Have you ever been abroad and felt like people were talking about you in another language?
Well, if you’re dressed like a typical American tourist, that paranoia may be justified.
Kate Kuhlman showcases some of the bigger offenses she witnessed, and shares her five lessons on fitting in on your European vacation.
Lesson #1: The things you carry
Nothing says “tourist” more than backpacks and fanny packs. Backpacks are very easy for pickpockets to get access to your belongings.
And do you remember your school days? The bigger the bag, the more you’ll be tempted to pack in, leading to inevitable back pain.
Why would you do that to yourself on vacation?
Do I really need to explain the problem with fanny packs?
Ladies, if you don’t want to stand out, I would suggest a small cross-body purse that can’t be easily snatched off your shoulder.
Make sure the purse zips shut; no snaps or totes that leave your belongings exposed.
Fellas, metrosexuality aside, “man bags” are the way to go (don’t worry, they’re still all the rage in Europe). A man bag or a satchel is quite stylish and not to be avoided, especially if you can find a classy leather one.
Now, if it looks anything like your girlfriend’s purse, you are looking in the wrong department. Saddleback Leather Co. has very nice leather bag for men. Also try Tumi and other travel suppliers.
Opt for one that is large enough to hold a water bottle, a camera, a wallet, and, if you are lucky enough, whatever your lady friend doesn’t want to hold.
And for the last time: No, it’s not a purse, it’s a satchel. Quit asking me that.
Lesson #2: Your shoes are turning me into Joan Crawford
It’s vacation, you’ll be walking. So deal with that.
Unless you have collapsed arches or some other foot condition (I want to see a doctor’s note), there is no excuse for orthopedic shoes.
Buy a pair of normal, comfortable walking shoes. Puma, Nike and Cole Haan are good places to start. You can dress in style, and still be comfortable, I promise. If you must, have Dr. Scholl write you a prescription for some shoe inserts.
The key is to break in any shoes well before your trip. Wear them for at least a few days before you depart, or you’ll have to suffer those “new-shoe blisters” while trying to pack in a day’s worth of sightseeing.
As a backup, always carry moleskin or blister bandages should anything develop on the road.
Lesson #3: My, what a heavy necklace you have
A camera is not a statement necklace, as far as I know. If you have a camera and aren’t using it, place it back in your bag. When you are using it, wear the safety strap of course. But leaving the hotel room with it hanging from your neck? That is not winning.
Another thing the camera is not: a bracelet. Carrying a camera on your wrist is risky: Someone could easily grab it, it could fall into a fountain, or one false flick of the wrist could smash it into a medieval brick wall. Also, it makes you look like a tourist.
My point here is that the camera is not an accessory to be incorporated into your wardrobe. Assuming you’re not using a pro lens, digital cameras today can be very small and lightweight, and therefore can fit easily into your purse or man satchel.
Learn more about acting like a local: Culinary Travel: Eat Like A Local, Even If You’re Not One
Lesson #4: Are you a mountain goat?
Last I checked this was a cathedral, not Kilimanjaro. Why are you dressed in hiking gear? Pairing it with a backpack makes this a double offense.
To revisit my thesis from the footwear lesson, yes, you’re likely walking a lot and want to be comfortable.
Lightweight cotton clothing and jeans or khakis are comfortable. Layering is an acceptable practice. Looking polished is preferred. I don’t recall there being any campgrounds in Paris.
Keep in mind some places or situations have different expectations of dress. When in doubt, always consult Google.
However, in an active church or cathedral, it’s better to be safe than sorry and stick with conservative clothing (no bare shoulders or shorts). My advice is to dress comfortably in your own style, but to do your research on any special expectations.
Lesson #5: I’m an American, dammit!
I know, patriotism, Chevy commercials and all that stuff. That’s great that you love your country, but not everyone wants to hear about it and would rather you kindly sit down and shut up.
To be more specific:
Do NOT pump up the volume. I know that the “loud American” is a cliché, but it’s a true one. If you notice, those around you are much quieter (and most likely giving you the shank eye). Just try to be a bit more self-aware. Everyone will be appreciative.
Do not wear an American flag. You’re a patriot, I got it. We all get it. And trust me, every Pierre, Axel and Sonjia already knows you’re a proud American. You don’t need to wear a campaign hat or a flag T-shirt to prove it. It certainly won’t endear you to the locals. I wouldn’t even chance Obama swag. Trust me, you’re just asking for trouble or a bar fight.
Also, wearing clothing with an American city name emblazoned on it says one of two things: 1) You are American; 2) You are a tourist who has been to America, and have now decided to bless this place with your vintage-esque athletic wear you bought while visiting Fenway Park last summer. Either way you stick out like a sore, Big Mac-loving thumb.
Speaking of Big Macs, I can’t understand why anyone would step foot in a U.S. fast-food chain abroad. You can have McDonald’s at home, why would you eat it in Finland?! Why eat at KFC if you can eat at a Parisian café?
By Kate Kuhlman for PeterGreenberg.com.
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