When I was in Russia, there was no disguising I was a tourist. That goes for almost all tourists, whether American, Canadian, German, Australian, Swiss, or English. We just do not look like locals. There are other, more obvious signs. Here are some:
1. Unfolding a map
I try to carry a small map in my back pocket. I only open it in a dimly lit doorway, or while I am sitting at a table. Certainly, a smart phone or small tablet would be preferable. You can also download a small map. Or, if I have a specific place in mind, I draw myself a map on a plain piece of paper. A small piece of paper. If course, the camera strap on my shoulder is rather obvious as well.
2. Talking to hawkers
There are times that I enjoy this. They can be helpful at times as well. Most of the time, they are annoying. But try to remember they are trying to make a living, and they are at least out there trying. Their American counterpart is sitting at home, watching television, and collecting welfare and food stamps. This also applies to talking to ladies of the night.
3. An oversized backpack
Well, we have to either carry a backpack or a large suitcase of wheels. I use a duffel on wheels, sort of in between. This is unavoidable. Just don’t carry anything fancy, shiny, or otherwise attention-getting. The designer crap is particularly attractive to thieves, rapists, and fishmongers. Always try to keep one hand free, to protect your valuables or open a door or two.
4. Fumbling with currency
I always keep small bills in my front pocket, ready to use when making small purchases in busy places. Keep the big bills hidden away. Try to become somewhat familiar with the conversion rate BEFORE entering the country. Or carry a cheat sheet. Always try to know what your purchase limit is. If it is $50 USD, you should know that it converts to 1750 Russian rubles.
5. Public transit
This is the ultimate differentiator. Unless a local teaches you how to use public transit, try standing aside and watch the locals first. This is one area where you cannot fake it. I actually saw a passenger get detained for failure to buy a transit ticket!
6. Speaking a different language
This can’t be helped. But try not to make it so obvious. A little sign language may come in handy. Or pray tell, learn a few key words and phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. I will often say something in Japanese, just to see who is listening.
7. Blocking pedestrian traffic
This really upsets the locals. Avoid this at all costs. It is worse than public urination or dropping your condoms on the floor. Learn to read the traffic signals, and know that most drivers in foreign countries could care less about you. St. Petersburg used the military to keep people from crossing streets against the signal.
8. Wearing bulky, sporty sneakers
This is the great American trademark. We want to be able to walk and stay comfortable. But most others countries use some other form of walking shoe, like hikers, or slim little tennies. In fact, this can extend to all clothing. But I draw the line at mimicking locals. Flip flops are another dead giveaway, as Americans are the only people stupid enough to wear them when something unexpected like a fire could occur.
9. Carrying a guidebook
Sometimes, you just can’t help it. But try to keep it at a minimum. While I was on the Trans Siberian Railway, the guidebooks were my constant and necessary companions. Everyone around me wanted to know where we were, and where we were going, including me. So, I say, pick your spots carefully!
10. Silly poses for photos
How many times have your friends tried to “hold up” the Leaning Tower? In this era of “selfies”, you have no excuse for doing the cliche’ photo shoot. If you have ever seen Russian women in photos, they are always posing, never candid. It must be an art form there.
I don’t have a problem being a tourist, or being identified as a tourist. I just try my best not to be obnoxious. A low-key tourist is better than the proverbial ugly American.