The overwhelming number of tourists to Western Europe go there with cultural visits in mind. For Europe itself is like a vast, open-air museum – a treasure house, first, of art, music, drama, dance, literature, science, philosophy and architecture – whose many museums, theaters, historic homes, structures and schools are alone a reason to visit.
But many also go to Europe for reasons that will either attract or repel people of particular political views. They go there to critically observe or judge social or political policies that have been almost universally adopted by countries on the continent (that is, everywhere except Great Britain).
In what areas of life would many Europeans claim that they have achieved, through their political policies, a better quality of life? For one thing, longevity in Europe is one of the highest in the world (which Europeans ascribe to their health plans), reaching an average life span of 82 and 83 years in more than a half dozen European nations, as compared with 79 years in the United States.
Europe, according to its promoters, has a larger and healthier segment of small businesses than we in the United States, a far smaller percentage of teenage pregnancies, less HIV and AIDS, far less economic inequality and easier mobility from one class to another. And most Europeans – as I have endlessly pointed out in these columns – enjoy one full month of paid vacation per year, in addition to many more holidays with pay.
In a recent article on Salon.com, analyst Alex Henderson pointed to numerous other areas in which Europeans enjoy a high quality of life, in addition to the examples I have cited above. Among those benefits are lengthy and paid maternity leave, free university tuition for highly qualified students, and many other guaranteed privileges. Arrayed against these benefits are, of course, a large number of arguments presented by people who point to the economic difficulties and unemployment currently suffered in many European nations, and many other problems of the European economy.
I am therefore not claiming that you should accept the European assertion that theirs is a more perfect society. But American visitors to Europe owe it to themselves to witness and assess the European institutions they will encounter and observe on their trip. They also are able to converse, in many nations, with European citizens and ascertain their views on the comparative achievements of European governments in economic and social fields.
You are best able to do this by undertaking an independent or at least partially independent tour of Europe in which you can interact and speak with Europeans. The ability to converse with citizens of that continent (many of whom speak English) is one of the current outstanding features of the Old World.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.