Do like the Romans when you are in Rome. To live well in any environment is all about adaptation especially when the difference in culture is very significant. But some lessons are been learned in a hard way. You pray to learn them in a simple way but not in all cases.
From the African point of view, you can’t invite someone for a dinner or something of that kind and at the end, your guest should pay for what he or she has eaten or received from you. Your guest never invited himself or herself to your place or to an event, you did the invitation.
One fateful day, I was on my own, relaxing after the fatigues of the day since it was a Saturday. Some of my friends who were learning the Italian language with me in an Italian language school called Dante Alighieri invited me to come and join them for an outing and a walk. This was not the first or second time they had been inviting me to go out with them. In many occasions, I have declined their invitation under the pretense of being busy with other activities in my house. But that fateful day was different. I accepted to go out with them. I dressed up, took the subway and met them at the location where we all agreed to meet.
When we all met, there was great joy among them because that would be the first time I was joining them for an outing since we started the language course together. “Oh, Antonio, come stai? Which means how are you?” Simone asked. “I am pretty good,” I replied to him. “I can see that you are pretty good, that was why you came out today to join us,” Maria said. “I hope you are not trying to be a racist because all these while we have been inviting you but you always give us a negative reply with one excuse of the other. Jonathan and Darius used to go out with us. They are Africans like you,” Maria said jokingly. “No, I am not. How can I do such? We Africans we are not like that just as you have said,” I said to her. “Then if that is the case, guys what are we still waiting for. Andiamo,” Maria said. “Come on guys, forget about what Maria is thinking and let’s go,” I replied as I pulled her hands, forcing her to stand up from where she was sitting. From there we headed for the Spanish steps, where we sat down and chatted a bit.
On our way going, we all started checking with our mobile phones the best restaurants nearby where we could have something good to eat at a moderate price since we were all students according to what they said. They were all making suggestions. I was just there looking at them. Back in Nigeria, I was not used to such a lifestyle, where I had to check with my mobile phones for where to go and have some drinks and nice local dishes. The places are buried deep inside me. In Enugu, I did not need to start looking for Bush Bar at Nza Street, Genesis, Toscana, Ntachi Ulcer joint, and Nwayi Ituku fro my local dishes and other delicacies. I knew already where they are. Even in a dream, I could trek to those places without any problem Finally, Ferdinand found a place; an Italian restaurant.
In front of us was the menu on a table of five persons. “Please, you guys should order for what you will like to take,” Ferdinand said. I ordered for an appetizer and a can of soft drink. “Tony, what is this?” Maria said pointing at what I ordered for. “Come on, don’t tell me that this is what you will take,” she said to me. “My dear, don’t worry, I am okay,” I told her. They ordered for the first plates, three bottles of wine, and 4 bottles of beer. “It seems as if you don’t take alcohol, Tony?” Simone asked me. “I do take but rarely,” I replied to him. “Okay, but today you have to take some since we are together, we feel man,” he said to me. But I refused categorically with politeness. A second plate was ordered for four persons. As if my mind was telling me the truth, I sensed something fishy in what they were doing. I noticed that nothing was shared among themselves just like the way we used to do it back in Africa where one person could order for a fish and three or more persons would feast on it together. I tasted neither the beer nor the wine. After eating and drinking, we talked about many things regarding cultures, politics, geography, and fashion. Though, from the discussion, I saw how poor I was in the areas of fashion and geography. The one that annoyed me most was on the issue of geography. Back then in school, my geography teacher was only good in map reading as if that was the only thing we needed to study or know in the subject. And this is common in many schools back at home. Most of our geography teachers would only be seen moving here and there with maps in their hands like surveyors. Well, the fault was not all theirs. It was funny but I had to respect myself and controlled my words before I would say something ridiculous.
“Please, waiter more beers and another 2 bottles of wine,” Maria said. More food and snacks were also served at their order, for it was a complete meal. When I looked at the price tag of the wine on the counter, fear came over me. The price for one bottle of the wine they took could feed me perfectly well for a week. At a point, the saying; “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans,” kept ringing in my mind. “Th devil has come again,” I said to myself. I saw myself acting naïve in front of them. It was as if I was anti-social. I was tempted to join them fully in the merriment but I refused to succumb to the temptation. “The spirit in you is stronger than the spirit in them,” I said to myself. I was only trying to help the host to save some money. At least, I should eat with moderation even though it was free as I thought. It is normal in African culture. You should not eat in your host house as if you had no food in your house.
“The bill please,” Simone asked one of the waiters. When the bill was brought, each person had to look at it. I never knew what was happening. For me, I saw no reason looking at the bill because I was thinking that the person that organised the outing would be the one to pay. As each person looked at the bill and passed it to the other, he or she would bring out his own money or credit card. “Tony, yours is very little, since you didn’t eat much. Just 20 euro,” he said to me. I was taken aback. I was not expecting to pay a penny since I never invited myself. Without asking any further question, I understood already. In order not to embarrass myself, I quietly and gently brought out the cash and gave to Ferdinand. So had it been I joined them in the full meal, I would have paid for everything I took. The total amount was 610 euro, almost N250, 000.00 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira), an amount one could use and buy a plot of land in my village. We paid the bill and set out to visit some boutiques around as one person suggested, but I had to excuse myself. I left them and came back home.
It was a really nice experience and that was the first of its kind since I came to Europe. While trying to be considerate and kind to my host, I never knew I was the host and guest of myself.