Saturday, February 21, 2009

Five tips for blending in with the locals

It's not easy being green, and it's not easy blending in with the locals when you're travelling, either--particularly if you're surrounded by a very different culture. But camouflaging yourself can have all sorts of benefits. You'll feel less conspicuous, so it will be easier to relax. You won't stand out as a target for pickpockets and scam artists. And you may have the chance to try out a different style--more conservative, more stylish or more casual--than you sport at home. Here are five tips for fading into the crowd.
  1. Cover up (unless you're in Sydney or South Beach). Like several of these tips, this one applies particularly to women (hey, I don't make up the rules; I just report them). In many locales--particularly the Middle East and parts of Asia--bare arms, bare heads, tank tops, short skirts and open-toed shoes are frowned on, if not banned completely. It never hurts to pack a scarf, no matter where you're travelling. (I regretted not having one in my purse during a recent trip to Richmond, B.C., when I visited a Sikh gurdwara where all visitors--male and female--were required to cover their heads.) And no matter where you go, bathing suits are rarely appropriate further than 20 metres from a body of water, unless you're still in nursery school.
  2. Speaking of scarves, make sure you bring one to France. It may be a cliché, but it's a true one: a beautiful scarf is most French women's most important fashion accessory. In Paris, at least, every female over the age of 14--from university students on bikes to elegant grandmothers walking equally elegant dogs--seems to sport one. But don't ask me how to tie one. Despite my best efforts, I always look like an oversized Girl Guide.
  3. Ditch the white running shoes. Sure, they're comfortable. But unless you're running the Boston Marathon, they're like a flashing sign saying "out of towner."
  4. Stow the camera. OK, you'll need to take it out to snap the photo, but try not to leave it hanging around your neck when you're not using it. In many cities, it's an open invitation to muggers.
  5. Leave the flags at home. You rarely see a Canadian flying a flag at home. But put a Canadian on an airplane, and he or she suddenly becomes more patriotic than Johnny Canuck (a genuine Great White North superhero, in case you're wondering). Suddenly, red-and-white maple leaves bloom on every lapel and backpack. It's OK to leave the flags at home, my fellow Canadians. Honestly. They'll know who we are as soon as we open our mouths and say "eh."
photo © Rob Partington for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike


Tess said...

Great advice!!! Thanks - I always HATE looking like a tourist.

Re: the camera. What about a camera bag? Is that ok? Even here at home I now often walk around with mine and keep the camera stowed there till I need it. Of course, that is the advantage of the pocket camera, but Digital SLRs are pretty hard to hide in a pocket *g*.

Laura Byrne Paquet said...

If it's a place where street thefts are common, I'd put any sort of camera in either a knapsack or in an inconspicuous courier bag/briefcase whose strap you can sling across your body. Anything, basically, that disguises the fact that you're carrying a camera and not, say, groceries.

Knapsacks can be awkward if you want quick access to your camera, though, and they can leave you vulnerable to pickpocketing in crowded places. And anything but a camera bag leaves your camera more vulnerable to damage.

If it's a pretty safe area, I'd just go with a regular camera bag--it offers easy access and good protection for electronics.

This is one of the reasons I'm becoming more and more fond of pocket cameras--they're so easy to slip into a coat pocket! But I do still miss my old SLR.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
great post--I agree with all and would add:

watch your tone of voice, body language and gestures. I've been places where a loud snorting public guffaw is out of line (ie, Switzerland) and places where it's the entirely the done thing (ie, Newfoundland). You also need to sensitive to the social mores around personal expression...

And if your readers are interested, I did a blog post about the value of leaving your camera behind in favour of collecting aural memories:


Laura Byrne Paquet said...

Thanks for the comments, Julie. And what a lovely story about the violins! I can picture the scene, even without a camera.

It reminds me of an amazing exhibit I went to at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts years ago; it was an audio-only exhibit of sounds captured in different cities. I loved it.