Essay: When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

In the middle of this past September my friend from Tokyo and I visited Grindelwald, our favorite Swiss resort, popular among visitors from all over the world, to enjoy a few days’ of hiking.  We had a delightful view of Wetterhorn, Mettenberg, Finsteraarhorn and Eiger from our fifth-floor room and balcony, and as we hiked from Grosse Scheidegg to First, the spectacular panorama of these mountains joined by the majestic Moench and Jungfrau spread before our enchanted eyes.  Though the area had had a stormy weather till the day before our arrival, we were lucky to have been blessed with a clear blue sky and abundant sunshine throughout our stay in this heavenly alpine town.

One evening we decided to eat out.  When we stepped out of the elevator into the corridor leading to the spacious lobby of the hotel, we looked at each other in astonishment.  A man was walking in front of us while talking on his mobile phone, but he was wearing his pajamas!  We noted from the language he was speaking that he was a member of the Chinese tour group staying in the same hotel as we were.

We used to see very few travelers from the mainland China in the past in any touristic sites in Europe and especially in Swiss mountain resorts.  These days, however, they in large organized tour groups can be spotted everywhere where tourists flock as their country enjoys rapid economic development and holidays abroad have become affordable to an increasing number of its citizens.  I am happy that many of them can now enjoy trips abroad and have the opportunities to take glimpses of how people in other countries live.  As Japanese travelers beginning to go abroad about half a century ago did, new visitors from China appear to experience similar cultural gaps in the West.

Looking at the Chinese man in his pajamas in the hotel lobby, I remembered the travelogue by a Japanese author I read in the early 1960s, in which he wrote about his misadventure in the United States in the 1950s.  If I remember correctly, he was put into a mental institution briefly after getting caught while wandering in an American hotel lobby in his night clothes.  In traditional Japanese inns, all guests are provided with a cotton kimono called yukata, which they wear when going to sleep.  It is also perfectly acceptable for yukata-clad guests to walk around not only within their hotel premises but even to stroll outside.  Because of this custom in Japan, the author had probably thought nothing of going to the lobby in his pajamas.  In those days, few Americans must have had good understanding of cultural differences between the East and the West, so the people in the lobby must have been horrified to find a Japanese man roaming around in a public area in his night clothes.  The man probably had a poor English skill in explaining why he thought it was all right to be out there in that outfit, which unfortunately resulted in his getting confined in an asylum, even for a brief moment.

When we came back to the hotel after dinner, the man in his pajamas was no longer in the lobby.  We did not know what had happened to him; he had probably gone to sleep.  We were quite sure though that he had not been taken to a mental hospital as the hotel staff at the reception had not reacted to his appearance.  They seemed to have been totally unaffected by his pajamas.  Nothing might surprise them as they have probably seen all kinds of tourists behaving differently due to their varied cultural backgrounds.

I wondered how American hotel staff these days would react to such a situation.  Perhaps, they, too, would have ignored the man as he was decently covered, for they must have also encountered by now all kinds of tourists from abroad.  I appreciate the increasing level of social tolerance towards people behaving a bit differently, but the useful advice for any travelers to different cultural settings is still that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

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2 Responses to Essay: When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

  1. david martin says:

    Thanks for the insightful travelogue.!

    • Hi David, Thank you for visiting my HP. My last feline companion who had been on medication for her diabetic and kidney problems for 2.5 years finally died at the end of May after 18 years with me. So I am now in the process of moving back to Japan for good. I should be back in Tokyo in a week after completing all the administrative matters here.

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