Sorting by

Skip to main content

My attention span for someone else’s vacation is about 17 seconds, long enough to ask, “Where did you go?” and “Did you have a good time?” After that . . . I try, but I am just misanthropic enough to not really care. With that in mind, I’m going to tell you about my vacation. Well, that’s not exactly it—I won’t bore you with the itinerary of our recent trip overseas. Instead I’m going to relay some conversations members of our group had with local tour guides.

The New Cathedral in Linz

For some reason, standing outside a church in Linz, Austria, the conversation turned to the European Social Security System.

“What do you pay in taxes?” an American asked.

“Upwards of 40%,” the Austrian answered. Knowing nods and smiles went around our group—a 40% tax rate must be a monstrous government rip off. Ours is indeed the greatest country in the world.

 As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast.” You should know I can be just a little bit of an instigator in moments like these.

“How much does it cost to attend university?” I asked.

“It’s free.”

“What happens,” I asked, “after a couple has a baby?”

“They both get paid time off from work—they can decide how long but it’s usually six months to a year for the father and a few years for the mother. And their jobs are guaranteed when they return to work.”

I muttered, “How’s that for family values?” and then asked, “What does it cost when you are hospitalized?”

“Nothing,” the guide said.

A few members of our group looked like they needed a stiff drink. This made no sense to them.

Then our guide took us down a street and pointed to a white building. “That’s where Adolf Hitler went to school.” She gave us a small lecture about Hitler’s unhappy childhood, his mediocre career as a student, and his failed attempt to get into art school. She said, “My opinion is that if anyone wants to attend art school, they should be admitted, even if their talent is average.” Two dozen meritocracy-loving Americans nodded in agreement, allowing themselves for just a second to imagine a world where Hitler painted department store signs and the Holocaust never happened. We went to another street where she pointed out two houses next to each other. One had been the home of a well-respected physician, who happened to be Jewish. The house next door was where Adolf Eichmann grew up. I may be an instigator, but I held my tongue this time. What I wanted to say was, “Wait a minute, neither Hitler nor Eichmann reflect well on your country. Surely you should revise your story and tell a different version, where the horrible things they did are balanced by their positive achievements. The way you tell your history traumatizes children and makes them hate Austria.” But I kept my mouth shut. I was afraid some in our group wouldn’t recognize my sarcasm.

A day later we were in Passau, Germany, and the conversation with another guide turned again to health care. “Don’t you have to wait a long time for treatment?” an American asked.

Our guide seemed puzzled, then brightened and said, “Yes, I see what you mean. It is true. We always have to wait outside the doctor’s office for a while before we are seen.”

“But we heard you have to wait months to see a doctor when you are sick,” someone said.

The guide looked puzzled again and said, “No, this is not true.”

“But is everything covered?”

Again the guide was at sea for a moment and then recovered. “Yes, I see what you’re asking. It is true, not everything is covered. I can’t think of the word in English, but it starts with ‘C’”

“Catastrophe,” an American said.

“No,” the guide said, “catastrophe is the reason you have insurance.”

“Cancer,” someone else said.

“No,” the guide said again. “Cancer is covered. I have the word now. It’s ‘cosmetic.’ Cosmetic surgery is not covered.”

“But who decides your treatment if you have cancer?”

“Your doctor explains the options and you decide together.”

“We heard there are panels,” someone said.

St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Passau

“There are no panels,” our guide said, with that same puzzled look on his face. Clearly, he was wondering where our group got its information.  

There was another spectacular church to see, this one with the largest pipe organ in Europe, so we kept moving. But after a few steps the guide stopped and turned around. “Let me ask you something,” he said. “In 2020, you had a Presidential election. Since the United States is a powerful country with the largest economy in the world, there was extensive coverage of your election here. Germany is also a powerful country and has the largest economy in Europe. We just had a Presidential election. How much coverage of it was there in the United States?”

The group took this opportunity to examine the cobblestones beneath our feet. Finally, someone spoke up. “But how do you secure your borders?” she asked.

“We don’t have borders,” he said.

“No borders? How do you stay safe?”

“Good woman,” he said, “you just came from Austria. Did anyone stop you between Austria and Germany and check your papers?” This was met by silence. “Do you feel it is not safe here?” More silence. “Let’s keep going and see the church,” he said.


At breakfast one morning someone said, “Germany and Austria are such lovely countries. I just can’t understand how a megalomaniacal narcissist like Hitler could rise to power here.”

My normally diplomatic wife almost choked on her croissant. “Duh!!!” she said. “Something similar just happened in our own country.”  She scored a point because our breakfast companion said, “I am a registered Republican, but I fear you are right.”  

She was right. And if you want to understand how the orange bully came to power here, just listen to the questions average Americans ask European tour guides.

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 


  • Dirk Jan Kramer says:

    You only have to look north of the border, to Canada, where I live. My first wife, who suffered from multiple myeloma, received two bone marrow transplants and, all told spent, 43 weeks in a number of fine hospitals. It didn’t cost us a cent. And we weren’t even citizens at the time. This may not sit well with all, but my greatest critique of Americans is they (we, as I’m a dual citizen) lack curiosity. There are other, better ways of doing things—if only people would make the effort to look.

  • RH says:

    This really has devolved into a political issue journal. I once enjoyed reading and supporting it. Sad.

    • Ria says:

      Yes, I enjoyed it much more when they talked about what matters. A Christ centered publication.

    • Carl Fictorie says:

      If your worldview or theological beliefs do not speak into political, cultural, economic, artistic, or scientific issues, then does your worldview really matter. On the other hand, if your worldview or theology comes to different conclusions about an issue like this, then here’s a place to start talking and attempting to sort out differences and perhaps find common ground. I think, for example, that reformed theology provides a rich foundation to argue for a global perspective and learning to see things beyond one’s own culture, to argue for some type of universal health care and thereby “promote the general welfare”, or to argue for more open borders to welcome “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

  • Ann Conklin says:

    In terms of healthcare, you’re spot on. The difference around the world is stunning and we in the US have needed reform for decades. Having worked in healthcare for 20 years, I saw this up close. I also experienced this firsthand having a daughter with a disability affecting multiple systems throughout her body. When she studied in the UK for a semester in college and ended up hospitalized for 3 weeks in Cambridge, she had excellent, comprehensive care and the cost was minimal.
    Fortunately, Michigan had a program called Children’s Special Health Care (formerly known as “Crippled Children’s Coverage”) which supplemented our insurance coverage while she was growing up. I fear many would now lable this “socialism.” We likely wouldn’t have made it through financially without this and she probably wouldn’t have her MSW serving teens in the schools of inner city Chicago.
    Thanks for this thoughtful and needed reflection.

  • Greg Warsen says:

    My Dad sends me these articles from time to time. Apparently, this journal has evolved to address very real issues from a reformed perspective. I now enjoy reading and supporting it. Happy.

  • Rodger Rice says:

    I do wonder whether we would have in the U.S. today the polarized hatred we’re experiencing if years ago we had instituted an educational and social system system like that of Germany. How ironic that this nation that we helped defeat in WWII now is better off than we are today. I wonder often whether this has something to do with never having experienced defeat or major loss? Thank you very much, Jeff, for this insightful essay.

  • Tom says:

    Just a note – the democrats just passed a huge spending bill and are pushing another in attempt to move the US toward the ideal of what Germany has. Maybe Germany’s system is better, maybe not; I expect one could find a few reasons not to love it, just like you can here. What I do know is that the democrats make not a peep about raising the average citizen’s tax rate to 40%. I’d have a little more patience for their proposals if they were honest about the cost.
    (and, for the record, I’d say the same about republican’s wishful thinking that cutting taxes will raise more revenue).

  • James Schippers says:

    I am also saddened by the recent articles in the Reformed Journal. A week or so ago I read the one from James Bratt. My blood pressure spiked and I struggled to get a good nights sleep. This article indicates that Canada has a better health system than the U.S. Well the father of a good friend of mine was in a high position in the Canadian health care system a number of years ago. I heard a totally different perspective from him. Another person I know well moved here to the U.S. from Denmark for one reason, FREEDOM. They are fearful with what’s happening here in the U.S. I agree with the response of R.H. & Ria. I do not read the Twelve — Reformed Journal for political perspectives. I want Spiritual food for the soul and to be uplifted by God’s promises to us. Not the promises of political parties with agenda’s

    • Angel says:

      Agreed. This journal could be called “Opinions of people who call themselves Reformed”. While it is important to integrate our theological worldviews and politics in dialogue with each other, it is more important to publish Spiritual truths in a journal that claims to be of a specific denomination of Christianity. When articles are just political opinions and have no spiritual backing, it is setting up writers as false prophets… readers take in their words as though it is God-breathed. This is dangerous theology… I have read several articles here that had no mention of God and were just incredibly biased. I am not referencing this particular article from Jeff, but a vague reference to others I have read here. I would not recommend this journal to anyone for Spiritual guidance. Too risky.
      Editors: please take this into consideration as constructive feedback. This is not intended to be rude in any way. It is an honest assessment of some of your contributors. Thank you.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    The Reformed faith is holistic, touching both body and soul and concerned about everything and everyone. If you think spiritual and religious things have no bearing on physical and worldly things you are not Reformed.

Leave a Reply