When we travel, we live by different laws and customs. The alternative is being the Ugly American. That’s become a big theme in my life and travels.
Traditions and routines are different in other countries.
Americans stand in lines. The English get in a queue. In many other regions in the world, customers simply gather in a cluster around the vendor at the local market. Whoever is in the biggest hurry goes first. That makes sense just as much as our system does, in its own way. If the doctor comes through the door, the village women who are on no schedule are glad to step aside to let the physician get in and out more quickly.
I am always surprised by the ways in which my decision to be a good guest in other countries is challenged.
When I went to Penang, Malaysia, as soon as I passed through customs and went out the front door, I saw a small child standing on the back of a motorcycle hanging onto an adults shoulder’s. I was stunned. I was appalled. What foolishness! After several days of watching other reckless motorcycle behavior, I heard that motorcycles are the number one cause of death in Penang. But it is not my role to tell Malaysians how to live. Or, how to die.
On a lighter note, Sally and her brother and sister-in-law and I were in Rome, Italy. Gelato is one of the great gifts of Italians to the world. If you are in Italy, plan to eat it every day. Two times every day. When in Rome, after all, do what the Romans do.
BUT, one day, near the Spanish Steps, the four of us went into a shop and ordered gelato. The friendly clerks accommodated us and began dressing up our frozen dessert with sprinkles, cookies, umbrellas and other cute adornments, laughing all the while as if we were there most special guests in Rome that year, as if these embellishments were their gift to us.
Then, they told us the price, and the trimmings turned out not to be free. Rather than the usual understandable and appropriate charge, the price for each couple was about 25 American dollars. Had I been in the U.S., I would have turned away from the counter and walked out of the store. I don’t like to be manipulated or jerked around or being ripped off. I don’t like it in Italy or in America.
BUT, determined not to make an international incident, we paid the ransom, and ate the ice cream.
Italian Gelato: $25.
The picture: PRICELESS!