Sometimes when I hear the pleasant measured tones of travel guru Rick Steves on public radio, I forget that he's more than an avuncular tour guide. But make no mistake: this seemingly mild-mannered Lutheran from the Pacific Northwest has some ideas about America's—and Americans'—role in the world that might sound pretty radical to South Dakotans when he speaks in Sioux Falls Tuesday evening (tomorrow or tonight, depending on when you read this).
Steves gave a little preview of his talk to both South Dakota Public Radio and That Sioux Falls Paper before hopping an early Tuesday plane to Joe Foss Field. As one would expect, he spent time talking about his wildly successful efforts across many media to make traveling Europe accessible to Americans of all walks of life, but I was much more intrigued by the philosophical statements intermingled with Steves' travel tips about setting a manageable itinerary and skipping the five-star hotels.
Perhaps the title of his newest book (and, correspondingly, of his talk at 7:30 p.m.), Travel as a Political Act, is itself a clue that Steves will be bringing more than a photo slideshow to the Celebration Center at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. But if the title's not enough to pique your interest, here's a few of what I consider the more eyebrow-raising comments in Steves' pre-talk pressers:
I love to have my ethnocentricity walloped. ... I want to be a citizen of the planet [Rick Steves, Interview with Karl Gehrke, Dakota Midday, 2013/09/23, timestamp 04:45].
I'll give Rick a pass on using a word like "ethnocentricity" with borderline grammatical acceptability because we don't see "walloped" nearly enough in American English. Also, I'm willing to cut some slack because Steves sees the process of getting walloped as a learning experience:
I just love being steep on the learning curve and going to different countries, having truths that I was raised thinking were self-evident and God-given challenged, and com[ing] home probably more thankful than ever to be an American, but also with an empathy for other people and a better understanding of what else is out there [Rick Steves, Dakota Midday, timestamp 03:00].
But what else is out there can be scary, can't it? Steves says most of that fear may be mongered (now I'm the one using borderline words) by the media we consume:
Fear is for people who don’t get out very much. There’s more fear in our society than ever, and a lot of it is because of hysterical media. ... Today, news is morphed into the entertainment zone, and networks try to make money on their news broadcasts; consequently, everything gets more frantic and more exciting, and more thrilling and more profitable if you’re selling ads, but the result is, we, on the receiving end, look out at the world and think it’s a frantic, hysterical, scary place [Rick Steves, Q&A with Beth Wischmeyer, "5 Questions: Connect with Culture, Travel Writer Urges," That Sioux Falls Paper, 2013/09/23].
We might also have an incorrect perception about our own primacy in that crazy world "out there," Steves says:
The only thing exceptional about America, really, is our ability to think we're exceptional. We're all equally precious children of God, and when we travel, we realize that there's a complicated world out there and different people see things differently. ... When you do that, you are helping our country be stronger and wiser at the same time [Rick Steves, Dakota Midday, timestamp 15:15].
So, if you have $10 (or are paid up on your Augie tuition and fees) and have an inkling to hear more of what Rick Steves has to say, make your way down to the Celebration Center of Our Savior's Lutheran Church for the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night event, sponsored by the Augustana Library Associates (more evidence that it's the seemingly quiet ones who are most likely to surprise you with ideas that will challenge your worldview!). Just don't expect that all you're going to get is a few nice Instagrams of croissants and Sacher Torte. If Steves has anything to say about it, you might just find yourself on the receiving end of an intellectual wallop!