Rick Steves, an American travel writer, is the antithesis of ethnocentric and his mission is to encourage people to travel and learn that the way they live is not the only way to live. He writes guidebooks and has a travel show on TV encouraging people to travel independently, off the beaten path, and get to know the place they are visiting. (As a savvy business man, however, he does offer guided tours to Europe whilst touting how different they are from 'regular' tours!)
When asked in a recent interview , "What's the most important thing people can learn from traveling?" he responded:
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.In the same interview, he commented:
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.And that's why I call myself 'Almost American' - because so many of the Americans I've met have never travelled and simply cannot understand why everyone wouldn't want to be American. (Yet, at the same time they are angry at the number of people who want so badly to be here that they enter the country illegally!) Rick Steves wants Americans to
get over themselves. He wants us to please shed our geographic ego. "Everybody should travel before they vote," he has written.It's unrealistic of course, but wouldn't that be nice?