When traveling abroad, there are two ways you can experience the country you’re in: you can either hit the most popular tourist spots and visit Trip Advisor’s top-rated restaurants, or you can try to blend in with the locals to get the “real” experience. However, sometimes not looking like a tourist is harder than you think – and most of the time it’s the little things that give it away.
Some on Quora recently
London, UK: Leaving a large tip. “Tipping in restaurants is generally expected, but much more modest than in the US, as wait staff earn a reasonable wage. In the US, service staff are expected to be polite to customers. In the UK, customers are expected to be polite to service staff.”
Seattle, Washington: Looking tan.
“When someone walks into the coffee shop on the corner with a perfect tan, shorts, a t-shirt, and actually looks like they’ve seen light before, we all know they aren’t from around here.”
Barcelona, Spain: Referring to Barcelona as “Barca.” “We cringe every time we hear that.”
Edinburgh, Scotland: Pronouncing the “G” at the end of Edinburgh.
“The ‘-burgh’ at the end of a place name is pronounced ‘-burra,’ as in ‘Edinburra,’ not ‘Edinberg’.”
San Francisco, California: Wearing a suit as business attire.
“Wearing a suit as business attire, even to job interviews, communicates that either 1. You are not from here or 2. You are selling something. Most tech employees, including many execs, wear anything ranging from business casual (khakis and a button-down shirt) to sandals and jeans, or even shorts, for day-to-day office activity.”
Moscow, Russia: Whistling indoors.
“This casual gesture immediately identifies you as a non-local. This is because the Russians believe that by whistling you’re blowing your wealth away.”
Singapore: Sticking or throwing out chewing gum in a public space.
“It is illegal for chewing gum to be sold in Singapore and Singaporeans are notoriously afraid of violating the rules.”
I’m from Hong Kong!!! Well, I lived here for many years, so I’m quite familiar with the local culture.
1. Tourists are usually the ones that marvels on how well you speak English. HK is a bilingual city, we used to be colonised by the British. Just because we are Asian does not mean we can’t speak good English.
2. Going on massive shopping sprees in the shopping malls. This mostly apply to tourists from mainland China, but also from some gwai lo (aka foreigners) as well. They would go into some Chanel store and come out with 15 bags of cosmetics etc. HK stuff are somewhat cheap compared to other countries, so it’s only natural that tourists will bulk buy.
3. Taking selfies and pictures in those run-down restaurants in crowded, stinky alleys. Those restaurants are usually cheap and the quality of their food isn’t the best, but they are what most locals eat when they don’t feel like having anything fancy for lunch. Tourists are the kind that take selfies of themselves in the crowded restaurant and snapping pictures of their food (which is just fried toast with honey, or maybe instant noodles with an egg on top). We just eat there, because we don’t find the food as special.
4. Trying to speak Mandarin. A lot of locals do know Mandarin, but it’s not our main language. Our main language is Cantonese, and some of the locals do get offended if tourists come and confuse our language with another.
5. Assuming that Mandarin and Cantonese are the same. Please, please don’t say that. We use the same characters, but the way we use them are very different. Mandarin is a really recent and simplified version of Cantonese, while Cantonese is arguably one of the most ancient languages in the world. And please don’t just say “nah, they are the same to me”, because they are so different to us.
1. Most tourists go to pubs to get the full Irish experience (for good reasons). Now the thing about Irish pubs, besides the good beer, is that pubs are very good places for socialising. It happens quite often that someone overhears your discussion and might join in (politely) and then you have a pint together (or more).
Let me tell you about the word ‘craic’. It is pronounced /kræk/ (same as crack cocaine) and it means fun, good times, news and a couple of other things.
Now one of the questions you’ll hear most often in pubs is one friend asking the other: “How was the craic last night?” meaning: Did you have fun last night? To which the answer is usually: “Craic was mighty” or some variant of this.
Imagine the tourists’ faces and what goes through their head when they hear 2 Irish lads talking about how good the cocaine was.
Every single time I hear this exchange of words I look at other people’s faces and immediately spot the tourists. Works like a charm!
2. Also related to pubs, you can easily spot a tourist if he spills beer on the floor. No matter how drunk, no matter how crowded the pub is, a local will always be able to handle at least 3 pints at a time without spilling. He might fall down the stairs, but the beer won’t go to waste. Some exceptions: brits & germans.
3. Lastly, the weather.
Tourists are always surprised when it starts raining and they’re not properly dressed even though they took a look at the forecast in the morning and dressed accordingly (big mistake) AND IT WAS FECKIN’ SUNNY 5 MINUTES AGO! Irish will talk and complain about weather, but rarely act surprised. It gets worse in February, March when you can have 4 seasons in the same day.
Cairo, Egypt: Wearing camouflage clothing.
“I don’t know what it is but for some reason, a lot of tourists walk around like they’re about to go on some super dangerous, ultra important journey through a jungle. They wear big hiking boots, thermal backpacks, etc. They also wear very camouflagey stuff.”
Alberta, Canada: Feeding the wildlife.
“Don’t feed our wildlife or treat them like they are pets. Respect them, and their space. Personally, I think we should just feed the tourists that do this to the problem bears. Kind of a win-win.”
Melbourne, Australia: Calling these “flip-flops.”
“Okay foreigners, it’s time to get this straight: THESE ARE TWO THONGS! And calm down England, we are not walking around commenting on revealing underwear all the time.”
Chicago, Illinois: Visiting Navy Pier during the summer.
“The Navy Pier is the most visited place in Chicago every summer. But everyone there is a tourist. If a local wants to go to Navy Pier, they go in the fall.”
“It’s crowded, overpriced, and there is very little to actually do there; most Chicagoans only go with friends from out of town.”
I live in a small town in Canada up in the mountains, I’m not going to say where, for privacy reasons although I doubt anyone will try to stalk me down but anyway.
We don’t get many tourists here since it’s not a very well known place, but lots of people from nearby cities and towns come in and visit and it’s very clear who are tourist.
I live on a lake, where tons of visitors come per day to swim in. You can tell someone is a tourist when they are walking around in the shallows carelessly.
Locals would use the dock instead of entering the water by foot. Why? Leeches.
Leeches are disgusting things that live in the mud in the shallow waters. Some are small, some are big, they look like slugs. I’m not going to insert a picture of one because they honestly are so disgusting.
Not only do they look disgusting but they suck your blood, They can attach themselves to any part of your body and they are quite hard to remove. After the gross little thing sucks your blood you will then have a bleeding cut. Leeches suck your bad blood, and they are sometimes used for medical causes but ew.
Most Tourists have no idea leeches exist until one attaches to one of their body parts.
Tehran, Iran: Not trying to haggle supermarket prices.
“Bargaining is so extreme in Iran that supermarkets have actually raised their prices by a lot to keep their old profit margins.”
New York, New York: Going to Times Square.
“Locals would not be caught dead hanging out here.”
Mexico City: we know you’re a tourist when you start trying to respect road signs and stoplights. If there’s one thing I severely loathe about this city- it’s not the pollution, nor the crowded feeling you get once you get here, nor the un-ending yearn from locals to believe that any foreigner is automatically better qualified for the job- it’s the utter disrespect and indifference for your own life or those of others. Big 6-lane avenue? Let us ignore the bridge and cross underneath it while we zigzag between cars and their scared drivers. Stoplight just turned green? Better cross with my 3 kids behind me while cars honk at me. You want to cross the street now? Ignore the zebra crossing and run almost drunkenly through the street while cars are still circulating (this is almost a national tradition). Both-ways street? Let me park my big-ass truck here and not let anyone through. Bike-lane? I, as a cyclist, want to draw the symbol for infinity while getting in the way of other 8 lanes. Subway doors are opening? Better charge like a quarterback and maybe punch my way through before letting anyone from such wagon out. In the midst of this, you see confused tourists being pushed by the locals because we just can’t wait to cross even if the stoplight turned green 2 seconds after. You see people waiting at the zebra crossing wondering why people are crossing all over the avenue. If you see people trying to do things correctly in the vicinity of streets or public transport, they’re most likely tourists. Works the other way around. Once in Vienna I crossed a street following my mexican tradition of doing it wherever and whenever I please (and ignoring the zebra crossing), and a policeman gave me a warning! It was a tired, compassionate one, as in saying ‘you people just don’t know any better, so I’ll let it pass’. I was so embarrassed for me and for my country. I’m trying to be better now.
Portland, Oregon: Using an umbrella when it’s raining outside.
“You sort of stop caring about the mist, and just wear wool that stays dry.”
“Locals just wear a light rain jacket, and are on their way. No local will cancel plans because it’s raining outside or wait for the rain to let up.”
I live in Toronto, ON. It’s not too different from any typical North American city but there are some particulars:
1. Pronouncing it “To-ron-toe” instead of “Tuh-ronno”: Locals always drop the second T. It’s such a part of our identity that Canadians from other parts of the country, even if they’ve lived here for years, refuse to drop the second T. It’s stems from the love-hate relationship the rest of Canada has with this city.
2. Calling the Subway lines by number or colour: They used to be unnumbered, and we only have a measly four lines, so we would refer to Line 1 as “the Yonge line”, Line 2 as “the Bloor-Danforth line”, Line 3 as “the Scarborough line” or “Scarborough LRT”, and Line 4 as “the Sheppard Line”.
3. Standing on the left side of the escalator: However, there have been some issues about how the rule of “stand on the right, walk on the left” might be troublesome for accessibility, so this rule might change in the future.
4. Biking on the sidewalk: I know this city has a severe lack of bike lanes but that doesn’t mean you risk the lives of innocent pedestrians.
5. Assuming there is only one Chinatown: There are actually two official ones downtown. Prominent Chinese communities also exist in North York, Scarborough, and the Greater Toronto Area. I would argue there is better Chinese food uptown than downtown.
6. Asking how to get to Niagara Falls while in the middle of the downtown core: Niagara Falls is a different city about an hour and a half outside of Toronto. I’m afraid you must be very lost if you want to get there.
7. You don’t immediately shudder when someone mentions the Dufferin bus: Beware the route 29 Dufferin bus. Beware.
Madrid, Spain: Eating lunch before 1 p.m.
“We are well aware that it’s our meal times that are unusual, but they are very culturally ingrained and expected to be followed. In big companies where there is an office cafeteria, or in schools, 1pm is a normal time for lunch — it’s considered earlyish but more or less in the middle of the work day. Otherwise the normal time is 2pm, or even 3pm on weekends.”