Rick Steves has spent 100 days every year since 1973 exploring Europe. His traveler’s library of over 50 best-selling books and videos have sold more than two million copies and his award-winning television series, Rick Steves’ Europe, is now in its seventh season.
From his Q & A with Kevin Berger at Salon.com:
What's the most important thing people can learn from traveling?--Marshal Zeringue
A broader perspective. They can see themselves as part of a family of humankind. It's just quite an adjustment to find out that the people who sit on toilets on this planet are the odd ones. Most people squat. You're raised thinking this is the civilized way to go to the bathroom. But it's not. It's the Western way to go to the bathroom. But it's not more civilized than somebody who squats. A man in Afghanistan once told me that a third of this planet eats with spoons and forks, and a third of the planet eats with chopsticks, and a third eats with their fingers. And they're all just as civilized as one another.
Do you think Americans are more provincial or racist than people in other countries?
The "ugly American" thing is associated with how big your country is. There are not just ugly Americans, there are ugly Germans, ugly Japanese, ugly Russians. Big countries tend to be ethnocentric. Americans say the British drive on the "wrong" side of the road. No, they just drive on the other side of the road. That's indicative of somebody who's ethnocentric. But it doesn't stop with Americans. Certain people, if they don't have the opportunity to travel, always think they're the norm. I mean, you can't be Bulgarian and think you're the norm.
It's interesting: A lot of Americans comfort themselves thinking, "Well, everybody wants to be in America because we're the best." But you find that's not true in countries like Norway, Belgium or Bulgaria. I remember a long time ago, I was impressed that my friends in Bulgaria, who lived a bleak existence, wanted to stay there. They wanted their life to be better but they didn't want to abandon their country. That's a very powerful Eureka! moment when you're traveling: to realize that people don't have the American dream. They've got their own dream. And that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing.[read on]