Insights: When in Rome

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There’s a saying attributed to Saint Ambrose that states ‘When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.”

When we visit another country, embrace their culture and go with how they live.

I am in Italy right now, and there is nothing better than going with the flow of their culture, especially when it comes to their food. It might cost me a few extra pounds when I get home, but it’s worth it.

What I find interesting when I travel is how people often want to hold what they know rather than experience something new, or the unknown.

This was so prevalent when I was in Spain. I don’t speak Spanish, wish I did but I don’t.  I walked into this hole-in-the-wall place and ordered something yet had no idea what it was other than an egg and potato and octopus dish for breakfast.

The food was amazing, but what has stuck in my mind is the experience of being uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.

After I ordered my breakfast, I sat by myself outside on the street sidewalk at a small quaint table. I was listening to the locals banter back and forth, people greeting each other with familiarity. I felt totally immersed in the culture. Did I feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Absolutely. I was definitely uncomfortable. I was worried I might do something wrong or not be understood or get stuck in a situation that I don’t know what to do. However, I was willing to go with the uncomfortable to have that incredible experience.

After leaving my immersed experience, I walked back to the main area of San Sabastian and passed an American-brand fast food restaurant. I needed to use the restroom and so went inside. It appeared to be full of tourists. It surprised me. Here we are in this amazing city full of incredibly new and exciting experiences, and yet people are drawn to what is familiar and known.

This is interesting as our brain is a little lazy and tends to go towards what it knows rather than what is uncomfortable, but at the same time it loves excitement. So the brain is going to determine if the reward is going to be worth going with the unknown.

This is where our frontal lobe needs to come in and challenge this mindset. I will never forget that experience of sitting at that restaurant and hearing the passion of the language, smelling just baked Spanish breakfast breads, the quaintness of the old brick walls, and the view of the people having passionate conversations as they meet in the street.

We do not have to leave our city or country to experience new things. It is an everyday choice to either go with what we know or embrace a new experience.

If I go to a new restaurant, I embrace what they are known for rather than what I know I like. Sometimes I try something that is so-so, but most of the time I end up with something new that I can say was an amazing experience.

Embrace the unknown. It makes us rich in experience, it makes a life lived with fullness. There is no need for fear. We can change our mind, or learn a new lesson of what we do not like. Just be open to new experiences.

By the way, after dining in Spain I have a new obsession for octopus—it was so delicious, so tender, it melted in my mouth.

It is morning now in Italy, and I am getting ready for my next new experience. I am ready to embrace the culture, the unknown.

Let’s see what I get to learn today.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected]

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