I used to marvel at how people in foreign countries would start speaking to me in English.
Example: my family and I walk into a restaurant in Seville during our first trip to Spain. The waiter comes to our table and says, “Something to drink?”
And I’m thinking, ‘How did he know we speak English?’
However, after living for three years in Spain, I now understand things that I did not understand then. There are so many things that we all do that make it extremely obvious where we’re from. It’s little things, and we don’t know that we’re doing them, but we are immediately labeled in the locals’ eyes as ‘tourists’.
This is not always a bad thing. However, in some parts of Europe you may face a certain type of discrimination which translates to begrudging service and unfriendly locals. Why so? Because there are extremely rude tourists that give the rest of us world travelers a bad rap. Also, if you are obviously a tourist you may be more of a target for pickpocketing.
So, what can you do to avoid being associated with ‘tourists’ and be treated better by the locals? Here’s our top tips for how to fit in wherever you go in Europe!
Change Your Pace
Coming from the northeastern United States, I had a hard time adjusting to the slower pace of life in southern Spain. In general, things are a lot more relaxed in European countries. People take a little bit more time to enjoy life, and are in general much less in a hurry. So basically: relax! If things aren’t happening in the time you expect them to, you need to adjust your expectations.
Blend in… Literally!
Your clothing says a lot about you. If you’re wearing a baggy T-shirt, or a Hawaiian shirt, and shorts, you’re a tourist. We see it so much here in the south of Spain! Europeans tend to dress a bit nicer than we’re used to in the States, and you will see a greater amount of women wearing dresses and men with dress shirts and slacks during the day.
Also, try to adjust to the climate. For example, what do you do when it’s warm and you’re tempted to wear shorts, but everyone outside is wearing long pants? Well, make sure you have some light long pants and blend in. This also will help you avoid too much sun exposure. (Sunburns aren’t fun.)
Check out what the locals are wearing, and see if you can accessorize like them, such as with hats or scarves. Avoid shoes that are meant for exercise, like sneakers (unless you actually plan on exercising), as well as baseball caps, fanny packs, and blatantly labeled brand names from other countries. If you decide to wear all of these things in a European city like Barcelona, you might as well just yell out “TOURIST” every once in a while. The effect would be the same.
What Are You Eating?
Part of the experience of traveling is getting to taste new and ‘exotic’ foods. You’ll be surprised at how different the food can be in other countries, and how delicious it is! We are not talking about going into the French McDonald’s. There is so much food that is incredible and different in European countries, and each is unique and
Typical (and delicious!) Spanish paella.
special in its own way! Truly enjoying your trip means getting out of your comfort zone and really getting involved in where you are, including in its food!
Find out before your trip what the typical foods of your travel destinations are, and make sure to try them while you’re there!
Also, keep in mind that in many European countries, lunch is eaten between 1:00 to 2:00pm, and dinner won’t start before 7:00 or 8:00pm.
Do What the Locals Do
Keep in mind that local customs in Europe will change drastically depending on which country you are visiting, and even depending on what part of that country! So make sure to research local customs of specific places.
One general rule: most European cities will have a bicycle lane next to the street that is at the same level as the sidewalk. Do not walk in the bicycle lane. It’s basically the same as walking in the street.
Know Before You Go
Spending your day with your map in one hand and your camera in the other is just asking for trouble. Instead, study your route before you leave the hotel, or download maps on your phone when you have WiFi. This also works with travel guidebooks.
Also, be sure to learn key phrases in the language of the country where you’re going. Keep some of them written down on your phone, with phonetic pronunciation. (In my opinion, this is especially important in France. I made such a fool of myself with my horrible French pronunciation, although I think they appreciated the effort!)
Learning some words doesn’t mean that you’ll actually fool them into thinking you’re a local, but when you put forth a bit of effort to communicate, they’ll return the favor.
So there you go, our top tips to avoid looking like a tourist! What other things have you tried to do to blend in? If you live abroad, what do you see tourists doing near you? Let us know in the comments!