When in Rome do as Romans do


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What is the difference between individuality and adaptability? And most importantly how and which one affect more the society? Have you ever heard situations in which tourists have been beaten or casted off a particular territory because they were not adapting to the places they were visiting? I’m talking about customs, clothing, speech, body language and so on…

I always thought that when YOU choose to visit a culture YOU should adapt to it. You are trespassing.  Nobody asked you to go there and nobody asked you to bring your culture with you. Don’t change who you are, or your culture but don’t offend others’ as well. As a main example I always had in my mind: when you’re visiting someone’s house if the hosts’ rule is to take off your shoes…do you? If you want to visit and enjoy your stay…you better.

There are lots of examples when we’re talking about intercultural communication. It can easily be referred to the business environment as well. How many meetings and how many deals gone wrong existed in this world just because of intercultural miscommunication?A practical and simple example: Americans vs. Chinese. Businesses have to be heavily aware who are they targeting they’re messages and what means of communications they use. Adapt…Nobody is saying to wear a burka when you’re going in a Muslim country but it would be completely inappropriate to have a short skirt and a deep cleavage. Same applied to businesses. Communication must be kept in the middle and one culture as well as the other must comply in order to communicate effectively and avoid discrepancies.

Talking about body language and signs a main example is the simple western OK sign. In many other countries around the world it means a totally different thing. For example in France it means ‘a big fat zero’ whereas in Turkey it means ‘you’re gay!’. It is as simple as getting bothered to know just a bit the culture you’re walking into and respect it.  Adapt!

But again, there is another side to the story as well. What about people of various cultures living surrounded by opposite cultures with opposite customs, then what? Did you know that France banned the use of burqas in 2010 on the suposstion that it hides the identity and that France stands for the equality between men and women? Now women are finned or under how arrest if expressing their culture.

It is a simple fact of globalisation. Why everybody has to be the same? Aren’t we proud of diversity? True, a middle avenue would be OK, but it is never about changing a culture and migrating to another. It is all about geography. Different families with a particular culture choose to move in a country in which they will be part of the minority…fine. Where is the problem? They will adapt. They will stop expecting people around them to be dressed as they are used to, they will socialise and change their behaviour and way of life; but it is never a matter of changing values, beliefs, traditions or all in all…the culture.

This is a scene from Sex and the City 2 which displays (in an amusing manner) discrepancies between two cultures:

Am I right? 

by Diana

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6 thoughts on “When in Rome do as Romans do

  1. me says:

    OMG … YES! and no! Tourists need to adapt ? They do what they want to do they way they want to do it, spending your money in another country gives you the right to act the way you please, being polite is a totally different thing, oh businessman are a different thing they want something therefore they will do stuff to attain it like “kiss ass” bla bla bla bla wrong bla bla i could go on about this subject for hours but srsly ?

  2. Hello me, thanks for your comment. I get your national economic perspective. I don’t agree with the fact that if tourists spends money in a country gives them the right to undermine the culture and disrespect tradition. Values are different for business men, tourists or families and they are led by different priorities (money, entertainment, security etc.) Do you see my point?

    Diana

  3. me says:

    how many tourists have you seen willingly undermining another culture or disrespecting its traditions it’s like saying keep your hand out of the cookie jar without there being a cookie jar, and to be frank if you do value any sort of tradition you do it for yourself so you shouldn’t really care what an outsider thinks, but outsiders have never been the problem but the actual people safeguarding their traditions, and safeguarding is a much more protective term when instead it should be something a bit more aggressive, traditions change it’s in their nature to change so in other words is it the tourist who has to prepare himself or is it the “guest” duty to inform him that the “shoes must go off” ?

  4. Hello me: I find that most cultures state very clearly whether it is the case to “take the shoes off” or not. Therefore my point is that visitors have to be ready to accept it, if it is required from them. And about the tourists willingly undermining another culture, I don’t think most of them are aware of the fact that they are indeed disrespecting traditions but actually, they consider that they can get away with it because they are toursits. It should be in fact a compromise, both from the culture itself (that is if they want visitors) and from the tourists (if they want to visit). And it is not only about tourists…how do you feel about globalization? Should we be different or try to be the same?

    Diana

  5. Stuart says:

    I thought your article was well written and spot on. I grew up in a community that depended very heavily on tourism and in actual fact, “ME” is dead wrong. Even the differences between American and Canadian norms and cultural ethics but the American tourists at that time thought it didn’t matter, their money fixed everything. Also, the airport cartoon you have is right on the money. I used to do cross cultural training programs and one of the exercises I wrote was to break groups up into subgroups and give the a script in made up languages to try to communicate. Just a few body language changes and people trying to communicate exactly the same things to one another had hilarious results. But hilarious because it was only practice. Throughout my life i have heard the US referred to as the great melting pot, because people come from all different cultures to embrace the American dream and from the late ’60’s and early ’70’s Canada referred to as the ‘great mosaic’ because all people were supposed to be able to come together and celebrate their own cultures and their diversity within the new Canadian vision. I think more accurately that both are like patchwork quilts with a bunch of different cultures edging up against each other but no clear picture (the mosaic) or no particular single result (melting pot) coming through. Hopefully, we can still improve upon that in both nations. Thank you for the article and my chance to respond.

  6. Thank you for your reply, it’s really insightful. I am really curious to see your view on nations that try to achieve cultural uniformity. As you’ve seen a good example would be France banning burkas. What do you think about that? Are you for or against globalization?

    Diana

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