I suspect it was a wicked Roman who, seeking to inject some fun in an otherwise dull life, coined the adage despite knowing that you, a tourist, would make a colossal asino –- that’s ass in Italy –- of yourself if you land on Rome and try to ape them.
Allow me to elaborate and take the case of Casu Marzu, a Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae.
You have to culture them like a microbiologist cultures bacteria in a lab with avuncular affection. You got to make sure the emotionally fragile larvae enjoy the hospitality of their new home and break down the fats to give it a sublime, gooey texture. The translucent white worms should be wriggling in joy when you are about to consume it.
Now, the Romans have been doing it since ages. This is probably the first thing they teach in kindergartens and by the time a kid is seven, he/she probably can make it blindfolded with one hand tied behind the back.
Now if you try your hand at it, even if none of them tied behind your back, you are bound to cut a sorry figure. It's a highly complicated method –- humouring a bunch of uprooted larvae in their adopted home –- that requires a sound knowledge of larvae psychology, which, I’m told, is significantly distinct from grown-up insect psychology.
While centuries of practice has reduced it to a kid’s play for an average Roman – they apparently do it in school in between classes -- a tourist can’t hope to land in Rome and dish out something that requires the combined skills of a Louis Pasteur, a Sigmund Freud and a Jamie Oliver.
Forget Casu Marzu. The sooner you realise you can’t even out-pasta an Italian the better. You just can’t upstage them in their own games. As simple as that.
When in Rome do as the Romans! It’s like saying when in Glasgow, do as the Scots, which means wearing a kilt and instantly becoming either 1) a family disgrace; or 2) the butt of dirty office jokes; or 3) an international laughingstock. Or all three.
Truth is, if you ever travel to Rome, the smartest thing would be to avoid doing whatever the Romans do. You’re welcome.
(P.S. You can safely say Doosra has declared war against the autocratic idiosyncrasies of the English language. The truth is, most of the English proverbs have aged/stagnated/simply ceased to make sense and need swift phasing out. Doosra will hunt them down, one by one, in this new series the frequency of which would be directly proportional to the availability of brainwaves)