No white tennis shoes in Paris. Don’t eat at these places in Rome. Never order this in Madrid. Articles abound about how to ‘blend in’ when traveling.
Heaven forbid we should be thought of as a tourist!
A lot of people look for advice on how to blend in when they travel. Maybe a better question is, why are we so afraid of being spotted? What is it about being a tourist that makes us want to disappear – to blend in to the crowds?
I think we all have a picture – a really unflattering picture – in our heads of what a tourist is. She is the woman in the horribly tight jeans, wears too much makeup and has hair that would make an 80’s pop icon rethink the Aqua Net. She chews gum, talks to her husband in baby talk’ and asks for ketchup in every restaurant across the globe.
This notion is reinforced by every upscale travel magazine out there. This week alone I came across three separate articles telling me how I can blend in. What things I need to avoid and what things I need to make sure I do.
Heck, I even read an article recently that said I shouldn’t smile too much when I am abroad. Apparently smiling marks you as a tourist. Better to be dour and serious. After all, you want to blend in, right?
Okay, sure – no one wants to be the Ugly American, I don’t think even the truly ugly Americans among us want to be that way. Who would? But most of us are a long way from being that guy. Being that horrible person that makes everyone else sort of flinch and skulk away.
I think everyone who travels to a foreign country should expend a little effort to be polite, respectful and a good representative of their own country. That means learning the ‘polite’ words like greetings, please and thank you.
Should you make an effort to know how to order coffee in Rome? Yeah, I think so. Not to blend in, but because you might really want to have a coffee when you are in Rome and it will be helpful if you have an idea how to do it.
Should you make an effort to avoid touristy restaurants? Again, yes. Not to blend in, but because you will probably pay a bit less and get much better food if you eat where the locals do.
Here’s the thing about this desire to be viewed as a local – you aren’t from wherever it is you are visiting. The minute you open your mouth to speak? All that time and effort and sweat to blend in is going to be for naught. So why expend the energy?
So smile, where white tennis shoes, carry a camera. Look in awe at that building or vista or meal in front of you. Take pictures and even mangle a word now and again. Heck, eat at a fast food restaurant if you feel like it. I have.
In fact I have often found just telling someone I’m visiting makes for a great conversation starter. I have been given tips on places to eat, things to see, places to go – things that I would never have run across had I been hell-bent on blending in.
People are proud of their cities, where they live. They like sharing what makes it unique and wonderful and livable. They especially like sharing it with people who are interested, polite, and friendly.
This is your vacation, your trip, your adventure. Smile. Enjoy. Be enthusiastic. Be excited and interested and happy. You can blend in when you get back home.