrible activity.” No,
that’s moralizing. Pragmatic harm reduction. They’re going to be swapping needles
doing- maybe sharing diseases. No, give them the needles. Then down the street
where the tourists don’t go, you find a
a very sad scene. It’s a cafe fix where Heroine
addicts go to be counseled and to have oversight while they
administer their addiction. In Switzerland where they
have these heroin maintenance clinics, they do not have
heroin overdose deaths. We have something like
tens of thousands of deaths every year. We lose three or four times the people per capita
that Europe does on heroin overdoses. We need to challenge
ourselves to think out of the box to get pragmatic, I think, about some
of these very, very persistent and
heartbreaking challenges. It’s so interesting in
your travels, if you like, you get exposed
to these issues. I’ve been talking about all sorts
of issues you wouldn’t find in a normal travel magazine, but
it can be part of your travels. I am fascinated by the
twin societies of the United States and
Europe, there are clearly differences,
but we really are very much the same at the same time. What are the differences? When
you think about it, we’re both affluent, Christian, pluralistic,
capitalistic, democracies. We’re all about
government by, for, and of the people, but
there is a difference. It’s occurred to me lately that we
in the United States our government by, for, and of the people via
the corporations that we own. It’s not a judgemental
statement, it’s just as a society we are deciding now that the role of government
is to create a nice environment for our corporations to prosper
and then get out of the way and then we’ll all be better off because
we all own these corporations. In Europe, it’s different, it’s
government by, for, and of the people in spite of the interests
of the corporations that they own. They’re not less capitalistic,
I think they’re just a little more
honest about accounting. Because conventional accounting
doesn’t really do it. These days, corporations
have a legal obligation to profit maximize in the
short term, that’s it. A legal obligation to profit
maximize in the short term. That is not sustainable
and that’s where the European governments come in to help moderate and to
help blow the whistle on things that are not sustainable and call people who are causing a problem that won’t
be paid for now, but somebody else is going to be left
holding the bag 10 years from now. That might not be good for business
right now and it’s certainly not good for your quarterly
profit statement, but in Europe, the populus makes sure the
government is there to make sure this is done for the well-being
of the society at large. It’s a challenge for us and we can
learn from our European friends. I have a great– I’ve
got friends all over Europe that can be
my sounding boards. I really appreciate that. One of my favorites
is a schoolteacher in Switzerland named Ollie. Ollie is the schoolteacher
in a little town high in the Swiss Alps where everybody
has the same last name. It’s a humble little town. Ollie and his wife Maria are so
much fun to sit down and talk with. Recently, I was staying in there, and
I asked Ollie, “How can you Swiss people so docily pay
such high taxes?” Without missing a beat, I’ll never forget this, Ollie just said, “Well,
what’s it worth to live in a society where there is no hunger and no
homelessness and where everybody, regardless of how wealthy their
parents are, have access to quality healthcare and education.”
To him, it was common sense, and he is not even considered
a progressive guy in his community, he’s sort
of a conservative stable guy in the community, but
that’s just the European sensibility. It’s an affluent society. They got a safety net
for people that don’t play the capitalist
game very much, and they really recognize
the value of a strong and healthy and well
educated middle class. When we travel, we realize that we Americans are
compassionate people, but we’re not very good at dealing honestly with the gap
between rich and poor. When you travel, you’re more aware of the gap
between rich and poor in our country as well as the gap
between us and the developing world. There’s just an interesting
fact that I just cannot get away from, half of humanity is
trying to live on $2 a day. That’s just a fact, half of
humanity is trying to live on $2 a day, 1 billion people are
trying to live on $1 a day. When you travel with
your window down and your heart open, you
see it, it’s there. It’s not a guilt trip,
it’s just reality. We’re wealthy, they’re desperate. What is our involvement in that?
I like to travel because when I leave our country, I feel I can see
it in a different perspective. I can, sometimes, learn
more about my country by leaving and then
looking at it from afar. I can see our challenges
and our shortcomings in high contrast, and
also when I go to another country, I can
see there what happens if we don’t deal with
our problems and they continue to get worse,
because you can see them in the extreme in
this struggling land. One thing I’ve learned in my
travels is, even if you’re motivated only by greed, if
you know what’s good for you, you don’t want to be filthy
rich in a desperately poor society, it’s just not a nice
place to raise your kids. You find it. You go to Central America, any
middle-class community has pool its resources to hire an armed guard
so the kids can go to the park. You go to Central
America, every pharmacy, every bank, every hotel
has an armed guard. We’re going to be seeing
more and more armed guards in our society, and
it’s a symptom of, not lawlessness, it’s a
symptom of a gap between rich and poor. That’s
the challenge we have. When you travel, you see
beautiful children, and we’re all just
suckers for children. I love my little girl so
much, and I look at these little girls, they’re just
as deserving, they’re just as precious, and their
mom’s abandoned them every day to walk for water
and walk for firewood. That’s just the reality
for the average little girl or a little boy living
in a barrio like this. It occurred to me, my daughter had $5,000 for braces and money left over for white teeth whitener.
I realized every kid in her classroom apparently could
scrape together 5,000 bucks so they could have straight
teeth with money left over for whitener. Now, that’s right,
that’s not a guilt trip, we have a winning system, we work hard,
our kids get straight teeth, but for the cost of two sets of
braces, you could drill a well in a thirsty community and all
those moms could stay home. Instead of walking across the county
every morning, abandoning their kids to angry forces if you’re
concerned about national security. Instead of abandoning their kids
and walking for water just to give them life-sustaining water and
walking more every year, those mothers could walk across the square,
and they would pump that water. If we gave it to them, what would
they think? “God bless America. God bless America.”
I’m not even talking about Christian compassion here. I’m talking about national
security, because apparently, that’s what
resonates with Americans. That’s called soft power.
We need soldiers in Afghanistan, okay, but
I understand it costs in the neighborhood of
a million dollars a year to keep one extra
soldier in Afghanistan. Let’s make a smart
cost-benefit analysis here. One more soldier, a million
dollars or a hundred wells in a hundred thirsty communities
so all the moms in those communities could stay home
and pump that water every morning and say, “God, bless
America.” It’s an investment. Again, forget compassion,
national security, if that’s what you need, but there’s also that
compassion at the end of it. When you travel, you do realize,
you do realize that this world is filled with beautiful
people, with powerful love. The love between a
parent and a child, most of us– all of
us have been there. The love between a
parent and a child. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve
ever had in my travels was when I was a kid in Oslo, I was in the big
park behind the Palace Frogurt Park. I remember just for my own
little ethnocentric teeny bopper perspective, my parents were
just loving me ridiculously. It seemed nonsense to me. There was always a pill, they were spending a lot of
extra money, I didn’t deserve this, they
were just lavishing their love and attention on me. Then I looked out in
that Park, and it was speckled with other
families and all those parents were loving
their kids just as amazingly as my parents
were loving me. It occurred to me
from my little teeny bopper perspective, this world is home apparently to
billions of equally lovable little children of God. I’m so thankful for that recognition
that I got through travel. Let me close with one
of my favorite teaching tools when I’m a tour
guide in Turkey. I love to take our groups into a
situation where they’re a little bit out of their comfort zone like
being close to a whirling dervish. “What’s with this guy?” Okay, I’m
just going to paraphrase this in a little bit of a silly way, but
it’s essentially the conversation. I was with 20 Americans in this
Turkish town. My goal, as a travel teacher,
a tour guide, was to let my group meet a dervish, so I went
out and I found a dervish. I said, “Hi, I’m an
American tour guide, I got 20 Americans, can
we watch you whirl?” [laughter] He said, “I’m not a
photo op, I’m a monk, but if you want to
watch me pray, I will do that as
long as I can explain to you what I’m doing.” I said, “Great, when
and where?” “My rooftop, sundown.”
“I’ll be there.” We gathered on
his rooftop, sun was going down,
he came out dressed up as a dervish. He said, “Welcome, I am a dervish. You Christians would call it a monk. I follow the prophet Mevlana. He’s kind of like the St.
Francis for us Muslims. He is the prophet of love. Everybody can get their
brains around Mevlana. I think you call him Rumi,
the same guy, Rumi. Five times a day, I pray thinking
of the teaching of my prophet Rumi. I plant one foot in my home, my
family, my community, the other foot goes around and celebrates the
diversity in God’s great creation. One arm goes up to accept the love
of our maker and the other arm, like the spout of a tea kettle goes down
showering God’s love on his creation. I whirl and I lose
myself in that beautiful idea, endeavoring to
become a conduit of God’s love, thinking of my
family and my community, celebrating the diversity
on this planet. I remember watching him losing
himself in a meditative trance. His head tilted over,
his robe billowed out and then, as a tour guide, I remember looking over at my
American travelers and seeing the wonders sweep over their face, and
it occurred to me, “This is good travel.” Something that was a
little bit freaky is now less so. They’re going to go
home with less fear, more empathy and more understanding. They’re going to go home with what
I think is the most beautiful souvenir, and that’s a broader
perspective, then when they implement that broader
perspective as citizens of this great nation of ours, that’s
making travel a political act. I think that has never
been more important. [music] Thank you very much for coming
today and happy travels. [applause] Thank you, thank you very
much and happy travels. Thank you. [laughs]

52 thoughts on “Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act

  1. This is one of the most powerful and profound programs I've watched in a long, long time. Excellent Steve!

  2. So very true, a Steve. Learning culture, language and history makes life so much richer and we Americans have so very much to learn!

  3. I have NEVER seen anything that embraces my worldview as well as this!!!! THANK YOU, Rick!!!! If there was ever "Common Sense in a Nutshell" , this is IT!

  4. I have watched this talk more than once, it does not get old. It is so fitting and touching to end with learning about the whirling dervish. The placement of the feet, the contemplation as he turns, the positions of the hands and what it all means. I did not discover you until last year, where have I been?! Better late than never 🙂 I envy the contribution you have given to the world with your work and traveling. Happy travels Rick Steves!

  5. Love love love!!! Thank you so much for what you do! What you do is so vital and so empowering to people that would otherwise be fearful. Keep it up!

  6. Did you really say sometimes you have to bomb them? Why do we have to bomb them? I like you man, but I think you need to start choosing words better brother!

  7. Please do not travel to certain parts…A couple tried to prove all people are nice and were brutally beaten and stabbed. I travel but be wise.

  8. A must see for all those who think USA is #1 without ever going out of their state, let alone the country. They need to see what other countries have done and what works. Too bad our politicians have brainwashed some of us into believing we are the best . We could learn a thing or two from other countries, in addition to humility.. well done Rick. Something you need to view a few times to catch all the information that he has such a command of.

  9. Thank you so much Steve, for this thought invoking, wonderful show. I just watched it on T.V. on WNED, and is was awesome. If people could just keep the thought that you ended with – The Monk=Dervish & what he said it meant when he prayed & became the Whirling Dervish, the World would be a much better place. Thank you again Steve for another phenomenal show! 🙂

  10. THANK YOU Rick Steves!!! I have admired you ever since I bought Europe Through the Back Door in the 90's! You have taken your platform and risen up to an even higher level at this critical time in our country. Please keep it up- we need you!! Living and traveling abroad has completely changed my perspective on the world and opened my eyes and heart to so many people and places. If more Americans would get out of the country and travel I think things could start to change in a very positive direction. I will share this with everyone I know. Thank you for being such an inspiration!!

  11. This is a great watch. I travel with my family and with students (I'm a Spanish teacher) so that they can appreciate and get a perspective of all that the world has to offer!

  12. You know what? I appreciate very much all your comments on going outside your comfort zone, and the fear that is pervading so much of the U.S. now. But, I wish you hadn't added the blaming phrase that most of the fear is in the middle of the U.S. where people don't have passports. That is part of the dialog we are having that is not helpful. And in my experience, it is not true. I have driving alone, in my VW camper van, all over the middle of the U.S., most recently September 2018. I did not find more fear there than I am finding here in NYC, where everyone I know has a passport. Same for when I lived on the west coast–lots of fear and loathing as well. I don't want to hear any group called names or blamed in broad strokes, or ridiculed. It doesn't help.

  13. Hmmm….if travel goes down, so do Rick Steves book sales, right?

    My family is from Italy, and I can tell you, as much as I love the country, when it comes to service with a smile, I can't wait to come to America. People are downright rude in most of Europe…not just France 😉 I speak Italian and I know what they say when I walk away. This happens in ALL countries, as I have friends from other countries who say the same.

    How can Rick preach safety when he travels with a camera crew, stays in fine hotels, and probably rarely takes public transportation? To me his preaching is irresponsible considering the thousands of young adults who feel invincible today. The ones camping out, staying in hostels, or those who apartment share.

    But again, it all comes down to the bottom line. I wish he wouldn't have politicized himself.

  14. This is a very interesting speech, however, here are some points I need to make on current world events and trends: from a NON-GLOBALIST PERSPECTIVE
    1. The Middle of the Country (USA) doesn't get OUT MUCH because they don't have jobs left to afford it.
    I believe that is the BASIS of their so-called FEARS and why TRUMP is bringing back businesses here from abroad.

  15. Goddammit , i have to thank OPB PBS And Rick Steves for all the good fun And love he's givin to the world by traveliing knowing good people abroad.
    For once i would like to stop my hatred i have for "Certain" Creatures.
    God bless you And your family always Steve.

  16. I do not have a passport. I have traveled some around the globe in the 80s, alone, on business, with little time to be a tourist. Yes, it changes perspectives. Today, I have no expectations that I can afford to travel to Chicago much less anywhere in Europe. Most of my friends are in the same boat. I suppose I could buy Rick's books about travel but that seems like rubbing it in that I am too poor to enjoy life like rich people apparently do. That is BS of course. Now, to the rich people reading my comment, when you travel as a political act and you expand your perspectives, what do you do when you return home?

  17. Let me see if I understand this right Rick says we must recognize and respect that in third world countries there are different ethnicities and cultures they deserve to preserve them. But in the UE and America it's okay to destroy white European and American culture and ethnicity by inundating them with third world country foreigners? We must build Bridges not walls huh? I know it's been said but would he tell Israel to build Bridges and tear down their wall? I used to love Rick so much I wish he'd stay out of the politics. How many Europeans and Americans have traveled 2 third world countries because someone like Rick said that fears were illegitimate only to be murdered. Yes there is heavy crime in parts of our American cities but I know who those people are why they want to hurt me and what neighborhoods to stay out of.

  18. The taxes on legal marijuana in America have made the price higher than when it was illegel. Greed!!

  19. I think Rick you have an evangelic view of the European government – there is more to it than a functioning welfare redistribution – this is also keeping control of the mana of taxation – read De Jouvenel book ‘On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth’ and you will get a better understanding of European bagage on its social order.

  20. I have always enjoyed your programs, Rick….but, this REALLY hits the nail on the head! This is such a powerful, well thought out perspective on our global connection as human beings. If only our "leaders" could follow this common sense approach to society and foreign relations. WELL DONE.

  21. Did the breakage of the European Union what with Brexist in the UK a result of immigration or is it just another excuse? Poland, Austria say they want to preserve their heritage…do they have a point or are we just peeking into their window as a cautious observer? Donald Trump was elected for the same fears. Wars in 3rd world countries leave refugees..fact. The UK took in indians and Sik as immigrants nearly a hundred years ago and no one there had a problem then because they were colonies. Now they are ingrained into the UK.

  22. Americans would be able to travel more if we could get off work, employers don’t give us months off for vacation

  23. @15:58 Deja vu, isn't it? It seems mankind has learned nothing from late-1930's Germany, particularly when it comes to the current palaver we have with the POTUS

  24. Rick Steves, better titles: "Travel as a Politically Correct Act." Too bad Steves could not have stuck to travel tips and feels he has to "educate us" along the lines of his personal ideological politics.

  25. Awesome videos! I've been watching Rick Steves' travel shows for the past several years. Travelling has always been my favourite ways to see the USA and the world.

  26. This is so 'spot on.' As a fellow world traveler, I appreciate this speech so much. I wish more Americans would listen to it. Thank you, Rick.

  27. So Rick Steves believes in collateral damage, "people are going to die", he said. I can't believe the amount of people that like this!!!

  28. I really like watching Rick Steves videos. I love his attitude, but it's all a bit simplistic.
    Here I am working late in my weekend, with his video for company and he makes us europeans sound like bon vivants who work little, earn lots of benefits and are happy with little money!

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