I’m Not a Tourist, See?


When you’re a tourist, it’s mostly fun to be a tourist. Most people like to help you and you’re treated as a guest. Sure, when you go to buy something you might get taken advantage of, but you don’t know any better, so you can still think that you got a bargain. And if you break a cultural rule—or even a law—you can play the I-didn’t-know-I-don’t-live-here-maybe-even-get-out-of-jail-free card.

But when you do live in a new country, you don’t want to be treated like a tourist. You want to be treated like “one of us,” or at least ignored. So how do you look as if you belong? Maybe it’s the language, but you’ll have to talk first, and that could hurt more than help.  Maybe it’s your clothes, but it’s easy to go overboard on that one. Or maybe it’s what you’re carrying around. Of course, it’s what you’re not carrying, as well, for example, a camera or a souvenir bag that says “I ♥ (name of country).”

In my post yesterday at A Life Overseas, I quoted author Tahir Shah’s views on acclimating to a new culture, from his book In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams. Shah had moved to Casablanca, and he didn’t want to be treated like an outsider. He writes that one day his maid, Zohra, overheard him talking about getting “eaten alive” by the salesmen in the vegetable market, and she gave him some great advice.

“Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!” she snapped. “Of course the salesmen trouble you. It’s because they think you are a tourist.”

“But there aren’t any tourists in Casablanca!”

“Well, they don’t know that!”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

Zohra motioned something with her hands. It was round, about the size of a dinner plate. “You have to carry a sieve.”


“No tourist would ever be carrying a sieve,” she said.

That’s it. A sieve. Gotta get you one of those.


(Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams, Bantam, 2008)

[photo: “I ♥ Tourists,” by Lain, used under a Creative Commons license; “Markthal Rotterdam” by Kattebelletje, used under a Creative Commons license]


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