Edmonds’ Rick Steves accepts first ‘Friend of Europe’ award at UW Monday night
In a way, decades of travel came full circle for Edmonds resident and University of Washington graduate Rick Steves, as he dipped into his bag of “budget tricks” at UW’s Kane Hall Monday night.
Before Steves was an internationally-known travel guru, television star and marijuana legalization proponent, he started out with his European Travel Cheap! class at the Experimental College at the University of Washington in 1978.
His original self-published guidebook used in that class evolved into the Europe Through the Back Door book that is now in its 34th edition and sold worldwide.
On Monday, 35 years after the 58-year-old Steves started selling his ideas at the university, he was there to make a joint appearance with the U.S. ambassador of the Brussels-based European Union, Joao Vale de Almeida, and to accept the EU’s first Friend of Europe Award.
During his introduction, Vale de Almeida said: “I think (Steves) understands the essence of Europe. Separating the essential from what is not essential.”
Steves’ travel approach is to “to catch Europe by surprise, sneaking through the back door instead of seeing the tired clichés on stage.”
“I was so happy to see people like Rick Steves helping us persuade people that Europe is nice place to live and visit,” Vale de Almeida said.
Steves often refers to people he meets on his travels as his “European friends.”
“You meet these people, they change your outlook on the world,” Steves said. “I enjoyed a lot of women and a lot of wine in Europe. But it takes money, so you have to have those budget tricks.”
Steves also delivered a speech based on his recent book, “Travel is a Political Act,” emphasizing that despite pervasive fear in the U.S. and the world about the unknown, travel is going to shape the future.
“It’s a beautiful opportunity,” he said. “To get out of comfort zone and come home and share that willingness, and as Americans to build more bridges and fewer walls.”
Steves wasn’t always excited about traveling to Europe, though. He told the audience of about 250 that he at first didn’t want to go Europe as a young teen.
“My dad dragged me there,” Steves said of his father, a piano store owner who was going to look at pianos. “I was a 14-year-old with a bad attitude.”
But eventually, Steves had an “aha!” moment that on that trip.
“Going straight from church to the tavern and seeing all generations together, I became a sucker for Europe,” he said.
Steves said he’s always stressed accessibility in what he does. He said he doesn’t have anything shot for his television shows unless the viewer can actually do what’s portrayed and experience it for themselves.
Vale de Almeida, who is based in Washington, D.C., had Steves as a guest at the EU headquarters home last year.
“We had good discussion and dinner, and had European cuisine cooked by a Brazilian chef,” said Vale de Almeida, a Portugese native. “Steves’ enthusiasm for Europe is contagious.”
The European Union has as members 500 million people and 28 nations and hopes to add more. It created a common currency, the Euro, and has created a single market on the continent while promoting free trade.
And as Europe unites, the ethnic diversity is going to get more vivid, in Steves opinion. By making Brussels central to the union, national capitals relent and allow other regions to do what they want, and keep language and customs, Steves said, adding that Brussels is promoting the true ethnic regions of Europe.
Vale de Almeida said there are also things Europe can learn from Americans to succeed in the marketplace : In business, the U.S. accepts failure better than Europe, and banks are more likely to give second chances.
Meanwhile, Steves pointed out that if you don’t have to make radical or deep observations about the continental differences, sometimes silly things happen.
Steves related an anecdote from a recent trip to Italy, during which he noticed an Italian boy staring at him point blank, kind of rudely.
Steves approached him and the dad said the boy liked to stare at Americans. Steves found out that while noting the hamburger bun at McDonald’s, the son asked his father why Americans have soft bread.
The father told Steves his answer: Americans “don’t have teeth.”
Steves smiled for the young man to assure him that Americans, did in fact have teeth, yet another “aha!” moment.
– By Tony Dondero