The journey of a thousand miles begins with...the perfect pair of shoes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to blend

I am proud to be an American. Super proud, BUT when living or traveling abroad, it's best not to look like an American. I know that sounds crazy, because you're thinking, what? WHY? There are always people out there who, for whatever reason, hate Americans and will take any given opportunity to either do us harm or use us for their own purposes. On our TV, we are constantly getting commercials (in place of what we would see in the US) warning us not to stick out or be the "obvious American." Europe is mostly safe, but better to be cautious. So, here are a few tricks for not being the obvious American:

1. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER wear white sneakers, gym shoes, tennis shoes (whatever you call them). Ever. You might as well be waving the American flag and singing the national anthem. Nothing says "Hey, I'm an American" more than white sneakers. Yes, they might be comfy, but just don't do it (my apologies to Nike). If you must wear sneakers (hey, I do a lot of walking, so I'm feeling you on this), you can get away with Skechers (there is a European brand called Rieker which is very similar), but don't get white ones. You could go with these, these, or even these. If you really want to "blend" go for a funky color like these from Til Schweiger, but I won't.

2. Boots are better, so in the fall and winter, wear those. It doesn't matter how high the heel is, just wear boots. If you can tuck your pants into them, even better.

3. Wear a scarf. A silky, wildly colored one it the spring and summer and a warm one during the fall and winter. During the fall and winter it should be either a funky color of striped. Bonus points if it's both.

4. Carry a bag (plastic or canvas that has obviously been used many times) with a loaf of bread sticking out the top. Seriously, Germans (Europeans in general, really) always seem to be carrying a loaf of bread. They have great bread over here so I don't blame them.

5. Don't make eye contact unless it's to scowl at someone. Why? No idea, just trust me.

6. Don't smile at anyone. Ever. Okay, that's not entirely true. They do smile sometimes, but not as freely as we do in America. I really have to reign this in because I'm a smiler. It makes the Germans nervous. They scoot away from me on the bus if they catch me smiling at them. On the up side, if I want more room on the bus or train, I just smile at someone and they scoot away like I have the plague. Or American cooties. Either way, more room for me.

7. Don't giggle, gawk and point at the topless billboards. They're everywhere. Get used to it.

8. Learn a few words and phrases in their language. Almost all Europeans speak English. If they tell you they don't, they are lying because they don't want to deal with you. It's true. If you learn a few polite phrases (good morning, please, thank you, goodbye, have a good day, etc), and use them, they will appreciate the effort and be much friendlier. They will also give you a look that says 'Please quit butchering my language you silly American, I speak English. Probably better than you.' and usually respond in English.

9. Look bored and irritated at the world.

10. Suck in your cheeks. Okay, I'm kidding here, but Europeans have wonderfully sharp cheekbones (as a general rule) and our round, multi-ethnic, American faces are easy to pick out. If you happen to have great cheekbones, you are in luck.

This was me 2 days ago when I went out. Things to note:

1. Boots, NOT sneakers. It would have been better if I'd tucked them in, but I had on boot cut jeans and there was too much fabric.

2. A striped and funky colored scarf.

3. A bag with a loaf of bread sticking out. It was delicious, BTW.

4. No eye contact!

5. I look slightly angry and irritated with the world in general.

So, the next time you travel abroad, you'll know how to blend in with the locals and look like you belong. Safety first! Or in the immortal words of (fake!) Mad Eye Moody "Constant Vigilance!"


Fiona said...

Hilarious! And so true.

I would add 2 things:

1. In some countries (like France), women will blend better with lipstick and some discreet jewelry. Being schleppy does not fly.

2. Do not go out with wet hair in the morning. This is an obvious signal that A) you shower in the morning (American!) and B) you are terribly informal (American!).

Constant Vigilance!

Ells said...

You have hit the nail on the head... several times! Can I add a few more? Walk purposefully. Try not to look lost, even if you are. DO NOT under any circumstances carry your camera on a strap around your neck. Try not to carry your camera visibly at all. Stopping in the middle of the street to stare directly up at buildings or church steeples is a dead giveaway. :)

Rue said...

Good to know! Rich said he still wore his white sneakers LOL Men! They're so stuborn :)

Oh and I love my bookshelves! I just suck at decorating them.


KimAustin said...

Hi Kate,

Don't forget to walk around with the wicker grocery basket and your wallet in the basket, take your shopping cart and be sure to push and shove it and knock it into other peoples' carts to get into line to check out. I was always told, don't be offended, it's the German way. Really kind of fun when you get used to it! When are you going to call? Tell M I am coming to visit!


Allison said...

I just happened on your blog via Blog Around the World..

Your list CRACKS me up! It is SO true. Especially the part about the bag with bread :) hehehe.

Becca said...

OK, I know I'm late on this, but I just found your blog. We're moving to Schweinfurt in a few months and just this week I have:

1. been knitting a string bag for the sole purpose of carrying a baguette
2. bought olive green Sketchers because I'd heard about the white sneakers thing.
3. finished knitting a scarf to be worn with European flair
4. worked on learning German so that I can at least TRY to communicate.

I'm glad to know that I'm right on track!!

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