When in Rome. That was going to be my travelling motto. No spoiled American stereotype for me.
My second great adventure took me scuba diving to Fiji. While there, my boyfriend at the time wanted to participate in a kava ceremony–an event that is suspiciously similar to boys night out in the U.S., in that it involves mind altering drinks and no girls allowed.
No girls allowed.
And so it was that I failed my first “When in Rome” test.
I failed the second test as well. In Fiji, women are not allowed to sit in the front of vehicles. I was already seated when I found this out. I sat stubbornly in my seat, glaring at no one in particular, and at everyone in general.
These incidents, small but significant, have stayed with me on all my travels. I love learning about and experiencing other cultures, but they’re not always as romantic as the travel guides make out. And I’m often torn on how to react.
Even within the U.S., there are some odd cultures. In Seattle, everyone drinks coffee. I now have a Starbucks addiction that I’m pretty sure I’d be better off without. In Helena, MT, Wednesday evenings are spent in the local brewery. I now know more about Montana politics than I will ever admit. And the beer isn’t even that good.
And Albany, NY. I have spent the last six months traveling every week to Albany. I’m a Georgia girl, raised on please, thank you, and Mother-may-I. They were not raised that way in Albany. In Colorado, my now home state, Mondays are for reliving the weekends. Not so in Albany. People stare at me when I ask how they are–well, when they acknowledged me at all.
I’m not really an extrovert but I do like talking with people; plus, I just believe in certain civilities. And I do care how you’re doing. Once again, I found myself torn. With six months of this travel, what should I do? I couldn’t see myself embracing it, but it was their culture. When in Rome, after all.
The holidays came during these travels and once again Facebook was awash in the “I’ll say Merry Christmas if I darn well please” assertations. And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t so much about adaptation as it was about acceptance. I’m quite okay with receiving a Happy Hanukkah, but i do love my Merry Christmas. I can participate without letting go of what I love about my own culture.
And so it went for six months. I’d ask about the weekend. They’d ask me about the software. I’d smile and nod at fellow runners. They’d give me wide berth. I got to where I almost didn’t even notice when my good mornings were greeted with frustrated rants about something entirely unrelated.
Then one morning, the frustrated rant stopped. My client-slash-coworker broke off mid sentence and turned his chair so he fully faced me.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Good morning, Lynda. How are you?” I just grinned.
When in Rome, sometimes it’s okay to make the tourist feel at home.