I pride myself on trying to respect local customs when I travel. I work hard to learn the details, the things the locals know, and then put them to use myself–how they eat, how they dress, how they talk. I hate feeling like I have a sign emblazoned on me that reads Caution! Outsider approaching! I want to fit in and live like a local.
Over time, I’ve learned things like
- To Italians, using a spoon to roll pasta is a practice for children and foreigners. Use just your fork.
- You don’t ever say “shut up” (halt’s Maul) in Germany.
- Germans wear slippers at home. Stockinged feet garner strange looks, even among friends.
- Everyone knows that the French air kiss when greeting each other, but the number of cheek-to-cheek transactions (2, 3, or 4 times) often depends on the region.
- I can almost always pick out an American in Europe by the shoes. Or the glasses.
- Cappuccino is only for the morning, never after lunch or dinner–only espresso then.
Of course, not knowing or not observing these customs won’t bring the world down around you. Subtle behaviors like this just underscore your status as either one who knows or one who doesn’t–an insider or a foreigner. If you like to stand out, fine, but if you want to fit in and experience life as a local, these are the kinds of things that make all the difference. All you have to do to pick them up is just pay attention, and if you do, you’ll go a long way toward earning the respect of the locals. The little things mean a lot, so when in Rome…
One more thing. You don’t need a passport to see how this works. You might find “Rome” in a new job, at a neighbor’s house, in the next town over, or on vacation. Everyone has unique customs.
***Happy birthday today to my good friend, for whom I wish happiness, fulfillment, and a glass of good wine.***