When In Rome…

Beba SchlottmannOther Writings 2 Comments

A few years back my parents came to visit over the holiday season; Christmas to be exact.  Although I have lived in the USA for more than 25 years, I still get homesick for home from time to time, especially over the Christmas holidays and so this visit was special.  Puerto Ricans have a way of celebrating every holiday with double the fun, music, food, etc.  We have many traditions that I still keep and have passed on to my children and one specific tradition became the highlight of this specific visit with my parents.

The Pig, Mami and I

The Pig, Mami and I

The main food we eat during Christmas (and pretty much always) is pork.  Not saying is the healthiest choice, but seafood and pork are the most commonly eaten foods in Puerto Rico.  My mother had gotten the idea that we needed to roast a pig for Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve is the most celebrated; it’s like our Christmas day here in the states.  Families gather from all over the island to visit relatives and they exchange gifts, share big meals, party past midnight, play holiday music with their guitars, cuatros, and pleneras (tamborine-like drums), and dance, dance , dance until your feet give out…oh yeah, and drink a lot of rum!  The roasted pig  (on a home-made rotisserie apparatus), apple and all is the star of the meal.  Is more than tradition, is simply a big part of our heritage.

My parents had gone to Florida to visit family for a couple of days and when they returned, they had brought a frozen, farm-raised pig for our Christmas Eve meal.  I couldn’t believe it!  My parents showed up with a pig in their trunk!  My mouth dropped when I saw it.  My husband couldn’t belive his eyes, but immediately got to the phone to take pictures and forward to his family and friends.  Our boys did the same thing.  I remember once we brought it in the house and placed it on the kitchen table, we all just stared at it in disbelief.  Our expressions went from; “cool!” to “gross!” to “best Christmas ever!”  It quickly dawned on us that our oven wasn’t big enough for the pig, neither was the freezer.  We ended up having to cut it in half and cooking it in the industrial oven of my home church.  What an adventure this turned out to be!  Certainly a memorable Christmas for our family thanks to my parents and their pig.

[quote style=”boxed”]When St. Augustine arrived in Milan, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturday as did the Church at Rome. He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” The comment was changed to “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done” by Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. Eventually it became “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” -© 1975 – 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace
Reproduced with permission from “The People’s Almanac” series of books.
All rights reserved.[/quote]

Several months after the event, I wrote an article about the experience in a women’s magazine that I was contributing to at the time.  I was surprised when the publisher called me to tell me that some people had taken offense of my article because we killed and ate a pig.  This publisher was my friend and she knew me well, so she explained that this was not a problem for the magazine and that they were not going to remove the article because of these people’s comments (they were animal rights activist and obviously vegan). My first reaction was to ignore it and move on.  But as the days went by and after reading the hateful comments, I felt judged, misunderstood and discriminated by people who did not understand my culture.

I have absolute respect for people of different cultures and their customs, their beliefs, and their way of doing things.  I may not agree with much of what I see, but far be it from me to judge or criticize another culture.  Sadly, not everybody feels the same.  Many people criticize and judge according to their narrow views and lack of understanding of cultural traditions, customs, and temperature.  A reason why I am so cautious to voice my opinions about other people’s customs is because I have been fortunate enough to travel to many countries and learn how people live, dress, eat, worship, and work from a completely different context than mine.

[quote style=”boxed”]Have you ever been to a gypsy worship service? Is an unforgettable experience![/quote]

I’m not talking about in the sense of witnessing to people, I am talking about everyday, regular life with other people beyond our spectrum.  The fix?  In order to have a global view, you need to get out of your comfort zone and experience the world and spend more time educating yourself about other cultures and their differences.  For example; In Germany, there is a region where you can walk up to the meat department at any grocery store and order a Mettbrötchen and be served raw ground beef that’s been seasoned with herbs and onions and served in a bun (a common snack in that region).  Something that we view as unhealthy, is actually quite normal and common there.

Some years back, my husband and I took a group of young missionaries to Romania.  Upon arrival to a children’s camp in the mountains, the staff served us spaghetti and salad, because they heard that was an american favorite food.  The meal was delicious and we enjoyed it thoroughly, some in the group even had seconds.  That evening we were talking with our host about the meal.  We asked him what kind of spices went into the meat because it had a different taste and texture.  Well, he proceeded to explained that everything they use is fresh.  No additives, or preservatives.  They eat the fruit of their farms, drink water from a well, milk their own cows, and butcher their own horses and pigs.  Wow, that’s…wait, what? did you say horses?  “Oh yes, that’s what you had last night, ground horse meat.  The staff worked very hard to make this special meal.  They really wanted to make the group feel welcomed.”  While in my head I was screaming; “we ate a horse, dear God, we just ate a horse!”  we thank him for treating the group to such a wonderful meal (We ate a horse!), and express how grateful we were for their hospitality (a horse!!!).

Obviously, I was not happy to eat horse meat, but the fact that these people went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and offered something to us that is special to them, well, that’s what matters, and to be honest, it was indeed a good meal.  That right there is a good example of the importance to understand the differences in our cultures and learn from each other; learn how unique we truly are.  there’s great value in setting aside preconceived ideas or judgemental feelings when dealing with other cultures.  I’m not saying compromise your beliefs-I’m not talking about faith here, I am talking about cultural differences that have nothing to do with choice.

The reason I wanted to write about this subject today, is because during the summer, many ministries and organizations take several groups overseas for missions work or community projects.  Sometimes people go because they want to serve, but they have no clue as to what could be offensive to the culture they are serving.  Food is one of the most important issues to be well-informed about whether you are vacationing in another country, going on a missions trip with a team, or if you are venturing into working with other cultures at your homeland. Nothing could be more offensive than rejecting a meal that’s been served to you in the context of friendship and service.  Please do your research and study the culture you are visiting or critiquing before making a bad mistake.  Is important we learn to be sensitive to those beyond our close knit group of family, friends and acquaintances.




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