Ya Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya?

Me and my lovely friends- none of us Parisian. Can you tell?

In my travels around the world, I’ve learned that the WORST possible thing you can do is LOOK like a tourist. This includes but is certainly not limited to:

1) Sunhats and parasols in non-beach settings
2) Fanny packs, backpacks and visible travel belts
3) A stripe of zinc across the nose
4) Calf length socks and/or sneakers
5) I Heart NY t-shirts
6) HUGE professional cameras slung around the neck a la Mario Testino

Sure, you get lots of kindhearted or curious people who offer to help you and perhaps give you opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have had if you didn’t look so clueless and lost, but you also invite lots of unscrupulous and sometimes lecherous types to take advantage of you.

In my experience, the best thing to do is:

1) Walk like you would in your hometown, even if you’d rather saunter and stare at all the sights
2) Learn a few key phrases in the local vernacular to give people the idea that you can speak the language
3) Wash off the zinc and put the camera in an unassuming bag– nothing says ROB ME more than expensive equipment in plain sight
4) Keep maps and travel guides out of sight and only pull them out in cafes, restaurants or in the bathroom
5) Take off the socks and sneakers and wear flats or sandals- your feet may be swollen and sore after  a day of walking, but it’s better than having an empty pocket cause a pickpockets, right?

These tips have served me very well in even the more dangerous places in the world (South Africa, India and Brazil, for example). All I had to do was walk with purpose and not wear sneakers- easy enough.

In Paris, it’s a much more loaded game.

Women in Paris definitely have an air about them that I just cannot emulate. Although I’m not sure if I agree with the stereotype that they’re the best dressed women in the world, they seem to walk with their nose and hips forward and have a distinctive fashion sense that eludes me. Even after weeks of close study I find myself making small faux pas that almost always help people to peg me as the tourist/traveler I am. Here are some things that would help me fit in:

1) An iPod. OK, so I do own an iPod, but I’m ridiculously wary of wearing one whilst walking down the street- what if an ambulance was driving on the sidewalk behind me (it’s happened) or a building was crumbling above me (hey, it’s Paris, the buildings are old!)? It might be what the locals do, but it seems unsafe to me.

2) An echarpe/foulard (scarf). Check. Too bad its about 90 degrees and I don’t have a shower or hot water-so, sorry, I’m not wearing any more than I have to. Plus, I figure that the less I wear, the harder it is for pick pockets to do their job without me noticing.

3) A 23-inch waist. Whoops, should probably lay off the macaroons and croissants.

All in all, I’m failing miserably to “fit in” and stand out horrendously in the City of Lights.

Ah well, c’est la vie.

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