Help an American blend in while abroad.

Frequent Flyers, Expatriates and Non-US dopers: What can Americans do to help blend in more when visiting another country?

I am going with my mother in-law to her home town in N.E. Brazil. I understand that I will be recognized as an American from 100 yards away, no matter what I do. I just don’t want to be the American wearing socks with sandals, trying to hire poor children to carry my oversized luggage.
I have a grasp on speaking and reading Portuguese and I understand when spoken to… er… most of the time. So, the obligatory “learn the language” tip is already covered. :cool:

I want to make a great impression on my new extended family. Don’t let me be the “Ugly American Tourist” I read about.

Buy a new wardrobe upon arrival.

This thread might be more suitable for IMHO, but, while it’s here…

Buy a local newspaper, and read it intently when you have the opportunity to do so or if you sense that people are looking at you. It’s worked for me where I’ve travelled.

After I hit post, I realized that this may be more IMHO domain. I guess I should work on not being an “Ugly American” on this board first. :stuck_out_tongue:

Great info so far, by the way. Keep it coming.

Don’t speak. Your accent will give you away pretty qukckly, I should imagine :stuck_out_tongue:

It’s all about the shoes. (Well, not all, but partly.) Avoid the ubiquitous big white sneakers. Look at what your desired “peer group” is wearing on their feet, and emulate. The USA RULES!! sweatshirt might also be a tip-off, so keep that in the closet. Oh yea, avoid making obscene gestures to the immigration officials in the airport, unless you want to be detained, jailed, and/or sent back to the US.

I am frequently mistaken for a local overseas and even within the U.S.; in Chicago, Boston, and L.A., I’ve been asked for directions by someone who was clearly from out of town. In London, I had a local tell me “you’re NEVER from the States!” because I had grown into the accent after about three weeks over there. My tips are:

  • Find some natives who look to be your age and economic peers. Check out what they are (and aren’t) wearing relative to what you would normally wear. Typically eliminate anything “cheap and disposable” from your wardrobe, e.g. wear glasses, not contacts.

  • European and English clothing tends toward colors and patterns rather than logos

  • Realize that baseball, basketball, and football are not really sports over there (well, “football” is, but you know the drill), so American sports gear is out. It’s best to avoid wearing sports clothing, especially in a pub or bar, unless you can discuss the team whose colors you’re wearing. In many places, choice of football squad is a near-religious decision, so wear their logos with care.

  • The beat-up white baseball cap is a staple of American fashion. Leave it at home. Don’t wear a hat unless you see lots of locals wearing one like it, and check with a tour guide or your hotel desk to find out if the style is a fad or pretty typical.

  • Most blue jeans mark you as an American unless you’re in a big city and are young and very wealthy. Buy some cheap khakis (some darker, some lighter) and some polo-style shirts in subdued (but not drab) colors.

  • Wear comfortable brown or black leather shoes (Birkenstock clogs are great for walking around in cities, but urbanized hiking boots might be better for castle- or scenery-climbing).


  • Use your “inside voice” unless there is a real need to be heard by one and all. Americans are famous for being louder than we need to be.

  • Use local slang if you speak the language (e.g. England) - don’t insist on calling the motorway a “freeway” for example. If you know what the locals call it, do your best to adapt. Often the gesture of trying to conform–even if ill-placed–shows the natives that your heart is in the right place.

  • Be aware of what’s going on around you. Do not walk backwards; do not stop suddenly in the sidewalk because the taxis here are a different color than you’re used to; do not walk down the street looking at your open palm, on which you’ve placed one of every kind of coin you have, to study the weirdness. You have time to do this back at the hotel room, or at the restaurant while you’re eating.

  • Bring a guidebook, but don’t consult it publicly. Restaurants, park benches, and the back corners of shops are good places to stop and look something up. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk in a gaggle with your book open says “clump of targets”.

  • As best you can, learn the area beforehand. Learn neighborhood names, cardinal directions, landmarks, and a little local history (so you’ll know why things are named after that “Napoleon” chap when you get to France, for example).


  • Be polite. Wait your turn, be patient, observe how others do things before hopping up and taking a try.

  • Appear clueful. If you’ve learned the maps even a little, and you’re not on a schedule, then you can afford to stray one or two blocks off your path. Keep walking as though you know where you’re going.

  • Be friendly but not annoying. This is a tough one to judge. If a stranger strikes up a conversation with you, dive right in. If it happens two or three times, maybe you can start one on your own with a local with no fear.

The key to blending in is observation. Observe not only what clothes the locals wear but how they wear them. Look at hairstyles, hats, jewely, watches, shoes, belts, etc. Try your best to dress in a similar fashion. For example, good quality cotton is expensive in Italy, so Italians tend to wear wool all year round. Anyone walking around in a t-shirt, no matter what it says on it, is probably a tourist.

Another thing to be aware of is posture, gait, and body language. When you’ve been abroad for a few months, you will begin to be able to distinguish fellow Americans a mile away, no matter how they are dressed and without their having to say a word. Just the way they carry themselves screams “AMERICAN”. Observe the locals and try to mimic their gestures (the nonoffensive ones) and general carriage.

Sometimes the small things give you away. Americans, while sitting at the dinner table, cut a slice of meat by switching the fork to the subordinate hand and sawing away with the knife in their dominate hand. Europeans typically hold the knife with their subordinate hand, so there is no need to move the fork from one hand to the other. According to legend, during WWII an American agent/refugee/escaped prisoner was spotted by Gestapo in exactly this manner.

Buy a big backpack with a Canadian flag on it. You’ll be treated much better :smiley:

Off to IMHO.

moderator GQ


I am going with my mother in-law to her home town in N.E. Brazil. I understand that I will be recognized as an American from 100 yards away, no matter what I do. I just don’t want to be the American wearing socks with sandals, trying to hire poor children to carry my oversized luggage.
Then don’t wear socks. Pretty much anything short of buying a Speedo and tanning for a month, you will instantly be recognizable as not-Brazilian and probably American (or possible Canadian). When my friends and I went to Brazil, there was pretty much no way that 3 pale guys in white t-shirts and cargo shorts who are bigger than 90% of the population are going to blend.

Not correct. We hold the knife in the dominant hand and the fork in the subordinate hand and use the latter to transfer the food to the mouth with the fork.

So much for my awesome powers of observation! :smack:

go naked!

All the time when you’re there. Then, you won’t look any different from the (naked) Brazilians. Every person of every nation in the world looks the same butt nekkid!

Of course, those Brazilians who choose to wear clothes may take a dim view of you, but nothing’s perfect.

Yay… I read the whole thread before posting what someone else already has.

badmana’s idea of the Canadian flag has been mentioned to me by several people, mostly by people backpacking around Europe. And drop in an “eh?” from time to time. :wink:

I have been to NE Brazil, and I speak almost flawless Brazilian-Portuguese (and can curse like a sailor in Brazilian-Portuguese if I want to), but there was no way the “natives” would not have recognized me as a “Gringo”. If you are taller than 170cm (about 5’6"), people will think you’re a basketball pro. I’m 195cm tall (6’3") and I had a kid ask me for my autograph in the supermarket checkout lane, because he thought I played in the NBA. If you have anything less than a dark tan, they’ll know you’re a “Gringo”. In southern Brazil (say Sao Paulo or Rio Grande do Sul), you might pass, bit in NE Brazil and N Brazil you will stick out like a sore thumb.

Most of the residents of NE Brazil (and Northern Brazil) actually are descended from the Native Indians, with some African and European mixed in. If you’re in Salvador da Bahia, it will be mostly African, with some European and Native Indian mixed in. Whatever the genetic mix, it makes for some really beautiful people in Brazil.

But whatever you do, enjoy yourself! The Brazilians are the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever met. Dirt poor people will try to prepare a big feast for any visitors. Just don’t wear any expensive jewelry, watches, clothes. Make sure you only go into “safe” neighborhoods, preferably with your mother-in-law or someone from her family. They will protect you from any dangers. And don’t let all the women hitting on you bother you. I was getting hit on while walking down the street hand-in-hand with my wife. I kid you not!

These posts are great, don’t stop!

The Canadian flag idea has crossed my mind. I had a professor that frequented the Middle East and he would never leave home without his Canadian flag patched backpack. It made life a lot easier for him in some locations, eh.

Does anybody know of quality links to current men’s fashion and grooming in Brazil? Google seems to be hit and miss on the topic. What would be the equivalent to “Old Navy” in Brazil, Benetton is a little pricier and more “leading edge of fashion” than I am looking for.

I think there’s a better than average chance that they might have been prostitutes. Not to question your studliness, but I did notice that it was fairly rampant in the cities down there.

Or you could not be a freakin PUSSY and wear an American flag (or no flag). Unless you are being held hostage by Iranian terrorists, there’s no reason to hide behind a red mapple leaf like a little bitch.
I never understood why backpacking around Europe was considered ‘trendy’ but backpacking around the USA makes you a ‘homeless vagrant’.

I spent 9 months in Brazil in the early 80’s. I’m sure the style has changed, but my advice probable holds true.

Take NOTHING!! You can totally outfit yourself for pennys down there! It will be all the latest “local” fashion, decent quality (bout the same as here- it all comes from China anyway) and your Almighty Dollar will go alot farther.

Don’t worry too much about blending in. First of you, you won’t. Second, the Brazilians are a frendly lot and quite fond talking to Americans. The can be a little abrasive at times when the lecture you about the IMF and our foreign policy and tell you how the Wright Brothers were not the first to fly and how Levi’s were invented in Brazil, but overall they are cool and should give you no problems.

Try Cerveza Antarctica. Good stuff.

And Transvestites, to boot! (pun intended for you Portuguese speakers)