Blending in with the locals

Italy , France , Spain , Turkey .it doesn't matter where I go; I am always mistaken for a native. It is only when I profess my ignorance at what is being said to me and shake my head and say "English" that the mistake is realised. And then it starts in earnest, "but you look Italian/ French/ Spanish/ Turkish", "you could be my daughter", "come meet my son".

I am South African, of Greek descent, and have the typically dark hair, eyes and olive skin of my forefathers. Apparently I have a "typically European" look, and one dear even went so far as to tell me that I am "bred of Europe, by Europe" (whatever that means, and did she not hear me when I said I was South African?) - and as a result I blend in nicely with the locals of most countries I visit. While my blonde friends were harangued by touts and had their hair pulled by children in Turkey , I sailed through the market place merrily going about my business and bestowing smiles on all the traders. It is, I have found in several countries, possible to complete a transaction without uttering a single word (as long as you are familiar with the money) and therefore not giving the game away. Silent and mysterious, a la Greta Garbo (but without the interesting head gear)...keep them guessing and they will bend over backwards to be of help, that's my maxim.

Fortunately this has always worked to my advantage - when shopping I can get away with paying local prices, which is fantastic as even a mere loaf of bread can cost twice the local rate for an obvious tourist. From a security point of view (of which we South Africans are more than aware) it has worked in my favour many a time, most recently in Turkey where I thought I might feel a bit out of my depth when staying with my Turkish boyfriend among the locals. And, being a Christian woman in a Muslim town, I didn't know what to expect but because I was seemingly Turkish I was treated with respect and decorum, even when out on my own (and even when my secret was found out!). It has also helped me to get the best out of the locals, which was, for me, particularly significant in Paris where I was warned (by an Englishman) before my first trip that "Parisians hate the English" but found no evidence of this from my own experience.many a tired waiter and shopkeeper has gone out of his way to help me find exactly what I was looking for/ where I was going when my inadequate descriptions have proven useless. I have also learnt that a smile and a well-timed shrug can speak volumes.

And, funnily enough, it is not only the natives who mistake me for a one of their own, tourists often approach me and ask for directions or for advice on which local restaurant is good etc..I have often joked that I should wear a badge saying "International tourist advisory consultant". I don't mind though: there is something ultimately satisfying in being mistaken for a local - especially when the natives are friendly and the city is beautiful.

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