By following these 5 tips to fit in with the locals you can have a more authentic experience when traveling abroad. I call this: avoiding the tourist lane.
Big cities like New York, Rome, Paris, Barcellona, and Mexico City have a huge tourism industry and people are hungry to get their piece of the action. These cities have two ways to be experienced, or two lanes, the lane for the tourists (exit through the gift shop please), and the lane for the locals, the insiders. I dont know about you, but when I travel I aim to have a culturally immersive exterience and I try to avoid the tourist lane at all costs.
We have all heard the expression ugly American, the question is – have you been one?
Regardless of what country you are traveling to, whether it be a European destination like Italy, Germany, France or Spain, or somewhere like Mexico these general tips will steer you in the right direction.
I was recently travelling in Italy and spent 10 days in Rome. I noticed that when I had my kids and wife with me people harassed us the whole time “Sir, would you like to eat here,” “please buy this rose,” “Hello madame, w0uld you like to sit down for a drink” – it was constant and pretty annoying.
When I would go out by myself, it all stopped. It made walking around the city much more enjoyable.
Another example of this was when I was on a trip to Amsterdam with my dad in the winter. The city was covered in snow and beautiful. People where constantly harassing us in English, pegging us as tourists. I watched a local guy bike past us with no scarf and hat, I looked at my father and myself and realized we were completely bundled up (it was freezing). As soon as I took my beanie hat off people started talking to me in Dutch. I couldn’t understand anything, but I was pleased. I had left the tourist lane.
5 TIPS FOR FITTING IN WITH THE LOCALS:
- Learn very basic expressions in the local language well
- Avoid places that solicit your business in English
- Learn the local folkways, mores, taboos, and laws
- Get off the beaten path
- Live like a local
Fit in with the locals by learning very Basic Expressions:
Learn how to say “No thank you,” basic greetings, and practice these expressions with a tutor before you leave. The most important expressions to learn, that allow you t teach yourself the language while traveling are the all important “how do you say ____?” and “what does _____ mean?” Those two expressions, along with repeating unknown words back to the speaker (parroting), literally give you the keys to a language.
Avoid places that solicit your business in English:
If a local restaurant is good, chances are they will not have to pay someone to stand outside and solicit your business. Many older (better) restaurants are pushed out of tourist areas because of higher rents. Touristy restaurants move in and to pay the higher rents have to aggressively push their food to passersby. Another dead give away is if the menu is in English only. Try some street food. Look for lines. Look at who is sitting at the establishment (are they locals?).
Fit in with the locals by learning the local folkways, mores, taboos, and laws:
Time for a little sociology refresher:
Sociologists speak of at least four types of norms: folkways, mores, taboos, and laws. Folkways, sometimes known as “conventions” or “customs,” are standards of behavior that are socially approved but not morally significant. For example, belching loudly after eating dinner at someone else’s home breaks an American folkway. Mores are norms of morality. Breaking mores, like attending church in the nude, will offend most people of a culture. Certain behaviors are considered taboo, meaning a culture absolutely forbids them, like incest in U.S. culture. Finally, laws are a formal body of rules enacted by the state and backed by the power of the state. source
Basically you should make yourself aware of the things you should never do in that culture (France, Italy for example). These are simple things, but effect how you are treated – and how you feel. For example people rarely use ice in Italy and France – requesting ice water is seen as a headache and inconvenience to waiters (typical American!). Learning folkways isn’t easy, but meeting with a private teacher is a good way to learn them while also learning some basics of the language.
Get off the beaten path:
Ever notice that some streets are full of tourists? Take a turn and go the road less travelled. If you notice a ton of tourists, know that you have entered the tourist lane. Choose wisely. Definitely dont stop to eat, see what you came to see then get out of there!
Live like a local:
Want to really experience a city and fit in with the locals? Skip the hotel and instead book a house or apartment on Airbnb. Hotels are definitely in the tourist lane. You may not be as comfortable – but you will connect more deeply with the soul and feeling of the city.