When in Rome…

25 Apr

A clear occupation hazard of being part of the Cultural Insight team is turning your holidays into cultural immersions. From the moment we arrive at the airport, we begin a kneejerk process of cultural decoding – looking extra longingly at advertising on the walls, surveying spatial arrangements with a Jason Bourne-like intensity.

We have long stopped “turning off” our immersive prerogative when on vacation, and realised it’s useful practise to get the most out of a holiday experience. This time the location was Rome.  After the airport, the attention turned to how to effectively “blend in” so I could observe things more naturally.

Following the assumptions we use for our client work, we adopt some simple rules to help become more local -

• Buy a local language newspaper and display it prominently when you walk or place in on the table when you are sitting down (this creates a natural assumption by others that you are a local and is incredibly effective).
• Avoid cultural off-code colours in your appearance – in Rome there is a clear preference for earthy and classical hues (this will eliminate any visual cues that signal your foreignness).
• Adopt some default local mannerisms -  hand movements to support speech, open and confident stances, and respectful platitudes are all overt symbols of being Roman that can be easily be taken on.
• Order like a local – if you are eating and drinking what others around you are, you are unlikely to stand out.  Hint – tourists always seem to order long coffees rather than the local preference for short.

How can you tell you are getting local? A tell-tale sign of your “localness” is being asked by locals for directions – although this can sometimes lead to a sense of guilt. The worst victim on this trip was a Vespa-riding local who spotted us on the street and blurted out “How do I get to the place I want to get to”.  Unless he wanted to go to “macchiato”, “side of bread” or “that was delicious, thank you so much”, we thought it was best to fess up, however with a great sense of contentment that we’d pulled it off. 

Thinking of best practices in “being local” it is interesting to consider how Londoners will deal with deluge of visitors descending on the city for the Olympics.  Our tips on immersion will become useful for Londoners how  want to assert their localness as an intuitive defence mechanism against being other-ed in their own city. So, it’s time to brush off your flat cap, remove those consonants from “isn’t it” and crack open a can of Tennent’s Super.

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