What We Can Learn from Europeans: Part 1
Guess what? There’s a whole world outside the United States of America. And here’s the shocker: They pay attention to us. They get up in the middle of the night to watch presidential debates. They express opinions about how we handle issues such as gun control and women’s rights.
It’s no secret that taxes in the European Union are high. A guide in the Netherlands told us that taxes can be as high as 50% of a worker’s wages. I’ll pause here while you gasp….. Then, I’ll ask if you would be willing to pay more upfront for so many things you are now paying for “on the sly.” Besides income tax, how about state tax, sales tax, insurance deductibles, prescription co-pays, education, social security, etc. You can probably think of more. Ever add all those up?
It Happened in Bruges…
In Bruges, I climbed the famous 366-step bell tower. About two-thirds of the way up, I paused to catch my breath, and photograph the carillon player. As the musician pounded away with his fists, creating amazing melodies, another traveler shared the narrow stair with me. We jostled a little, exchanging spots. He only said, “Sorry” in a heavy accent, so I assumed he spoke little English. We both made our separate ways to the top of the tower.
Walking around, admiring the view, I noticed city names carved on the stone ledges. Each city had the distance from Bruges next to its name, and an arrow indicating its direction from the bell tower; Amsterdam was 180 kilometers away. The man strolled over about that time. Knowing he was a fellow photographer, I pointed out my discovery. He thanked me in English, asked where I was from. America, I said, still keeping my answers simple. Then, he surprised me. “My friends say, never talk religion or politics. But I must ask you something politics, please.” Sure, I said, ask away. “Why not Americans want to have universal health care? Why not they want to provide for all? Why they are so afraid?”
What could I respond? I agreed with him. Yes, absolutely, we should take care of everyone. Yes, health care should not be tied to full-time employment. Yes, it was too costly, and would remain out of control, unless we finally took action. I shook my head sadly. I had no wise answer for this man, who was eager to talk to a real American, and who was curious to learn what makes Americans tick. I don’t know, either, I told him. I felt as if I’d let him down.
He went on. Had I watched President Obama’s speech to Congress? What did I think of the hecklers, especially that guy from South Carolina? Congressman Joe Wilson had apologized, but wasn’t the damage done? …Okay, now I’m getting a little embarrassed. I offered the weak excuse that I’d been traveling, so I hadn’t followed the news. Then again, he’d been traveling as well. He had stayed informed, and knew more about current events than I did at that point. A total stranger, on the top of the Bruges bell tower, understood more than the average American.
Europeans Are World-Savvy
Europeans watch American news, read about it in their newspapers. They follow our elections closely. During my trip to Sicily, our guide warned us that we would be asked about the Trump win; they don’t understand how it happened. They study our issues. They seem to grasp that we’re all in this together now. They are very clear that what we do affects them, too. Truthfully, it affects the entire world.
Imagine, a European man knows the name of the politician from South Carolina. Quick: Can you name three leaders in Europe, let alone someone, anyone, in Parliament? How about the new British Prime Minister? I didn’t think so. I can, only because I read a London paper during my layover in Heathrow Airport.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” wrote Mark Twain. How true. It’s dangerous to have such narrow views, to think that only what we think and do matter, without concern for bigger consequences. Even more dangerous to think that keeping up with Taylor Swift’s love life or the Kardashian Klan is more important than health care for all our citizens.