Living in a foreign country it’s sometimes easy to assume you are above the law. You feel slightly outside local society and it’s not hard to pretend that the local laws simply don’t really apply to you. After all, you are from the USA or the UK (or wherever) and you abide by your laws.
This was exemplified a few years ago when some female American soldiers in Saudi drove cars in public and did not wear the traditional covering local women wore (see here for full BBC article). These women, effectively, said that local laws and customs did not apply to them and they would follow American laws and customs.
Which is all well and good until someone starts smoking in a restaurant in the US and refuses to put it out because it happens to be allowed in their country and they are following their own country’s laws and customs.
Being a Guest
I have spent most of my life teaching English and living in other countries and the one thing I tell myself is that I am a guest in those countries and guests follow house rules. I allow dogs in my house but if that dog jumps up onto the sofa well the owner and the dog are out because dogs aren’t allowed on my sofa: my house, my rules.
When I lived in Greece I pushed and shoved my way through any door on a bus because that’s the way the locals did it. But then when I went to Portugal I learned to get onto buses using the orderly queue by the front doors only because that’s the way the locals did it; it would be rude to do it any other way (not to mention the stern stares and tut-tutting from the old ladies).
A trivial example, to be sure, but there are many more serious ones out there. In Britain you can name your teddy bear anything you want. But in 2008 a British teacher in Sudan was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail (see here for full BBC article) and threatened with 40 lashes for allowing her class of young learners to name a teddy bear Muhammed. She was later deported and flown back to the UK.
This is worth remembering; the British teacher did not appear to act out of disrespect but still fell foul of the law. Thus caution is the watchword here!