WE were at the famous Portobello Road market in London two weekends ago. One website described it as the world’s largest antiques market with over 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antiques and collectibles. It is one of London’s best loved landmarks; so it is no surprise that people from all over include the market in their travel itinerary when they are in the United Kingdom.
We were not the only Malaysians at the market. There were many others including this famous entrepreneur turned celebrity and his family members and video camera-toting friends. You would not be able to miss him due to his antics.
Through the crowd, we heard him loud and clear, disturbing a busking cellist. He started singing his recently launched single, much to the disgust of the cellist. The entrepreneur shared a video on his Instagram of him singing and the cellist telling him to leave.
Netizens commented on his Instagram posting, many advising him to observe the laws and culture of the places he visits. One Netizen actually called him “an ignorant twat” over the incident.
This is not the first time he had created ruckus overseas. Once in Switzerland, this same entrepreneur made such a hue and cry on social media about being turned away from a restaurant there when he brought in outside food. In protest, he and his family took to the streets to have their meal, instead of looking for a more appropriate place, which is aplenty there.
I am thus reminded of this Latin saying, si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi, which when translated in English means “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The Malay equivalent is of course “masuk kandang kambing mengembek, masuk kandang kerbau menguak” (literally translated, when you enter the goat house you bleat, when you enter the cowshed you moo).
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition defines the saying as such: “When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it.”
In fact, such faux pas should not have been committed, even if it was done in jest. One should not drag the good name of the country down the mud just to satisfy one’s need for attention.
We certainly do not want to be labelled negatively like tourists from a certain country. Many people have a bad impression of tourists from this country due to the way they behave when travelling. They have earned a really bad reputation in the past few years.
It is not so difficult to learn about a country’s customs and etiquette. There are many online sites offering travel tips that one can search for on the Internet. Many travel bloggers have shared their own experiences online, which one can use as a guide.
I have had to observe some of the customs and traditions of the countries I had visited either on assignment or for leisure.
In Italy, I had to borrow a scarf from my Italian government-assigned guide to enter a church to see the black Madonna figurine. While holidaying in Bali and Jogjakarta, I remembered having to use temple-issued sarong during temple visits. And, at mosques overseas, we had to observe the proper etiquette too, as it differs from one country to the other.
When I went to Ulan Ude in Buryatia of the Russian Federation, we took a side trip to Lake Baikal, the world’s voluminous freshwater lake and also the deepest and among the clearest of all lakes in the world.
Our local guide dictated that a bottle of vodka had to be poured into the lake for good luck and that visitors were also to toast for good luck while at the lake. I poured the vodka in my glass to the ground discreetly for fear of offending my host.
At some places, we not only had to dress appropriately but be punctual too.
I recalled being told of a former minister who was denied entry to a theatre show in London when he and his entourage arrived late. They missed the first 15 minutes of the show before they were permitted to enter the hall.
Yes, it is almost impossible to know everything about the customs and etiquette of a foreign country.
One site, however, gives very good advice to prevent tourists from breaking the rules: If you don’t see the locals doing it, you better not be doing it.”
Fauziah Ismail is an associate editor, Digital/Features, ‘New Straits Times’