Everyone wants to fit like a glove when they travel. Often this doesn’t happen though. Sometimes the rejection can even be quite brutal (especially if you’re American).
This is summed up hilariously by TikTok user @maraleebell, an American who lives in France, and has a video series of herself trying to “not look American” in France.
In the videos (see below), @maraleebell can be seen doing a skit in which she asks a supermarket worker “where are the green beans” only to be fixed with an icy stare (because she forgot to say: “bonjour”). In another she can be seen at a dinner party, where she says “good evening” to a new acquaintance only to be told, “you are American.”
This makes her think: “Ugh, how do they always know?”
“Yes, I am American. My name is maralee. Can I ask: ‘how did you know? What gave me away?'”
“The teeth. All Americans have the big shiny teeth. Very white.”
Though maralee thought this might be a positive stereotype, one TikTok commenter suggested otherwise, writing: “It’s not a compliment. The French says if your teeth don’t show you eat desserts, coffee or smoke you haven’t begin living.”
“It’s because they smile so much it’s like they are trying to catch flies,” proffered another.
Another commenter wrote; “French people; ‘we’re not mean.’ Also French people: ALWAYS ATTITUDE TO STRANGERS.”
This might seem trivial, but it proves an important point: part of the joy of travelling is in not being accepted. That’s what makes it rewarding when it actually happens.
Also: if everyone was friendly, it would all be a bit bland wouldn’t it? The same goes for if everyone ate lunch and dinner at the same time (as you can see in the video below, in which TikTok user @hrcreates compares the UK to Spain), or if every countries’ shops had the same opening hours.
So maybe the next time you are off abroad, forget the blogs explaining how you can “pass for a local in just 5 easy steps,” and embrace the rejection. As Wim Hof might say, it’s bracing.
Also: consider staying for longer. As Nomadic Matt points out, this can be make or break (“It wasn’t until my third visit to Sweden that I finally felt I got sense of the nation’s distinct culture,” he once wrote).
He also wrote: “Bonding over beers with some guys you meet at the pub is different than being asked if you want to join the family for dinner on Sunday. One is in a public space, the other private.”
Another good piece of advice for feeling like a local is not to separate yourself with money – a common mistake many travellers make. If you wouldn’t stay in a 5-star hotel in your home city, and wouldn’t usually eat in Michelin star restaurants, many of the locals you might click with probably aren’t going to be doing that in their home city, while you’re out there living (temporarily) beyond your means.
Of course, this must be balanced with the idea that you might see your holidays as a chance to treat yourself. But if you’re looking to meet people, try hanging out in places people can afford to hang out in regularly.
Otherwise, strap yourself in and prepare for a verbal bruising. And remember that things you initially find annoying or challenging, once you get used to them, will give you a smug sense of superiority when new expats arrive and struggle with them…
Another good thing to keep in mind is that a lot of stereotypes are overblown. As one New York Times article once put it: “I have lots of anecdotal stories about friendly or rude people all over the world, but that’s just it, they’re anecdotal. They have to be. So if someone tells you, ‘Oh, don’t go there, those people were rude to me on my vacation,’ all that says is that person met someone rude. Nothing more. I’ve encountered rude people in countries known to be super friendly, and I met countless friendly people in countries known for being rude.”
“It’s all just stereotypes. However, when you’re traveling, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re a visitor. It all may seem wondrous to you, but to them it’s their home. Treating it, and them, with respect will go a long way.”
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