I feel I should preface this article by admitting that I’ve never been to Rome. In fact, I’ve never been to Italy. I have, however, often found myself saying “Well, when in Rome…” to justify an array of unusual activities; be it an hour-long afternoon siesta in Northern Spain or firing a rifle at old tin cans in country Indiana. The words have always felt appropriate, despite my location.
Interestingly, the traditional saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” can be traced right back to 390AD when, in Letter 54 to Januarius, Sister W. Parsons remarked “When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not.” A day without food in Rome? HOW?!
Despite its roots in religion and fasting (I’m averse to each), today the phrase simply implies doing what one wouldn’t normally do, because those around them are doing it. Though we’ve certainly cheapened the notions’ original meaning, I still believe it can be a powerful philosophy to live by.
Of course I’m not talking about peer pressure, the justification of another cocktail at a party. I’m talking about cultural immersion in its simplest sense: broadening our understanding of the world by truly allowing the world to influence us. Too often we see in our surroundings only that which compliments our way of life, searching for familiarity in the nooks and crannies of our daily environment. You see, whether or not we realize it, routine is the young creative’s ultimate vice. It often takes the shiny packaging of a holiday to free ourselves from the shackles of comfort and embrace the glorious unknown – but this really needn’t be the case.
It might be taking the bus to a beach out of town, removing your shoes and sinking your toes into the burning sand as you open a novel selected completely at random. Take a moment to look around at the locals doing the same, turn your face to the sun, smile and think to yourself, “Well, when in Rome…”
It could be turning off your iPhone for the day and visiting a cafe slightly off your usual route. Make an effort to talk to strangers there, not because you’re attracted to them, just because they’ve lived entire lives that you know absolutely nothing about and that, in itself, is exciting. Ask the barista how he likes his coffee, order the same, taste something new, let it run down your throat and fill your belly with warmth. Go to a concert alone, hear music you’ve never heard, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd of fans who know each and every lyric to each and every song. Soak in their energy and scream – scream because you can, scream because no-one will hear you, scream because you’re in Rome.
Remind yourself to find these unfamiliar moments, for they’re there to be found. Feel them wash through and around you like any old wave crashing to shore. Let them shift the sands of your foundation in the most seemingly unimportant ways and, just as a branch of driftwood comes suddenly unstuck, so too can these experiences push your life onto the course of change. If we seek the unknown in our surroundings and embrace it, let it move and influence us, we could find ourselves thinking “Well, when in Rome…” every day.
All without boarding a plane.