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Blending In

In some previous posts this has been a point of contention, usually comically so.

Are you successful at blending in to a certain location or culture? If so give us some tips.

Even after eight years of living in Germany it seemed the locals always knew the Hot Wife and me were Americans. I had several German friends but never got a straight answer. They would smile and just say, "I don't know... I can just tell."

Having said that I know the stereotype of Americans sticking out like a sore thumb is too often true and good for a laugh.

And no I wasn't wearing khaki pants and a John Deere hat in Paris, my friends.

Posted by
5569 posts

The biggest giveaway? Americans are loud and apparently oblivious to the fact that we are loud.

Posted by
1976 posts

Carol, from personal experience I agree Americans take the cake in that regard, but the insinuation upsets some people.

Yes, other cultures can be loud but (many) Americans set the standard.

But my question is how people can tell even when we try to blend in? (This is before we talk, of course.)

Posted by
21328 posts

Anyone who sees you eating with a knife and fork will have you pegged immediately, at least as a non-European.

Posted by
1078 posts

I'm not sure what we are doing or not doing, but we seem to blend in pretty well when we are in Europe. Of course, as soon as we speak (whether in English or in the native tongue) it is obvious that we are from an English-speaking country. I can't prove this, but it seems like we have had more interesting interactions with locals because our nationality is not obvious.

Posted by
10129 posts

I am not sure why we blend in, but we are often sought out by locals for directions, whether in Italy, The U.K., France, or Switzerland. Perhaps because my husband wears a European-style flat cap not a billed cap? Because we do not wear logos? Because we seldom have a map in hand as I tend to memorize our path(s) and step aside to a doorway when we need to consult a map rather than stand clueless on a street corner? We carry crossbody bags (hubby too) in cities, rarely back packs.

Posted by
2330 posts

I travel solo, so I rarely get a chance to be loud, which I am generally not, anyway. Although I'm a mix of Hungarian, Estonian and German I have dark curly hair and thus I am most often presumed to be Italian, so I suppose I'm not fooling anyone about being from somewhere else, but because I'm alone it's harder to tell. Pairs or groups of tourists tend to stand out more than someone going about their business as if they live there--e.g. if you're at the Eiffel tower you're probably a tourist, but walking a neighborhood like the Marais, well, you could maybe be a local. I wear the same clothes and shoes as at home and use my same messenger bag--no special travel gear that is an obvious clue. Not avoiding travel gear, I just don't find it suits my particular style. Locals as well as tourists often do approach me, some quite surprised when I say feebly in their language that I don't speak it.

I suppose people who want to blend in are seeking to avoid being targeted for theft, and that right there is a whole other discussion!

Posted by
7275 posts

What is the point of you trying to blend in? From native Chicagoan It is obvious when you don't look like a local here.

I suppose people who want to blend in are seeking to avoid being targeted for theft, and that right there is a whole other discussion!

That does not make sense; it seems you either look like an easy target or you don't.

Posted by
5269 posts

I don't try to blend in, wear cargo khakis and a nylon vest and a baseball cap, all dead giveaways. I'm often carrying a map around the streets, though I tend to retreat to doorways and such to study it. To me "blending in" seems a pointless exercise, nearly impossible to achieve, and for what purpose anyway?

That said, a few weeks ago on my last (solo) day in Rome I was approached on the streets twice by people asking in Italian for directions. Maybe the map attracted them. When I tried to help with my ridiculous Italian they both thanked me and went looking for a native speaker, or someone else anyway. I took some pride in "blending in," if that was what was happening. Maybe I managed to look like an Italian tourist in Rome. Kind of fun, but so what?

Posted by
1955 posts

Various people have told me it's our teeth. Straighter/whiter apparently. So, I started noticing teeth of some Europeans...and, yep, I then understood.

For me, it is also a height issue (tall), unless I am somewhere among those with tall Nordic heritage.

In some locales, it is being thin.

In some locales, it is our smile.

But, typically it is how our hair is cut, our shoes, and, of course, the minute we speak.

Posted by
971 posts

It's the little things. You might not wear the obvious tourist attire, but the clothes you wear will perhaps be a bit different fashionwise. Your build, hair color and facial features might also be slightly different, but enough to stand out.
Tourists also tend to behave different than locals. They will be sightseeing or at least admiring the surroundings in a way that a local, who might see those same streets every day, that you are seeing for the first time.

Posted by
2676 posts

I totally agree with Morten... it's the little things in most cases, although sometimes it's obvious a mile away!

Furthermore, these days, with "globalisation" you have people from all over the world living in most of our major cities, thus, appearance, look or ancestry is no longer a tell-tell sign to distinguish a visitor. Take for example my home city, Barcelona, it has 1.9 million inhabitants: some 300.000 are residents coming from over 120 different nationalities around the world. They live here, grow up here, their kids go to the same schools and learn the same stuff than native Catalans (and Spanish). Many adapt similar routines, similar habits... Thus, even for a born and bred local native it's no longer that obvious to distinguish a resident from a visitor.

Some of the tell-tell signs are related to the way you look at the city, the way you stop here or there to see this or that, the way you enter the metro or board the bus... and obviously, inconsiderately stopping in the middle of the way holding a large map, blocking the left way in the metro escalators, queuing or looking our monuments with a mesmerized look, dressing as if you were visiting a tropical island... these are often very obvious tell-tell signs that you "don't belong", LOL!

Again, if you're visiting smaller cities, or also "inland" cities (as opposed to coastal cities), then it's far more obvious as you easily stand-out from the more "homogeneous" population. For heaven sake, me, I'm Catalan and I also stand-out when I go to certain inland cities here in Catalonia -which is the size of Maryland!

Posted by
6818 posts

Big Mike, have you found the corollary to be true? Knowing when someone you see in West Virginia is a European? Sometimes you just know.

Posted by
1976 posts

Stan, maybe. Usually the tourists have to say something first and then I notice the clothing and mannerisms. We get a fair number of Europeans visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. In Germany I often gave directions but am not sure that means anything. Funny after giving directions in German they would often say "thank you" lol.

Posted by
5727 posts

I know it sounds odd, but you can often tell that a man is German from the shape of his head - this tends not to be applicable to women plus his colouring, moustache and build.

The Dutch are usually tall.

We didn’t see any bald locals (obviously men!) in Budapest.

Americans can usually be identified by their hair styles and footwear.

All generalisations...

Posted by
6951 posts

Maybe it's the shaved legs and shaved armpits of your Hot Wife that's giving you away in Germany.

I just wear business casual clothes every day of my life (when not at home), and I make no wardrobe changes for where I happen to be.

Posted by
1976 posts

I tease my wife about being a corn fed Ohio farm girl.

Then again I'm from West Virginia where the jokes about us hicks are endless.

I did notice more German women shaving legs and pits than in past years.

Posted by
504 posts

I live in Washington, DC. Most of the tourists are American. Even so, it's not difficult for locals to spot them. I expect that foreign tourists are doubly easy to spot, in any city.

I don't understand why you would want to pretend to be something you aren't. Not flaunting your difference is one thing, but disguising it is another.

Posted by
1650 posts

Blending in is that travelers respect the country they are visiting.

Blending in could be that a traveler try to learn some words or phrases to show the host country you are appreciative of their language and customs.

Blending in is accepting the host's country way of doing things - for example, "tipping" is one of the biggest controversies.

Blending in is enjoying the culture. Don't try to be someone you are not.

eta: My family came right from Italy. But, I was born in America. Even though I have an "Italian bloodline," I am American first. I am proud of both heritages and celebrate both.

Posted by
1650 posts

Uh oh. I think someone did not have any turkey leftovers and may be a bit cranky.

Posted by
8515 posts

Could someone tell me why my Parisian-born-and-raised husband is often spoken to in English and sometimes at first glance assumed to be a foreigner when in France? He’s short, teeth imperfect, doesn’t need a map and carries himself confidently. Maybe we are reading too much into all this. Big Mike loves stirring the pot.

Posted by
1650 posts

I'm just a poor white boy from the Allegheny.

Mike....hmm. Pleading ignorance? lol. Nah, you have the wooden spoon in the pot hoping it will boil faster ;)

Wondering why you didn't post this in the "general Europe" forum. lol.

Posted by
95 posts

I suspect that I am guilty of confirmation bias.

As an example, this week I was at a pub quiz night. There was a team of 3 holidaying Texan men. In my mind, one of them looked SO American. Side parted hair hidden by baseball cap, baggy toddler shorts, big head...he physically took up a lot of space (not because of his size, but his demeanour). He slapped his thigh when he laughed, ate his food in an American way (shovelling and fast) and seemed to be unashamed of letting everyone know he was there in a really overt way, which is just somehow culturally different.

But...he was with two friends...also American ....and they looked completely 'normal' and 'blended in'. I just chose to ignore that as it didn't fit my 'American tourist' vibe. Shame on me.

Moral of the story, for every American not blending in, there's probably at least two others blending in just fine!

Posted by
8187 posts

Trying to remember the last time I saw a German woman with unshaved legs and armpits? David from Alabama, isn't this an old myth from the 50's maybe? Belongs with the don't wear jeans or white tennis shoes garbage bin. Also, there are women all over the world who do not feel the need to shave, including America.

How to blend. (in Germany at least)
Male or female, wear a scarf. Men, go to a barber here and don't part your hair. Walk like you know where you are going. Don't do the tourist clutch on your bag or purse. Wear a messenger bag, cross body and then you don't have to clutch at it. Relax a little. Buy a cloth shopping bag from the grocery store. Carry a local newspaper. Wear any kind of shoe you like, the rest of Europe is buying the same shoes. Don't wear parachute pants. If you are wearing pants with a gathered top, don't tuck your shirt into it. Wear shirts or blouses rather than t-shirts or sweat shirts. Don't wear a Tilly hat or those multi-pocket vests. Dark colors and leather are popular as all get out, but you don't have to wear them. Practice eating without cutting all your food up first (like a child) or switching your utensils back and forth after cutting up each bite of food. It just looks weird to do this. It isn't tough and once you learn this, you will forever wonder why you did it the other way. Don't use your thumb to push food onto your fork. Don't use hand sanitizer at the table or anyplace else in public. Don't leave the tip on the table in restaurants.

Most Germans do not know which English speaking country you are from. You could be from the UK or Australia. They do not know the different accents any more than you know they are from Bavaria, Frankfurt or Berlin when they speak, though every German knows this.

At the end of the day, though, it just doesn't matter. Wear what you like, as no one cares. My tips are just to let you know this is what is different and that it isn't jeans, white shoes or shaved legs.

Posted by
2676 posts

As a good friend of mine who worked and lived around the World all her life once said to me: "There's a difference between a tourist and a traveller, and when you understand this, you'll then blend in and be welcome anywhere you go"

Posted by
1976 posts

Gira, I didn't consider the General Europe option. Thanks. Next time. Thinking is hard and not my forte.

Nowadays I bridge the gap by just dressing conservatively relative to the country I'm in. Somewhere between blending and looking like the American stereotype. It is mildly amusing to see the stereotype alive and kicking. Or better yet someone trying too hard to look American.

Posted by
98 posts

I like trying to blend in. Luckily I have bad teeth and am only 5'9"- ish on a good day.

I find it easier to blend in outside of touristy areas. We were in Venice and Florence and no way were we blending in. But, when in Bologna and Ferrara I had 2 different encounters with Italians asking for directions even though I wasn't carrying a map, or cellphone. Also got to the point where we could mingle with the staff in grocery stores and place small orders at the deli-type counter without pegging us for Americani...or maybe they were just humoring us...who knows for sure.

We also spent 45 minutes eating dinner beside a couple from England where She Say and I spoke a mix of Italian, Spanish, French and German to each other until the other couple got up the nerve to try and speak with us and we broke out in English. Maybe it's easier to trick fellow English speakers.

To those who are curious why you would want to blend in, I can't speak for others, but for me I spend 9 months planning my trips to include studying the language and culture. Once I hit the ground it's like a Final Exam to see how well I did.

We did encounter a strange young couple in Cinque Terre that seemed to want to overachieve (or at least go about it differently than most) on the blending in. She Say and I were sitting on the roof-top balcony of our hotel and the couple came up the stairs. We greeted them with Buongiornos and they replied back with strange English accents, "Halloh". We switched into English and the wife's accent quickly disappeared...the man tried to keep the accent going for a while...when we inevitably got to asking where we were all from the man explained they were from Philadelphia, PA...when queried about the accents and pretending they were from England he seemed embarrassed and said it 'was easier than saying America'...never did question why...anyway....we were in Monterosso and it being a small town and them staying at the same hotel we bumped into them 3 or 4 more times...was a lot of fun catching them off guard with a Cheerio Guvnor! or Top o' the Morning to ya!

Posted by
8293 posts

I don’t know whether or not I blend in when I travel. I don’t “blend in” in my own French speaking majority city so it is not something I ever think about when in Europe. I don’t understand why this is of interest. Is blending in good for the ego?

Posted by
1650 posts

There will be classless people from all over the World. Just do the best you can representing your own country.

I feel very fortunate that I was brought up to not have any prejudices nor be racist - stemming as far back to both sets of Grandparents' generation.

Here's an idea...how about people take a cue from this artist - go and enjoy the World!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECGQJKfAlRM

Posted by
2664 posts

Girasolic, I like what you said about when you are in a country accepting that country ways. I read a lot of times where people go on holiday (for example let’s use England), they come home and they don’t like the bathtubs there the sides to high, they complain about the food, no air conditioning, etc., I feel that the beauty of going to a different country is experiencing the differences. If I want everything like home I would stay home.

Posted by
13762 posts

I suggest wearing Wrangler jeans with Lucchese Ostrich boots; and either a silver beaver or a red baseball cap with a tasteful "45" on it. No better way to start conversations with locals.

Posted by
6818 posts

Yep, Branson is where real average Americans go, not NYC. Go to the Yakov Smirnoff theater and he'll explain how all this blending-in stuff works.

Posted by
15072 posts

I don't blend in here in Israel, where I've lived most of my adult life. Half the time, clerks and waiters talk to me in English.

Posted by
2930 posts

I blend with a couple of my friends. Otherwise, I think I blended best in Sweden and that was refreshing as they had my sense of humor. I haven't tried to blend in since I was a teenager...que sera, sera. No one ever knows what I am, even at home, and that is fine. I'm an individual.

Posted by
504 posts

How do you know? Do you interview them? Or you just assume?<<

Everybody who lives within 30 miles of the White House has to have an RFID chip implanted behind the left ear for security purposes. So, yes, we can check. :)

Seriously, the point is that there are myriad of small behavioral traits that locals anywhere take for granted. They may not even think about them, but they can spot someone who doesn't have them. No, it's not foolproof, but it works more often then not. Besides, if you're taking at museums, cathedrals, or monuments taking pictures, you're a tourist (at least for the day). I don't think it's possible to blend in.

I agree that you should dress and act respectfully. You shouldn't flaunt your nationality. I disagree that it's desirable or even possible to blend in. Again, there are always exceptions, but that is the general state.

Posted by
3493 posts

I do not own any white shoes of any kind.

I do not own any "travel clothes" of any kind. No zip off trousers. no floppy hat, no hundred pocket vest.

I do not wear a fanny pack/waist wallet.

I am not constantly having my face pasted into a map or guide book.

I am not trying to "blend", yet I constantly get mistaken for a local. People seem surprised when they ask me for help with directions that I am as lost as they are. I don't worry about it. I'm sure that if someone really wanted to know if I am a local or not, they could easily find out.

Posted by
1894 posts

I don't try to blend in at all, but I inevitably get asked for directions in Italian towns by other tourists.
I don't have a clue why anyone would think I was Italian.
They try their Italian first.
An American couple in Venice last year tried, in not bad Italian , to ask me the way to the Jewish Ghetto.
I let them talk for a few minutes, then said I was not Italian, in English.
The look on their faces was priceless.

Posted by
13762 posts

I am not constantly having my face pasted into a map or guide
book.

I am not trying to "blend", yet I constantly get mistaken for a local. People seem surprised when they ask me for help with
directions that I am as lost as they are.

Is there a lesson there?

Posted by
3493 posts

Well. I know where I am going. Doesn't mean I can help you get where you need to be. Lost is a relative term :-)

Posted by
13026 posts

I wear the white tennis shoes and a fanny/waist belt (Eagle Creek). When I intentionally want the restaurant to know my nationality, specifically, what I do is to give a MC or Visa card to the waiter that has either California or a US flag/colors, something that is a dead-give away so that the waiter knows I'm from here, did that twice in France in 2003 (the year of the US Iraq). Seeing the US credit card, they asked me if I was from Texas.

Posted by
343 posts

I travel a lot and never try to "blend in". I'm from the United States and wherever I go I don't try to be anything else or even think about being anything else. What do I care if someone in Italy knows I'm not from there? Even when I travel in the States, it's obvious that I'm not from the places that I'm visiting. I'm going to the tourist sites, after all.

I dress the same way I do at home and that's for my own comfort. If I wear a Tilley it's to keep the sun off my eyes and I need it whether I'm in Hawaii, Germany, or South Africa.

Posted by
13026 posts

If the German is from Bavaria, I will know s/he is not from Berlin or Frankfurt. If they are from, say Rosenheim or Landsberg, etc, that can be distinguished easily as from being from Frankfurt or Giessen or Berlin.

Posted by
87 posts

I'm a woman and six feet tall. I've never blended in anywhere. Currently in Turin, which doesn't seem to get a big tourist crowd in early December. On the tram earlier today, I noticed that I was several inches taller than everyone else, men included. This came in handy when the tram got full and several older ladies needed their passes validated. I think I did five of them. We all had a good laugh. I assume their comments (in Italian, of course) were along the lines of "Long arms for the win!"

Posted by
8187 posts

Hate to tell everyone that thinks wearing a hip pack/waist pack gives you away as an American. It doesn't in Germany, where they sell them like hotcakes and all the teens are wearing them.

Posted by
13026 posts

@ BigMike....I'll give you one tip, even though there are lots of tips.

The tip: When you sit down for a meal, eat German style. Practice using the knife and fork Germany style until it becomes second nature, to use that generic phrase. Use German table manners, work at it, and drink beer (if you do) in the manner they do.

Posted by
5697 posts

Good tip, Fred. After eating European-style for a few weeks, I feel odd switching hands to eat a bite of food -- knife in the right, fork in the left is SO much more reasonable.

Posted by
13026 posts

@ Laura...Once I got the hang of it eating German style on my first trip, I never switched back. Prior to arriving there I had practiced it but seeing it over and over on the trip helps a lot.

Posted by
1799 posts

I have been in milan a couple of times. I felt conspicuously like a tourist. Why? Because I was wearing walking shoes in awe of the local women walking around in heels.

Of course, I don’t wear shoes like those at home either.

The women just were far more stylish than I would ever be.

Posted by
11464 posts

It's all of Europe that eats without changing hands like we do and not just the Germans. I prefer to call it European style.

Posted by
11464 posts

It's all of Europe that eats without changing hands like we do and not just the Germans. I prefer to call it European style.

And as much as I try, I always seem to mindlessly revert back to what I know.

Posted by
95 posts

Does any other country use a knife and fork like the USA?
South America?
Canada?

Posted by
11464 posts

No other country as far as I know changes hands while using cutlery.

But before you pass judgement, you should know the reason we do so.

You may have heard that in the 1770's, the American colonies were having a bit of a problem with the mother country. We were overtaxed and had no representatives in Parliament. Many Americans wanted to rebel but in a "quiet" way.

One thing they could do, and let other sympathizers know their feelings, was to change hands while eating.

Posted by
1848 posts

Girasoli’s first post was spot on. I don’t mind being pegged as an American, but I’d like to be viewed as a respectful American. I don’t think we fool the natives, but we often have other tourists approach for directions (I watch out for scammers though). We did have a waitress in an off the beaten track launch into the lunch specials in French. She saw my quizzical expression, smiled, the said “OK, once more in English”.

I’m a snob and I’m proud of it. My first trip to Europe was in 1966 on a high school trip. The science teacher who took 8 of us had us spend months preparing. Part of what we learned was how to appreciate other cultures and be respectful towards them. I’m distressed when I see boorish Americans overseas. I’m also distressed when I see them in the states.

Posted by
313 posts

Very interesting question here, BM, and also some intriguing replies. Whereas we used to concern ourselves with some degree of blending in during travel, nowadays our norm is instead to just be respectful and damn the torpedoes. Our view: better to be comfortable in one's own skin, than worry about the colour of one's Adidas.
Btw, I wear a Tilly hat during all our travels. Those of us who have survived skin cancer have no choice, really. And if someone somewhere wants to peg me as a certain sort, merely by my fashion, then they are not likely to be the kind of local whom I'd care to meet anyway.
That being said, here's a quasi-related story. We were once strolling a mid-Eastern market amid the crowds. Someone nearby (a vendor? their rascal teen nephew?) was blasting Led Zep's 'Dazed & Confused' at maximum volume on their ghetto blaster. Having once had a career in a rock band, I couldn't help but grin. But the grin disappeared later that hour when some unseen man kept shouting our way, "Georjeh Boooojsh!!" I looked nothing like Bush, not even close. The recognition of us as North Americans (see 'opposite of blending in') was a tad unsettling, but luckily nothing more came of it.
I am done. The end.

Posted by
13026 posts

My teacher in college related to us how Germans use the fork and knife combination. I started practicing at it even though at that time I still could not imagine going over there. By the time of the first trip in 1971, I was adept enough at eating German style but watching "them" over there obviously helped even more. True, practice makes perfect.

Posted by
1247 posts

It's probably a mixture of my upbringing and unobservant nature but I've never noticed the impractical use of a knife and fork in America. Now I fear this disease may have spread to Canada without me knowing. I'll have to check it out.

Posted by
11978 posts

I don't mind being recognized as an American in the least. I do want to be seen as some combination of polite, respectful, kind and friendly. I've been mistaken for a local many times, probably because I'm fairly average looking, not overweight and wear slimmer fitting clothes. Generally once I open my mouth, they know I'm American.

In Italy, they praised my Italian incessantly - probably because they'd rarely hear an American even attempt to speak Italian.

In France, my accent is bad enough to be an embarrassment. Even if I know/say the correct words, it doesn't sound at all local.

I might have done okay in Spain, if anyone actually spoke the same Spanish I grew up with (they didn't).

I did an exchange with the German Air Force for which I prepped daily for months. When I arrived, I'd say something to someone in German and they'd reply in English. After a couple weeks, people started replying in German so I figured I'd improved substantially. Of course you then go to another part of Germany or Austria and have to start over.

In Amsterdam, I had just picked up a car and got pulled over by a couple cops on bicycles. The car had French plates. When they spoke to me, however, they started with "Where are you from?" in English.

Posted by
1955 posts

(Jokingly) to Brad,
In Amsterdam they could tell you were NOT a local, because you were not on a bike :) otherwise, you may have rolled along undetected :) :)

I agree.....no problem, and proud to be a visiting American, and even prouder to be thought of as a polite, interested one.