When in Rome, do as the Romans do

roman-marketMany of us have heard the statement, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, this means “Something that you say that means that when you are visiting another country, you should behave like the people in that country.

The Apostle Paul said it this way, “When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.”  

Following up on my previous post, when I was riding my motorcycle to a dinner engagement tonight I was thinking more about the subject of adhering to local culture.  Often I’ve found myself saying (and heard others saying it to) “Why do I have to do it this way.  It’s so stupid.  It’s so time-consuming.  It’s so meaningless.”  I was born in the 50’s and raised in the radical 60’s.  I tend to be very anti-establishment and I hate protocol and formality.  I prefer to “just be real” and get on with it.  However, in many ways Cambodia is a very formal country.  There is a proper way to greet one another depending on their age and rank in society.  There is proper protocol when opening a meeting or addressing a crowd before you give your lecture or presentation.  There is a proper way to dress for a wedding and funeral.  I hate that stuff, but as I said in my previous blog on this subject:  I’m not in Kansas anymore!”

There are protocols in asking for a hand in marriage, in a wedding, in greeting in-laws for the first time.  There are ways of speech that if you back-translate it into your own language it doesn’t make sense.  I’ve told people many times, “This is just how you say it.  Don’t try to back translate it into your own language, just say it the way they say it.  It’s the Cambodian way of saying it.”

I again remind you that we are in their country.  It’s their ways.  Cambodians eat with a spoon; I eat with a spoon.  Cambodians sit with their feet tucked in; I try to sit with my feet tucked in.  My staff sleep on bamboo floors and eat very Cambodian food when we travel to provincial villages; I sleep on bamboo floors and eat food that isn’t my favorite when I go with them.  I watch them.  What they do, I do.  I watch all the time – at the market, at the bank, in the village.  I want to honor their culture when I can honor it by doing the same as you do.  The benefit of all this is a closer relationship and more intimacy with the locals.  For me, that’s worth it.

So all  of this above is just to say things are done in countries outside your own country that may not make sense to you.  Especially in the social relations area.  Rather than “buck the system” just suck it up and do it their way.

Traffic in Phnom Penh is a primary example for all of us living here.  It’s crazy and people do stupid things.  I know the government tries to teach safe driving methods, but the fact is, this is how they drive.  I don’t expect it will change any time in the near future, so just suck it up and accept that this is how it is and do your best to “go with the flow” or against the flow, as the situation may demand!  (Those in Phnom Penh will understand that last remark)


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