When in Rome . . . or Santiago or Nairobi or Chiang Mai

by Craig Thompson on March 19, 2021

When in Rome, sometimes we do as the Romans do just to fit in. Sometimes it’s out of necessity. Sometimes it’s because their way is actually better. And sometimes it’s because, well—Why not give it a shot?

Has your host culture offered you ways of doing things different from what you’re used to, ways you’ve tried on for size, sometimes finding out they fit you to a T? Mine sure did.

There was the time in Taiwan when we hired a local moving company to help us relocate to another apartment. Much to my surprise, the movers, small, wiry gentlemen, carried most of our things backwards. I don’t mean that they carried them from our new place to our old one. Rather, they carried them on their backs, with their arms wrapped around behind. Big boxes. Heavy boxes. Small appliances. Where I’m from, most of us carry things in front, next to our bellies, and often need help doing so. And we ache the next day. I’ve tried carrying boxes their way, and it works. Maybe I’m the one who’s been doing it backwards. (The movers also taught me how to hold the elevator door open with a folded-up piece of cardboard, but I digress.)

And then there’s that oft-photographed tourist attraction in Asia—the squatty potty. Now using a true squatty potty still falls into the “out of necessity” category for me, but what I have bought into is the method of restful squatting that many in Asia practice—with one’s heels on the ground instead of balancing on the balls of one’s feet, as we’re more apt to do “back home.” It’s more stable and you can hold the position much longer. I kind of like it. (By the way, it seems that the benefits of the squatty potty are standing up and being noticed—pun intended—even in the West: A squatting adapter for Western toilets has turned out to be one of the biggest successes pitched on that funder of all things revolutionary, NBC’s Shark Tank. But I’m digressing again.)

Oh boy, after reading those two paragraphs, I think I’ve become preoccupied with issues of posture and orthopedics lately

I’m sure you have some things to share, too. Does anything come quickly to mind? Maybe you’ve been intrigued by or adopted a “new” way of cooking or eating or building or treating sickness or showing hospitality or passing time or . . . Before you click to another page, can you type up one or two of those discoveries for the comments below? Join in and let’s celebrate together the wisdom and ingenuity of the people of our host cultures, and celebrate, at the same time, our own curiosity and willingness to learn.

Oh, and I’m thinking of one more thing from my time in Taiwan: Many people there routinely wore surgical masks out in public when they weren’t feeling well, to protect the health of others—on the street, on the bus, at work. Hmmmm, I wonder when that would ever come in handy anywhere else.

[photo: “Chopsticks!” by lets.book, used under a Creative Commons license]

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About Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.

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