Today, in my English class, I was writing a paper about our watchman, Bruno. He is a wonderful, older, Italian gentleman with twinkly eyes who is at the portico of our building. Every morning when I walk by, I acknowledge him and say “Buongiorno Bruno.” His eyes immediately light up and he responds “buongiorno”. As I observe, during my break or after class, none of the other students acknowledge his presence, and merely walk by with their eyes downcast or they walk past chatting with their classmates.
In my culture, I was taught to acknowledge everyone, especially those who are your elders or have a higher post (teachers, doctors, officials). During my first week here, I took the time to find out the names of the people I see on a daily basis. I endeavor to greet them when I see them and say “ciao, ci vidiamo domani” when I leave. I find that the Italian culture, is similar to the Mexican culture in this sense, as the people I meet and greet are genuinely glad to be acknowledged.
It is important to observe, understand or at least know what the cultural nuances are in the country you are visiting. For example, it is easy to disrespect someone by using an informal use of the word “you” when you should use the formal. In my case, once I got to know the person and took a cue from the way they addressed me, I was able to formulate which “you” was appropriate. As I travel around Italy, I am careful to use the formal version until I understand that it is acceptable to use the informal.
Per my cultural upbringing in the states, I was also taught to use “please” and “thank you” all of the time. While I do not hear this in Italy, or my ears are just not fast enough to catch the phrases, it is so engrained in me, that I automatically use “per favore” and “grazie” when speaking with others. Again, I am not saying everyone HAS TO do this, it is part of who I am. As I am feeling my way through other cultures I aim to be as respectful and inclusive as I can be.
In this very Roman Catholic city of Rome, cultural awareness is something to keep in the back of your mind as you visit the Basilicas and Chiesas around town. Churches are places of worship and reflection. It demands silence or soft voices and respectful mode of dress. Here is where is see the biggest culture clash. As I sit and observe the tourists enter a place of worship, I understand the excitement, but also see the frowning faces of the locals as I hear people talking and laughing loudly as the selfie photos abound. As the elder generation is praying silently, I see the disapproving glances at the girls and women in shorts, bare arms or revealing blouses. Again, I am all for self expression in clothing style, yet, I feel that an element of respect for their places of reverence and solemnity are required.
I share with you and feel that these elements are important on this planet as the continents seem to get closer together since travel is fast and easy. When we respect our differences and understand that differences are not wrong, just different, we open our minds to whole new worlds of revelation, wonder and appreciation.