Beata Bowen's Reviews > Travel as a Political Act

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves
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Mar 31, 11

bookshelves: 2011, non-fiction, travel, social-commentary
Read from March 13 to 30, 2011 — I own a copy

Everyone knows that in the U.S.A. there are two things you do not discuss in polite conversation: religion and politics. So what do you talk about when making small talk? Let's see.... You could talk about the weather. It may not seem like enough of a conversation topic, but you can easily expand on it. You can not only talk about current weather conditions, you can also compare this year's weather to last year's, or to the general trends in weather of the last decade. You can talk about the weather in different parts of the country. For example, our Northwest weather compared to the weather in the midwest or the Northeast. There is usually a difference and during the summer there is a good chance of tornados and/or hurricanes, so really, the weather is just a gold mine of pleasant, polite conversation.

Of course, there is a chance that someone mentions God in the conversation and His influence on the weather and then you might be tempted to slip into one of the two conversation taboos: religion. Yeah, don't do it. If someone insists that God brought down the tornado on Kansas, well, who are you to say that's not true. But... there is also weather in other places. Such as Vietnam, Greece or Cuba. As you're talking about the weather here, if you've been to any of these three places, you may feel tempted to start talking about the weather there. Oh, the winds and the humidity and 95 in the shade by 8:30 am and all that. Again, dangerous territory. Because then you're only a step away from talking about the other aspects of these countries, and even (gasp!) their politics!

Or... You can forget all that talk about the weather and jump right into it by talking politics! (yeah! that's my kind of a dinner party) Rick Steves agrees. "Don't be afraid to ruin dinners by bringing up uncomfortable realities" he states in the final chapter of this honest, openminded and inspiring account of some of his travels to politically charged countries, not usually found on most people's travel itineraries. He goes to former Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Turkey, Morocco, Iran (and yeah, western Europe too).

I love Rick Steves. I do not agree with all of his opinions and points of view, but I love his willingness to learn from his travels. He goes to these places, not so much to admire buildings and waterfalls, but to meet and understand the people who live there. And that is the best kind of travel. The more you get out there the more you become a more well-rounded human being, with a better grip on where we fit in in this world. As Steves says: "In a land where the afflicted and the comfortable are kept in different corners, people who connect those two worlds are doing everyone a service. Afflict the comfortable in order to comfort the afflicted." Well said, Rick, well said.
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