Normally I think Rick Steves is the most boring travel writer/presenter on the planet. I often watch his shows on PBS because I like travel shows, and because every time Mr. CR and I see his "Back Door" productions logo, we giggle, because we are immature. But if I want witty travel talk, I watch Burt Wolf.*
So I was pleasantly surprised by Steves's new travel narrative, titled Travel as a Political Act. Although Steves makes his living writing straightforward tour guides and running tours, this is more of a thoughtful book on travel, explaining how the cultures of other parts of the world differ from our culture in America. He strikes a nice balance; he's unabashed about saying he loves being American,** and he's actually thankful to be operating his small business in America, but he's also generous about pointing out how other cultures may have figured out different and very valid lifestyles; in Denmark, for example, residents pay much higher taxes but are also highly content with the health care, education, and other services their government provides. He also describes a number of Islamic countries, including Turkey, Iran, and Morocco, and is particularly interested that Morocco seems to be prospering while largely ignoring America and its cultural mandates (he found that Tangier had three languages on all of their street signs: Arabic, French, and Spanish). I also liked his idea, stated in his concluding chapter, that the "ultimate souvenir is a broader outlook."
But perhaps my favorite part of this book was reading about Europe's different approaches to drug use and their emphasis on "harm reduction," particularly where hard drugs (like heroin) are concerned. By pointing out that other first-world nations can and indeed do function, even in countries where you can go to "coffeeshops" to smoke marijuana, I think Steves is providing some valuable insight. I was also just tickled to find out that he is a former board member of NORML and sometimes speaks to groups in America about Europe's approach to drug laws and enforcement. Rick Steves, bad boy. Who knew?
*I have a huge crush on Burt, which disturbs Mr. CR.
**Steves's patriotism doesn't particularly bother me, as he seems to have developed it by learning about other cultures and giving it some independent thought, which is not a typical hallmark of patriotism (or so I've found).