You know the saying “Why try to blend in when you were born to stand out”? Well let’s just forget about that for now. While that’s a great way to live when you’re in your home environment, it’s really not the best approach to take when you’re abroad. First of all, it’s in the interest of safety to avoid looking like a tourist. Plus, acting like a local is going to give you a better, more authentic experience abroad.
Acting like a local really just comes down to paying attention. The best way to blend in is simply to be observant, and do as the Romans do. With simple observation you’ll pick up on cultural norms in no time, and avoid potentially unsafe situations.
Here’s how to master the art of blending in when you’re abroad.
Dress the Part
This is one of the quickest ways you can be spotted as a foreigner in a new country. This looks different in every country, but observe and emulate the local style. Just adapt to the environment; like if you don’t see anyone wearing short dresses and sandals, maybe don’t wear a short dress and sandals…
Walk with a Purpose
Walk confidently, and keep your head up. If you get lost, try not to show it. Resist the urge to pull out your map (paper or mobile), and instead ask a local for directions. Try saying excuse me in the native language before asking your question, and they’re probably going to help you out.
Go Where the Locals Go
In the morning, grab your coffee from the locally-owned café. Supplement your groceries with fresh produce from neighborhood markets. And meet up with friends in popular spaces like public piazzas and parks. If you’re a student, study in public libraries or in university areas.
Eat Where (and When) the Locals Do
There are a couple good clues to help you avoid tourist trap restaurants—such as giant menus written in English displayed outside. “Touristy” restaurants aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re usually more expensive, and don’t always serve the most authentic food. Start asking around to find the true local favorites. Also pay attention to the typical meal times in the country. If it’s custom to have dinner around 8 or 9pm, you’ll probably be the only one in the restaurant if you go to eat at 6pm.
Lower the Volume
Let’s just be frank. Americans are known for being loud when they go abroad. Even if you think that the locals in your host country are just as loud, there’s a key difference. A local speaking loudly in the native language blends in. An American being the only one in the room/on the street speaking loudly in English does not.
Learn Your Cheat Phrases
Store up a few of those go-to phrases that you use in everyday scenarios. For example, I started greeting the person who rung up my groceries every day with a simple “Good evening, how are you?” in the local language. I never understood his responses, but he did start waving to me whenever I passed the store on my way home and that small acknowledgement always gave me a little vote of confidence.
Use Public Transportation
If you really want to integrate into your host city, use their method of transportation. Joining the commuters on the train or bus also gives you a great opportunity for people-watching.
Feeling empowered to try living abroad? Better get packing!
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