It’s vacation time! Are you going somewhere special? If so, why not mingle with the masses and have the time of your life?
According to Trivia-Library.com, in 387 A.D., St. Ambrose said to St. Augustine, in effect, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” You may have heard this saying before.
It has been the subject of a few interpretations, but my favorite of these has always been “Wherever you are, do as the local citizens do.” Since the time I turned 15, many years ago, I have taken this precept to heart.
In August of 1967, at this age, I made my first solo train trip to a faraway destination: St. Petersburg, Fla. The reason: to visit my wonderful grandparents and favorite aunt, all of whom I had not seen since 1957.
I remember much of the trip with startling clarity, and interesting surprises were right around every corner. One of the biggest was when I arrived and found out that my Aunt Clara, who had been born in Czechoslovakia around 1900, now talked with a distinctive drawl, having gone totally “Southern.”
As she explained it to me, she had naturally acquired it to fit in, and never regretted doing it.
“Wherever you go, try to blend in with the people who live there,” she said. “Talk like them, live like them, don’t stand out like a sore thumb, and you will see and learn much.”
OK, maybe I’m paraphrasing her a little. During the weeks I was visiting, I saw how well her philosophy worked, and I determined to adopt it. When I returned home, my mother was a little surprised to hear my adopted drawl. It rapidly disappeared once I was back among the heathen Northerners.
But I still developed a long-lasting fondness for southern fried chicken.
Six years later, when I began my travels to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, I adopted the manners and methods of the “cast members” working there. Pretty soon I was being asked for directions, and I could direct families to the nearest restrooms as if I had a map memorized.
I learned, also, that if you’re going to “do as the Romans do,” you must do it seriously. No mocking of accents, or rattling off incorrect facts. You must be sure of yourself or else be quiet. Don’t try too hard. Prepare, but don’t force the issue.
When I visited New York in 1978 and 1980 to see the new plays and musicals, I evolved into a “New Yawker.” It amused me to see the rubes still falling for the old shell game on the sidewalks of Broadway.
When I first went to London in 1984, I went with plenty of advance knowledge. I studied maps, knew how to get around by the Tube and the trams, and what to expect when ordering food. My first day, when a Littlewoods cafeteria lady asked me if I wanted “black or white,” I said “white” with confidence. The coffee tasted exactly as I’d specified.
On future trips to England, it evolved so that I had a British accent within three days, thanks to watching the telly or listening to the wireless. In five days, tourists were stopping me and asking me for information. Indeed, I was a Londoner!
There I positively delighted in blending in! It saved me no end of hassles from locals trying to raise the price on things. I refined my bargaining skills on Portobello Road.
However, you don’t have to go very far away to practice becoming another fitting piece in the local puzzle.
I visit three small towns with some regularity – Shannon, Lanark and Lena, in northwestern Illinois (family connections). They may be small towns, but the people have large hearts. They are friendly if you don’t talk down to them, and try to see their points of view. Don’t show off your big city ways.
Your vacation destination awaits! Want to have fun and also learn a lot about humanity? Then go out and mix with the locals. Do it right and they will clap you on the back and call you “friend.”
And the best part is you will have vacation memories that will last a lifetime.