The extra touristy tourists stand out like a sore thumb. Nobody wants to be that person. Yet, we don’t always realize how touristy we are being because “acting like a tourist” mostly consists of acting like a person in an unfamiliar place. We all succumb to it once in awhile and walk around with cameras larger than our heads or follow the little bubble on Google Maps like lighthouse flash instead of reading street signs.
It's not being a tourist that’s frustrating; it’s being treated like one - especially if you are actually living in the country, albeit temporarily. Is it possible to bland in like a local in the huge European capitals?
From a personal experience I can tell that yes, it is possible to bland in. In fact, it’s even not that hard. All you need is a bit of common sense, and the rest will come naturally.
Say No to a Camera with Huge Lens
When you go out with the aim of sightseeing, then be it. But keep a camera out of your everyday routine. Carrying a fancy camera with you all the time makes you a target for local thieves, and you certainly don’t want that. Thankfully, we live in a time when obsessively documenting our lives is normal, just do it with your phone.
If you are a genuine photography enthusiast or even studying to be a pro, I am sorry. Nobody believes in genuine photographers anymore. Just kidding… well, sort of. Just be careful where you take it.
Get Your Nose Out of a Map
This might be a bit complicated, especially at the beginning. European capitals are large. It will take some time to get the hang of your surroundings. But you can make it easier on yourself.
In your first weeks take “conscious” walks around your neighbourhood or any other places you will be visiting frequently (like your campus). Walk around the streets, pop into local shops, bars, and restaurants, locate your post office, give more than a glance to the local public transport. Make a mind map of your neighbourhood, let the locals “know” your face. Simply put, make sure that, at the very least, you know your way around places that form part of your daily routine, so you don't look like a lost, scared sheep in a city full of wolves.
Avoid Tourist Places
I’m not talking about the sights. See the sights and enjoy the culture. This paragraph is about choosing Starbucks, Costa Coffee, McDonald's, Hard Rock Cafe or any other place with the top rating on Tripadvisor. Don’t do it. I have been in Barcelona for two years now, and I can say with confidence that 80% of Starbuck customers are tourists.
The places locals love and visit are not so easy to find online (not in English anyway). These establishments are often not that stylish, hipster and flashy as the touristy stuff. However, they are filled with atmosphere, good quality stuff, and reasonable prices. Where do your neighbours or fellow local students hang out? Where do they spend their evening and weekends?
Although, if you are fond of the consistency chains so willingly provide to the consumers, just give a try to a local coffee, bar, or restaurant chain - trust me, there are many!
Don’t Frown before You Try It
New country, new flavours. If you want to bland in, you have to stop being that person that says: “Oh my god, how can you eat that!” every time a local person enjoy a local delicacy. First of all, disgust is about habit. Just because we are not used to eating something doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Before you judge, just try it.
If you don’t want to try it, let it go.
OK, you don’t like this or that, that’s fine but don’t judge. It’s likely your culture’s eating habits are equally strange to others.
Dress the Part
I am not asking to throw the entire contents of your closet and sell your soul to the devil.
All it takes is a bit of cultural awareness about what is acceptable to wear in given social situation. Learn to respect the way people dress to go to classes, work, pubs or clubs. It’s different in every country. For instance, American students are used to going to classes in their sweatpants, pyjama pants, hoodies, and sweatshirts looking like they just rolled out of bed. To go to a class like this in most European countries is unheard of. Some countries, like Italy, are more fashion-focused than others. The best way to blend is to pay close attention to what locals are wearing.
Observe, Observe, Observe
Last but not least, the golden rule of blending in is to observe and repeat. It’s not just about the clothes. It’s also about gestures, greetings, body language, small talk habits, and so on. Observe how much distance people keep from each other in public spots or when talking, how loud people talk on the bus or how they treat each other on the subway.
For instance, Norwegians like to keep their distance. While in Barcelona you will see five people tightly crammed upon a bus stop bench, in Oslo the word “crammed” applies to 2 people sitting at least 3 feet from each other. Also, Norwegian ladies will definitely not appreciate a guy being a “gentleman.” Holding a door for or offering a seat on a crowded bus to a woman is rude in Norway, they are quite the egalitarians!
Want to get the chance to learn about a new culture and live in the heart of a thriving European city? Study Abroad Apartments offers some great options for students planning to live abroad. Just get in touch with us if you need any help finding somewhere to stay and we’ll make sure you have one of the best options out there!