Do as the Romans

Sometimes you want to scream. Not everyday, not every time something irritates you, but just sometimes you just want to scream. For no reason, other than that’s how it goes sometimes, today is one of those days.

Actually, today’s frustration closely follows my realisation of what the word ‘cultural assimilation’ actually means. Assimilation isn’t appreciation or ‘doing as the Romans’. It actually means to discard your own culture in favour of your new one, and thus means becoming a roman, rather than just acting like one.

I’m a bit disappointed that I did not already know this having volunteered with an asylum centre in which I always thought the purpose was to encourage ‘assimilation’. I now understand that assimilation is not at all what the centre was working towards, but rather integration and appreciation. It also means that I now understand the full extent of what people mean when they say ‘foreigners need to assimilate or get out’.

Ok, assimilating is great if that’s what’s natural to you, but demanding it is to demand something along the lines of cleansing… right?

Like I said, today is one of those days when I just want to scream. Why can’t people say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? Why, when I am speaking, does my companion think it’s ok to just stand up and walk out the room without saying ‘excuse me’? And I was met with this response: This is how we do things here. Here, it’s not rude. So deal with it. You’re here, not there.

And the word ‘assimilation’ bubbled up in my mind. And I got to thinking about the xenophobes in the UK who say, ‘you’re in the UK now, and if you don’t like Christmas, sex, alcohol, and pork, then go’, or, ‘while you’re in the UK, you don’t wear Burqa because we don’t’.

Why can’t we meet in the middle? Why when you enter another culture do you either have to throw off your cultural norms for something alien to you, or demand that your host culture bends to accommodate you? Why can’t we just look objectively at someone and say, this makes them uncomfortable, perhaps I can try to limit their discomfort and hope that they do the same for me? We don’t have to become our host culture in order to live in it comfortably.

I read something recently that told me that it’s normal for expats to feel frustrated in a multitude of conflicting ways. I kept the tab open for when I needed some reassurance, and today it came in handy.

It’s ok that I want to scream. I’m normal!



6 thoughts on “Do as the Romans

  1. I’ve never lived in another country long-term (over 6 months), but I think all of this could be so frustrating and … normal! I teach people who have made my country their new home, and I even get irritated at THEIR assimilation frustrations sometimes! Even traveling long-term can bring out these annoyances. You are so right that a nice middle ground would be ideal, but isn’t that the case with everything (politics, economics, weight (haha), etc, etc)?! But no, our world has gotten quite polarized, making all this assimilating – and heck, daily life no matter where! – even more difficult. Hang in there!


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