When in Rome do as Romans Do – Meaning & Examples

when in rome idiom, explained below

The idiom “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” implies that when one is visiting a new place or culture, one should adopt the customs and behaviors of that place. In other words, it’s about adapting to one’s surroundings and showing respect to local customs and traditions.

People often use this phrase to suggest that there’s a certain way to behave in specific situations, environments, or cultures, and it’s best to conform to those norms for the sake of harmony and understanding.

For example, if you are visiting a country where it’s customary to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, you should do so – not because you necessarily agree with the custom, but because it’s respectful to the hosts and their culture.

chrisAbout the Author: has a PhD in Education. He has been a teacher in schools and universities and has taught English as a Second Language in Colombia. He is former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do Idiom Origins

The phrase is believed to have its roots in the story of St. Augustine’s Journey.

Saint Augustine, a Christian theologian and philosopher, moved to Rome in the early 4th century. He observed that the Church in Rome did not fast on Saturday as did the Church in Milan.

He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am in Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am in Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are.” This advice embodies the spirit of the idiom.

However, used idiomatically, the term seems really quite new.

As Google’s historical dataset shows, which searches for phrases and terms in books and newspapers going back centuries, the term itself only emerged quite recently, and gained significant popularity around about 2001:

10 Examples in a Sentence

  • “You might not be used to eating with your hands, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “It might seem odd to bow when greeting someone, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “In Spain, they take a siesta in the afternoon. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and enjoy a midday nap.”
  • “I learned to enjoy hot tea in the summer while I was in China – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “Although it wasn’t my tradition, I joined the locals in their festival dance – after all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “I never used to eat spicy food, but since moving to Thailand, I thought, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “They have a different way of conducting meetings here, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “While visiting Japan, I made sure to visit temples and partake in local customs because when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “She started wearing traditional dresses while living in India; she believed in the principle, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
  • “I was surprised to see everyone driving on the left side in the UK, but I reminded myself: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Practice Questions Worksheet for Students

Question 1: If you visit a country where people bow instead of shaking hands, what should you do?

  • a) Refuse to bow
  • b) Bow as they do
  • c) Insist on shaking hands
  • d) Avoid greeting people

Question 2: Which of the following situations best exemplifies the idiom “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”?

  • a) Insisting on using chopsticks in Italy.
  • b) Wearing traditional clothing at a local festival in India.
  • c) Refusing to try local cuisine.
  • d) Speaking loudly in a library.

Question 3: Why might someone say “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”?

  • a) To suggest avoiding local customs
  • b) To recommend following one’s own habits regardless of the place
  • c) To advise adapting to the customs of the place or culture one is in
  • d) To discourage traveling

Question 4: What does it mean to adapt to local customs?

  • a) To change one’s personality
  • b) To ignore local traditions
  • c) To adjust one’s behavior to fit in with the local culture
  • d) To only do what tourists do

Similar Idioms

1. Go with the flow

Definition: To accept things as they happen and adapt accordingly.

In a Sentence: “I didn’t have a fixed plan for the trip, so I decided to just go with the flow.”

2. Follow suit

Definition: To do the same thing as someone else.

In a Sentence: “When everyone started dancing, I decided to follow suit.”

3. Blend in

Definition: To fit in with the people, objects, or environment around.

In a Sentence: “While traveling, it’s often a good idea to blend in with the locals.”

4. Roll with the punches

Definition: To adapt to setbacks and continue forward.

In a Sentence: “Life can be unpredictable, so it’s important to roll with the punches.”

5. When in doubt, do as others do

Definition: If unsure about what to do, mimic the actions of others.

In a Sentence: “I wasn’t sure about the dining etiquette, so when in doubt, I did as others did.”

6. Keep up with the Joneses

Definition: To try to match the lifestyles of one’s neighbors or peers.

In a Sentence: “It’s exhausting trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

7. Swim with the tide

Definition: To go along with the majority.

In a Sentence: “Sometimes, it’s easier to swim with the tide than to go against it.”

8. Play ball

Definition: To cooperate or to go along with someone.

In a Sentence: “If you want the project to succeed, you’ll have to play ball with the team.”

9. March to the beat of one’s own drum

Definition: To do things in one’s own unique way regardless of societal norms.

In a Sentence: “She never cared about what others thought and always marched to the beat of her own drum.”

10. Play by the rules

Definition: To act according to the accepted standards or customs.

In a Sentence: “If you want to succeed in this industry, you’ll have to play by the rules.”

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