How to Look Like a Local When Traveling Overseas

June 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Many travelers are surprised when they’re greeted in English while traveling abroad. One of our colleagues used to get frustrated whenever he would travel to Germany and the Netherlands, and then be greeted in English. His goal was to pass as a local, so it would bothered him that people could tell immediately.

Haarlem, Netherlands - Kleine Houtstraat

Kleine Houtstraat in Haarlem, Netherlands

If you’ve ever wondered, “How did they know?” and wanted to blend in a bit, here are a few tips from veteran travelers. Taking the time to educate yourself before leaving home will allow you to navigate your new city or country with the finesse of a local.

First, learn a few key phrases, such as “please” and “excuse me.” Even if you don’t manage the correct pronunciation, natives are impressed by the effort and courage. One of those small social exchanges may lead to a beautiful connection.

Second, dress like the locals. Pay attention to these: amount of skin coverage, common color choices, and how form-fitting the apparel is. In other words, you may want to cinch up your pants and ditch the baseball cap so that you can take a stroll without being besieged by vendors who target tourists. Even your shoes can make a difference. If you want to blend in more easily, get a pair of shoes from one of the local shops.

Third, familiarize yourself with cultural norms so you don’t accidentally offend someone. There are many books and online forums that spell out how much eye contact is too much, whether or not to offer a handshake when meeting, and what topics are taboo in conversation.

Similarly, be aware of social customs for shopping and dining. Is it expected that you greet the shopkeeper when you enter? Is bartering on price acceptable? Do you seat yourself in a restaurant or always wait for the maître d’? Read up on these practices and you’ll less likely be looked on as an outsider.

Finally, turn down the volume and respect personal space. Americans tend to speak a little louder than other cultures, so being aware of your volume while dining out or in the market will make you less identifiable as a tourist. We also tend to be physically demonstrative, whereas many other cultures reserve physical touch to more familiar, intimate relationships. Keep your gestures smaller and to a minimum, and you won’t be as easy to spot.

Do you have any helpful hints for blending into the local environs? Leave us your thoughts and tips in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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