December 12, 2004

When in Rome

I considered moving to Tokyo to teach English right out of college but then chickened out. I wasn’t ready to live abroad in an alien culture at 22. (Actually, I probably was. I just thought I wasn’t.) Six years ago, before the eruption of the second intifada, I agreed to move to Jerusalem for an Intel tech writing job. But I didn’t go because the position was eliminated before I could start.

I thought long and hard about what it would mean to live in a culture different from mine. The first thing I would have to do – obviously – is accommodate myself to people who are different from me. If I moved to Japan I would expect to encounter Buddhism once in a while. If I moved to Jerusalem I’d expect something around a Jewish theme. And if I ever decide to move to Istanbul (to pick a random example), I'll expect a reduced selection of restaurant options at noon during Ramadan.

I can't imagine moving to one of those places and pitching a fit about and getting “offended” by the local traditions. Only the ugliest of ugly Americans would even think of it.

But some people do behave that way and – amazingly – fools let them get away with it.
Last week, a public elementary school in the northern [Italian] city of Treviso decided that Little Red Riding Hood would be this year's Christmas play instead of the Christmas story.

The teachers said the famous tale was a fitting representation of the struggle between good and evil and would not offend Muslim children. The school's traditional nativity scene was scrapped for the same reason.

In another school near Milan, the word “Jesus” was removed from a Christmas hymn and substituted with the word “virtue.” In Vicenza province an annual contest for the best Nativity scene in schools was canceled.

Conservative politicians and Churchmen blasted the moves.

“Are we losing our minds?,” said Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, an outspoken member of the populist Northern League. “Do we want to erase our identity for the love of Allah?”
Some places are more hospitable than others, and the Muslim countries are at the absolute top of that list. But there’s a flip side to hospitality. It ought to go both ways. Let's not forget there's such a thing as a rude guest. Those brats and their parents in Italy are perfect examples.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 12, 2004 10:30 PM

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