Young Masai boy peruses menu at milk bar

Life+Stuff: When in Rome

Young Masai boy peruses menu at milk bar
Young Masai boy peruses menu at milk bar

What are your feelings about this old aphorism? Should people try to act like locals when they’re in another country? Or should they retain their cultural differences with pride?

I completely support trying new things, being culturally sensitive and avoiding embarassment (and arrest) but I’m just not sure about the whole, ‘when in Rome’ thing.

Can’t we adopt the positives and discard the negatives? Is it so bad to go to Rome and order gluten-free pizza or drink soy flat whites? Or should you gird your loins, don your stretchy pants and just do what’s easy? Do you throw yourself into a new culture and start swimming fully dressed (Thailand), drinking cow’s blood directly from an artery (Tanzania) or forget about animal rights and head straight to a bullfight (Spain)? Or are you that person who orders a bread roll and sips bottled water while everyone else is downing bier and bratwurst?


4 comments on “Life+Stuff: When in Rome

  1. Timely post, Em, after Go Back to Where You Came From on SBS last night. I struggle with the “when in Rome” thing myself – want to blend in (as much as someone blonde can in, say, Japan) but the more simply I want to live, the more vegetarian I become, the more peace-loving I want to be, the harder it is to “join in” at, say, a bullfight in Spain. Don’t think I could do that. But I have eaten lamb in Mongolia. Hell, I had a sausage sandwich in Broome a couple of weeks ago. I guess it’s just about doing what feels right at the time, for the place, without having too much pride in “my way”…Or something.

  2. I think there are always going to be some aspects of a country and culture that are easier to adapt to than others. For me Rome and all of Italy was a no-brainer, I didn’t complain about the excessive carbs, I didn’t care, I was in Italy and loving the food, the wine and the atmosphere. I didn’t think about my weight at all.
    I tried to do as the locals do in Japan, but some of their foods just weren’t suited to my palate so I tasted a lot and then didn’t eat it again. Although I did get naked in an onsen with two of my best friends which was just weird.
    Transport is often a relatively easy thing to do as the locals do, although the motorbikes in Thailand scared me so I passed on that experience.
    I’ve covered up in places of religious significance, I’ve removed my shoes when necessary, I’ve whispered in museums, monuments and the like. But sometimes western sensibilities/preferences/attitudes prevail. It all depends on the person and what you are willing to do or not do.

  3. I am very against animal cruelty (or human cruelty, for that matter) so I am often confronted when I go overseas. I lived in a house in Thailand where we had a housemaid who was an illegal Burmese refugee. She was only 13 and she wasn’t allowed to leave the house until her spoken Thai was perfect. Her parents had actually given her up to the family I lived with. It was neither wrong nor right – I just felt sad for this poor girl who had to do all the housework in return for a safe place to live.

    On a much less serious note, I have a really dodgy tummy so I am often in two minds about going all out on the local fare… after a Delhi Street Food Tour I spent the next 24 hours in the bathroom wishing for death!

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