EUROPE TRIP 2004 Click here for the trip story and photos
The following is an essay FRESH AIR by John M. Grimsrud
The price of fuel in the sign below is in Euros (1 Euros is $1.27 US) and the quantities are in liters (about 1 quart
an apartment in Nordhorn, Germany and used it for our headquarters from which to bicycle into the surrounding
EUROPE TRIP 2004 / FRESH AIR
Dear reader; In this letter I will tell you about my observations of events, people and places plus cultural
differences between first world and third world as I compare Mexico, Europe and the U.S. I am not trying
to put a negative spin or in any way degrade these places that I love so dearly. This is just my critical
critique, so I am not trying to be negative, only comparative.
Jane and I consider this our private time in our private city to enjoy Merida because we have come to
discover that we are in no way groupies, wherever they congregate we are not to be found.
discover that we are in no way groupies, wherever they congregate we are not to be found.
As we gained altitude over the Yucatan peninsula on our departure flight April 20 it was easy to see that
we had just made our escape in time. There below us in all directions the natives were engaged in their
3000 plus years of annual slash and burn that torches the southeastern Mexican states of Quintana Roo,
Yucatan, Campeche Tabasco and Chiapas plus much of Guatemala. This is why there is no topsoil and
tall jungle does not survive here.
Mexico with just 4% of the world’s population is able to produce 20% of the global air pollution. Now that
they have added plastic bottles and bags to the burn pile their percent may climb further. To put some
prospective of the proportions of this annual event I will have to tell you that several years ago Jane
and I drove all the way across Mexico from Merida in the southeast state of Yucatan to the Texas
border, a distance of 1500 miles in the smoke. Then we crossed the state of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas
and up to northern Missouri before we were finally able to escape the smoke.
Yes, the Yucatan in the end of April and the month of May is not only so smoky that the sun casts a
yellow-orange light and appears in the sky as a faded object you can look directly at without sunglasses
at noonday, but it is also the hottest time of year.
Between Mexico producing 20% of the world’s air pollution and their neighbor to the north that
incinerates 21,000,000 barrels of imported oil on a daily basis and also a staggering quantity of coal, the
U.S. still holds the lead in this contest to pollute by generating 25% of the worlds pollution. Of course,
Mexico still holds the undisputed per capita title.
Other than several screw-ups generated by company technocrats and governmental functionaries our
trip to Europe went better then smoothly. As a matter of fact, our connections and the weather all were
working with us.
The best part of our fresh air was not just escaping the air pollution of Mexico but something just as
refreshing: we sold our last motor vehicle, our camper van we had toured Europe in for the past ten
years. As incredible as this may seem, this was the first time in over 50 years that I had not owned a
mechanical contrivance that burned petroleum.
A year and a half ago we owned three campers, one in Texas, one in Yucatan, Mexico and one in
Holland. Now we were breathing the fresh air of a special freedom. This is a special time in our lives
unshackled from the pushy world of the rat race. To the best of my knowledge, Jane and I are the first of
all of our friends and relatives to strike off on this new dimension of which we refer to as “a
psychological toilet flushing”. It feels so good we can hardly stand it!
One day as we were visiting with our old friends across the border in Holland I knew for sure that Jane
and I were definitely social square pegs when our friend Riki Rerink said that she would call us on our
cell-phone and we replied, “we don’t own one”. She was literally dumb founded and shocked as well; we
are square pegs.
Perhaps it is just our attitude but this year our European trip has the feel of being an exceptionally
pleasant experience. Our connections all the way from Merida in Mexico to Nordhorn in Germany by
bus, taxi, airplane, train and even bicycle connected well and even the weather has gone out of its way
to please us.
After many years of international travel and a dozen trips to Europe scrutinizing and searching out the
kind of place we liked the most, we discovered that the most civilized country in Europe was definitely
Germany. Then we narrowed our search to a place away from tourists where the air was fresh, bicycling
terrific and the pace of life sensible.
Well, we found it and an apartment that epitomized the German standard for detail and excellence which
we dearly do love and fully appreciate.
Differences between northern Europe and the U.S. and Mexico are immediately apparent. The most
obvious is the physically fit, trim and well-muscled Europeans who bicycle everywhere, have free public
sports centers with year round heated spas, swimming pools and public health care for all.
By contrast, in the U.S. more than 2/3 of the men, woman and children are obese and fat and that goes
for their hounds. Exercise is only done by a few who are fanatical excessive and the remainder find a
waddle and shuffle through the superstore physically challenging and exhausting.
Another contrast to be found in Europe is respect for the law, which is backed up with fair and
evenhanded justice that goes from bottom to top of society where human rights coupled with property
rights are respected. Everything from speeding laws that the Americans flaunt with fuzz-busters to the
attitude that you can buy a good lawyer and even get by with murder to the Mexicans that disregard
their laws by paying mordidas or pay-offs to the police. The trend in Europe is rapidly changing as we
have recently witnessed in little Holland where the governmental policy toward refugees is to welcome
disruptive political dissidents and turn away economic refugees that are only there to work. As a net
consequence of this action coupled with a slackening of law enforcement in general almost all of the
major cities in Holland have become unsafe.
Land and property rights in Europe are in many ways excessively strict but they have no homeless or
Another reason for lawlessness and lack of respect in the U.S. is the scandalous corporate grand
larceny flaunted by the Wall-Street darlings that play political shell games with offshore tax loopholes.
These thieves steal billions of dollars from investors, taxpayers, and employees and even bankrupt the
retirement programs and workers injury claims. American politicians make all this possible. The U. S.
with its creative tax accountants that only the rich can afford play financial shell games working hand
and hand with the best politicians that money can buy.
Mexican politicians are more open about their political chicanery. As a past mayor of Mexico City so
aptly put it, a poor politician is a bad politician.
The Europeans don’t have all of the correct answers and political insiders still manipulate many of their
own agendas but the general public still enjoys healthcare for all, housing for all plus young and old
ride public transport for free. Those governments can afford it and they do. Now that Jane and I have
been traveling to Europe on a yearly basis for many years and spending up to five months on each visit
we have some comparisons to make. We have watched the economies serge ahead and then pull back,
the exchange rate make us feel rich and at other times feel priced out of the market. We have had the
experience some 20 years ago or so of being detained, searched and inspected plus being ripped off by
the 10% swindle of border money exchangers as we toured 17 different countries back in 1983. That has
almost all changed with the enactment of the European Union.
Open borders and one currency have brought Europe into a much more people friendly place for us to
visit and travel. The new internationally accepted language of choice is English though German is
widely spoken among the young of present day Europe. It is the standard for them to be fluent in three
or more languages and we have some young friends that have conquered six or more. Though the
Europeans are still light years ahead of the rest of the world in exercise, nutrition and physical fitness
we have noticed a rapid trend toward consumption of fast food with chemicalized ingredients,
excessively salted, heavily greased and packed for gluttonous consumption food products.
Even with the price of gasoline this year at more than .90 a gallon the use of automobiles has
dramatically increased with one person per car on long daily commutes just like the Americans, only with
smaller vehicles. Four dollar a pack cigarettes has not stopped the Europeans from sucking them up
with fiendish zeal so price has little to do with the rational for consumption, only the economics of fluid
cash flow does that.
In years gone by the Europeans have held the Americans in the highest regard and even thought of
them as trendsetters and the moral standard of the free world. That was then, now the feeling is of
sadness and the loss of their guiding light, their revered hero has been shamed. The Europeans now
look pityingly at Americans who have slipped into a quagmire of corporate corruption, failed healthcare
plans and slothfully religious self-righteousness. America has lost its allies around the world in its
imperialistic occupation and plunder of Iraq plus its military presence with thousands of troops
stationed around the world in more than a hundred countries. The feeling of the Europeans is that the
China shop rule now applies to the Americans, They have broken it and now they must fix it, alone.
Europe, the U.S. and Mexico have built their economies in distinctly different ways. The one common
thread to all was slavery. In Europe as recently as the thousand-year Reich that lasted only 12 years,
enslavement of occupied and over run countries was the corner stone of their Nazi power base. The U.
S. was founded on slavery and spent its first 100 years exploiting slaves. Now they continue that
practice but from afar. With their mentality of turning luxury into necessity, they have come to believe
that cheap gasoline is a constitutionally endowed and inalienable right. Blind to this supposedly
inexhaustible source of fuel from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the yearly per capita wage is less
than or Nigeria where the barefoot starving children have only automatic machine guns and unlimited
rounds of ammunition to places like Venezuela where the U.S. conducts covert military tactics to topple
another democratically elected president. Remember Saddam Hussein? He was the guy that threatened
to base his oil exports in European Euros instead of Gringo dollars. That will teach him to thumb his
nose at Uncle Sam! So, the U.S. has its slaves offshore and out of the public eye.
Mexico is another case; they officially ended slavery back in 1910 but the poor are still slaves to
starvation wages. Though Mexico has not imported cheap labor or imperialistically usurped foreigners,
they have taken another tack with extremely strict immigration laws. Many minorities and even political
refugees need not apply for status there. Mexico is a mess when it comes to human rights, literacy and
So, who are the good guys?
Definitely not the politicians, that only sell politic favors and tax the poor that cannot afford the slippery
slimy tax accountants with their financial shell games. Definitely not those multi-million dollar corporate
leaders that have polished and honed their talents to bamboozle shareholders, creditors and
Come to think of it, I don’t see any good guys, only financial usurpers that include corporate leaders, the
politicians that they buy and even Mr. consumer sucking up his share of global resources with his
forked minded mentality. Waving the flag with one hand and the other hand patronizing with his
purchases of foreign oil and gimmicky gadgets shipped across the globe to exploit some foreign
laborers at slave labor wages.
Education of the citizenry; The Europeans take the lead in this department and Mexico comes in a
distant last over all. Though Mexico does have several world-class schools of higher learning in
medical and technical studies, they only serve a select few.
All of these countries are quickly losing manufacturing as well as technical jobs to India and China. Even
with Mexico’s third world status of low minimum wage workers, they cannot begin to compete with India
and China who have educated workers that have such a strong work ethic.
Even with the world’s highest standards of educated and motivated workers of the German people, they
are seeing their pioneered industries being out produced, under priced and matched in quality by India
Personal wealth and what it buys; Here Mexico is paradoxically in a class of its own, of the 100,000,000
people of Mexico they have four of the worlds top ten wealthiest and a minimum wage that is
scandalously low and inadequate. In spite of the many inadequacies of Mexico’s social strata they at
least are not hypocritical global imperialists to the degree that the U.S. is importing over 90% of its oil
from countries with a year average incomes or colonial Europe still milking their colonies and turning a
blind eye to the off-shore poverty and strife their exploitations create.
John M. Grimsrud go to photo story of our 2004 trip