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Thursday, August 26, 2010


Why go to Europe?

About 15 years ago there appeared a popular bumper sticker, which I rather liked:  “Question Authority.”   A little inquiry could do a body good, I thought, and I liked it even better when it was followed shortly thereafter with another:  “Why Question Authority?  They don’t know either!”  If you were smart enough to ask them the best questions, what did you intend to do with the answers anyway?

I have always thought that the generic American attitude towards Europe was rather like this epigrammatic discourse.  We are fond of telling ourselves we form a nation of immigrants, although about 25% can trace our ancestry to someone on the Mayflower.  I will leave it for you to work out how, if you do not consider the original colonists just another bunch of immigrants in the first place, both of these ideas need not be mutually exclusive.  But the idea that we are all descended from ancestors who would rather be here than there lends a certain face validity to the idea that we might collectively consider this the better place to live.  After all, our forbearers voted with their feet!

Yet we are also always looking back in the European direction, whether for 18th century Paris fashions, European philosophies, the 1960's British invasion in music, or their approval of our role as the remaining world superpower.  We have brought over their political philosophies, their religions, their slavery, their common law, their military ideas, their imperialism, and in the twentieth century, their wars, and fashioned them our own.   For the dwindling percentage of us who identify with white culture, the Europeans are our roots, and refashion ourselves as we may, we cannot escape feeling like their children.  They may not know anything, but we ask anyway.  For many years, “world history” was primarily the story of European men and their misadventures that it took until the 1960’s for academia to seriously question just how limited a view this really was. 

So is there really is a simple answer to the question:  Why go to Europe for vacation this summer?  ‘The Euro was way down against the US Dollar!’  Like many such answers it would be correct as far as it goes, which is not very, but it has the virtue of sounding very American.  We like simple questions and direct answers.  Europeans probably do too, but they are not known for it!  Unfortunately, we made the decision before the Euro tanked, so any illusions of frugality here are functions of good luck rather than prescience.

Another simple answer is because we have friends who asked us!  We owe them a great deal for some of the best features of this trip.  My colleague’s wife always wanted to go to France, and for her it partly is a ‘roots’ thing.  He and I do some work together, so he had high credibility, and I knew how he thought and how it would be fun to talk about our trip experiences together.  Also, part of the cost could be written off!  We are going on business!  And kidding aside, they were very responsible for the idea of river cruising;  my wife and I never though of ourselves as the cruising sort, whatever that is.  Now that the trip is over and the whole idea worked out fabulously, we still aren’t up for a big ocean cruise anytime soon.  But this was different, and our traveling partners sold us on the idea. 

But even giving our companions full credit, they could not have sold us on cruising the Yangtze or the Congo, or even the Mississippi.  My wife and I had already been to Paris together for 15 days a decade ago, and it was our best trip to date as we considered investing in this one.  Way before that, I studied French for 4 years in high school.   We like the cuisines of France (yes, there are several rather different ones!)  The fact that they are not actively killing each other in the streets probably had something to do with our decision; it is a common factor in all our previous vacations that we went to places which were relatively safe.  Notwithstanding, we would see someone dead in the street!  Finally, the French reputation for love cannot be entirely ruled out.  I guess subconsciously we felt that any country that lends its name to oral sex has to be worth a second visit.  Never mind the fact that in France, they blame those practices on an altogether different nationality.   They never even agreed to having their name used, let alone took out a trademark!

We went to France because we suspected they knew something about how to live life to the fullest that it might be harder to learn here.  This blog is about what we found.


  1. hey you- getting started reading here, and enjoying it so very much, so far... will keep visiting to taste my favorite dish, egghead omelette made with Big Brains. xo -N

  2. Dear N:
    So happy to see you here! I hope you enjoy it!