When In Rome...

Do as the Romans do.

This quote was made famous by St. Ambrose in 387 A.D. The trivia behind it is a cool thing to note:

When St. Augustine arrived in Milan, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturday as did the Church at Rome. He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are." The comment was changed to "When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done" by Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. Eventually it became "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

However, in today's globalized world, does it still apply?

I came to question this quote upon watching a news bulletin about a Filipino OCW in Australia who was terminated from his work because he brought his personal water bottle in the bathroom which he uses to wash himself after heeding to Mother Nature's call. This Filipino OCW was terminated because he wasn't comfortable using toilet paper to clean himself up. A legal battle ensued where eventually the Filipino OCW won. He was able to demonstrate his cleanliness upon inspection of his household and bathroom behaviors (I couldn't believe that the investigation went to that point).

Pinoys are known for being hygienically conscious. We take a bath or wash ourselves at least twice a day. I remember that my TCP friends almost found the rumour (or not) that Rob Pattinson was not washing his hair for six weeks, an absurd, if not gross, idea -- even though they were laughing during their podcast discussion.

On a related note, I remember a similar story where a Pinoy kid in Canada refused to go back to school after being teased by his classmates for using a spoon when he eats. The school's principal even told off the kid's parents to teach their son to use a knife and fork when eating because he was in Canada.

Hmm... Slightly off-the-mark stories... But I have a point, I promise! Very Elle Woods of me...

Back to the quote and the question. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Does this apply still now in the world we live in? When we live in a different country due to work or migration, are we supposed to shed off what makes us distinct as a person, as a culture, to adapt new behavioral patterns simply because we are in Rome, Australia or Canada?

When I visited India and Singapore a couple of years back, I tried immersing myself in those countries' cultures as a sign of respect for the locals. I sampled their food, even participated in their local dance. I understood what makes them unique as a country and as a race. In doing so, they became equally curious as to how certain things are being done in our country and was open enough to allow me to do things as I please during my stay. Even if it means eating my meals using a spoon and fork despite using my hands or being given a pair of chopsticks on several ocassions. Not to worry though, I did use my hands and my handy pair of chopsticks more than half the time.

For me, the quote above is applicable when you travel to a different place as a tourist, whether it's within our country or out. Even within the Philippines, there's a rich diversity that's waiting to be explored. However, when you start living in a different country, this rule should apply sparingly. Being in a more globalized time should allow for things like this. I have yet to hear of a story wherein we, Pinoys, have insisted to an American or European living in our country to use a spoon when they eat. Why can't the same courtesy be extended to our fellow Pinoys or even other races who are working their butts off and living in other countries?

I find it irritating/unbelievable that simple things like have the ability to cause a lot of trauma and unnecessary effort just to force "being a Roman." Where's the sense of respect and common decency in all this?

I don't mean to sound frustrated. Yet, I can't help but feel sad when I hear stories like these. It somehow casts a small shadow on my aspirations to work abroad. Are we, humans in general, so narrow-minded and clouded by what we have come to know and grow up with that it is a struggle to see things differently and understand that we don't have to think the same way? I believe that synergy can exist in diversity and the key ingredient: RESPECT.


    You are so dead-on on this one Rome. Good thing my employer is nice enough to allow me to do stuff, in Filipino way.

    Though they sometimes find it funny and weird like when I eat squid fritters (calamares) with vinegar and garlic. So far yun pa lang naeencounter ko.



    Well, it's not as if your Italian employer is free from any peculiarity that's unique to them as a country/race. That is what diversity is all about. What's crucial here is to be able to set aside your own thoughts enough to at least ask a question or two before you launch your feedback or criticisms. Just because you look different doesn't mean that common decency cannot be exerted.


Blogger Templates by Blog Forum