When in Rome do as Romans do


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