The phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” has echoed through the ages as the ultimate advice for travelers venturing into unfamiliar territories. It champions adaptability, urging us to shed our usual habits and embrace the customs of our hosts. But is blending in always the best strategy? And where’s the line between respectful flexibility and compromising our own values?

The Value in Adaptability

At its core, the proverb is about being a respectful guest. Observing and learning the local ways demonstrates a willingness to engage and a desire to minimize misunderstandings. Simple actions like attempting the language, trying regional cuisine, or adopting local social norms can greatly enhance a travel experience.

Moreover, it fosters open-mindedness. Immersing yourself in a different culture challenges assumptions and broadens perspective. You might discover better ways of doing things, new solutions to problems, or simply a deeper appreciation for the diversity of human experience.

When “When in Rome” Goes Too Far

The proverb stumbles when it implies that we should abandon our core beliefs and values in the name of fitting in. There are situations where “doing as the Romans do” could lead us down a path that feels ethically questionable.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Exploitation: In a place where haggling is customary, should you take advantage of a tourist’s naivete, even if the local sellers do?
  • Discrimination: A society may have practices that discriminate based on gender, social status, or other factors. Should the “When in Rome” mentality override our personal beliefs in fairness and equality?
  • Safety: Local customs might involve activities that feel risky or dangerous. Is blending in worth sacrificing your well-being?

Finding the Balance

True wisdom lies in a more nuanced approach than blind conformity. We could reimagine the proverb as “When in Rome, observe, learn, and then consciously choose.” Here’s how this plays out:

  • Be Informed: Research customs and cultural norms before traveling. This isn’t about memorizing a list of do’s and don’ts, but about understanding the why behind social practices.
  • Respectful Curiosity: Approach cultural differences with genuine interest and respect. Ask questions, seek to understand the history and context behind what might seem unfamiliar.
  • Hold Your Core: Determine your non-negotiables – those fundamental values that define who you are. Adaptability doesn’t mean abandoning your integrity.

The Beauty of Difference

Ultimately, travel is not just about blending in, but also about the exchange of ideas. Respectfully sharing your own perspective, while remaining open to the ‘Roman’ way of life, adds value for everyone involved. Remember, the point isn’t to become someone else, but to expand the understanding of both yourself and the world around you.


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<a href="" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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