How to be mistaken for a local in Europe

(back to blog)

When traveling in Europe, many North Americans hope they will find a way to blend in with the locals, so they don’t stand out as a typical “tourist”. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a traveler! We’re privileged to be in a position to travel beyond our own borders. Still for many of us, there’s a hankering to look and feel like we belong in the places we’re visiting.

Those traveling to Paris and other fashionable European cities often wonder about what to wear: how stylishly do you have to dress to fit in? Is it “OK” to wear running shoes? What sort of bag should you carry to keep your money safe without looking like an obvious target for pick-pockets?

In my past few days in Paris, Berlin, and Copenhagen, I’ve been stopped and asked for directions by tourists a half-dozen times, which is leading me to believe that I must sort of look like I belong here. And I’ve realised it has nothing to do with my fashion sense, or whether or not I was carrying a baguette, currywurst or danish at the time.

What are the secrets to looking like a local? Three simple behaviours:

1. Walk briskly and with a sense of purpose. You might not know where you’re going, but until you get to the next street sign, fake it! (And this should go without saying: if you need to look at a map, do it discretely or it’s game over.)

2. Cross when the light is red. (Don't tell my kids I said this!) Now, I’m not suggesting you take your life in your own hands, here. And only do this if you’re comfortable bending the rules a bit. But in summer, car traffic is light in Paris, yet the red lights don’t get any shorter for people waiting to cross. Take a cue from the locals and cross when it’s safe, rather than waiting with the tourists for the green.

3. Ride a bike. Not only is this a simply marvelous way to explore a city, it also marks you as someone who knows how to get around.

And that’s it! Be purposeful, know which rules you can break, and take a spin on two wheels: soon people will be asking you if you parlay-vooz-onglay.
Share This Article