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Dress code, etiquette and travel


‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ may sometimes prove to be useful advice

Many years ago, as a young man and keen traveller, I undertook a tour of Europe. I visited a few countries, and Italy was the last stop before flying back to India. I was a bit tired from walking on the streets of the historic city of Rome, including St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican. Finally, I rested taking off my shoes to give relief to my tired feet.

I sat on a bench under a tree admiring the scene when I was startled by a call from a passing person. “Hey,” shouted the man pointing to my bare feet. I didn’t understand why he was objecting to the harmless airing of my feet. To make matters clear, he pointed to my shoes and demonstrated how it should be put on. It then struck me that he was objecting to my bare feet and that I should put on my shoes. Just to please that man and not get into trouble, I reluctantly put on my shoes. He was pleased with my act and gave the thumbs-up sign walking away with a smile on his face for having done his duty to restore decorum. “When in Rome do as the Romans do,” was the lesson I learnt without paying a heavy price.

I then recalled my visit to St. Peter’s Basilica earlier where a young woman, perhaps a visitor, in miniskirts was asked to dress properly or get out. Perhaps, matters have changed now, though I am not sure. A few traditions, whether abroad or in our own country, don’t change much over the years.

We all observe some sort of dress code without anyone telling us. It may be okay to be in shorts at home, but it not so fashionable at least in many conservative places where such clothes attract criticism and disapproval. Some of the temples in the south insist that men wear dhotis to enter a temple. Dhotis can be hired from enterprising hawkers near the temples for a fee. No such dress restrictions exist in most northern Indian temples. However, it is a convention that men and women cover their heads while entering a gurdwara.

It is matter of courtesy and politeness that one doesn’t enter a place of worship when a service is going on. I got a lesson in observing etiquette in Liverpool, when I worked there as a trainee. A funeral procession was in progress and pedestrians stood aside with bowed heads. Out of sheer ignorance of etiquette, I kept on walking as the procession passed by. I realised a bit late though that I should have stopped.

We can be friendly while on tour, but guard against those who pose as friends and cheat or mislead. A smiling face opens the door for friendly talk, language permitting. On a few occasions, I found such company useful in discovering places not on the tourist map. I was on a tour of Tanzania when I found a co-passenger on a bus who advised me in choosing the hotel for the night. My experience is that a guidebook is useful but may not be up-to-date. I found a better plan to visit a wildlife sanctuary than what the guide book had mentioned. So, instead of blindly following a guidebook, it would be advisable for a tourist to keep an eye for advice to find a better option. There is no substitute for vigilance when on tour to guard against thieves and con men. That does not mean one has to stay put in a hotel and not move out. To discover a strange place on one’s own initiative has its own rewards. You can decide to see what interests you.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 5:00:39 AM |

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