7 Ways to Know You’re Evolving from “Tourist” to “Local”

In the first two parts of this series, we touched on the fascination of being a “local.” If you haven’t yet, catch up on your reading to discover the reasons to fit in with the locals and how exactly you can do it.

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Now, read on for how to actually know whether you’ve crossed the line between a being tourist and being a local:

#1: People Ask You For Directions

As a tourist, you are usually the one with the map, looking blankly around with a lost expression. While you’re transitioning to the “local” phase, you become the one who is asked for how to get around.

This may make you feel special, but don’t take advantage of the situation. That is, if you don’t know where it is that the person wants to go to, say so. Don’t send them off in the wrong direction simply because it might be funny. Remember that you yourself would hardly have appreciated that when you were visiting.

All Directions © Ariel Schlesinger

#2: Other Locals Recognize You in Your Neighborhood

The key here is “neighborhood.” When you live in a place, you start finding staples for almost everything: the grocery store, the organic market, the pharmacy, even the employees at the bank may get to know you (whether that’s because you have a lot of money or are causing a lot of problems is another question).

You know you’re becoming more of a local when people start calling you by your name. When you’ve been away for the weekend and haven’t come in for your daily bread, they may even ask where you’ve been. Just make sure it doesn’t get to the point of stalking.

#3: You Start Getting Deals and Discounts for Long-term Offers

© Joël Evelyñ & François

Staying at a hotel for one night can be proportionally expensive. As can attending one yoga class instead of signing up for a month. Yet when you travel, you almost always know that you’ll only be around for a short while, and thus can’t take advantage of special offers.

As soon as you start living abroad, however, you can score better deals. Pay a month’s membership in advance and you’ll be likely to pay less than if you paid in single installments. Sometimes, these offers are visible to customers. If they aren’t, don’t be afraid to ask; the locals might prefer to have the cash in hand right away. Just be careful you don’t get ripped off and at least get a receipt.

4. You Have Keys to an Apartment (… and the Problems Associated with It)

Sure, tourists can rent apartments, too. It might even be cheaper than staying at a hotel or hostel if there’s a group of you and you cook. But more often than not, as a tourist, you will be leaving that apartment after several days, if not weeks.

When you’re really living somewhere, however, you start caring whether the plumbing, the Internet connection or whatever else it is that you need on a daily basis, works. Depending on the state of the apartment, you will develop a better or worse relationship with your landlord.

But that’s not to say that all aspects of apartment living are negative. On the contrary, having a place where you can finally unpack and come home at the end of the day without having to say “hi” to new travelers as they arrive at a hostel, is very calming. Revel in your new keys and enjoy.

#5: You’re Given the Menu in the Local Language

McDonald’s Menu, Japan © jpellgen

Better yet, you go to restaurants that only have menus in the local language. Or even better, you’re not given a menu at all. Not because the waiter is unfriendly, but because he knows exactly what you want. Same procedure as every day; a media luna (meaning croissant in Argentina) with a café con leche. And maybe the extra package of sugar that you love so much is a courtesy of the house.

#6: You Don’t Get Diarrhea Every Time You Eat Something

An upset stomach is one of the most common drawbacks of traveling to a foreign country. In the worst case, it can result in full-blown food poisoning and a several-day hospital stay. In the cases not accompanied by fevers, it will just be a rush of diarrhea (or several), which can be very unpleasant, too.

Sometimes the trigger can be mere use of a spice or oil that your body isn’t used to. Over time, however, your digestive system adapts and you’ll be able to eat like the locals without having to rush to the bathroom every five seconds.

#7: You Start Swearing in the Local Language

Recoge Tu Mierda, Buenos Aires © mat-

Saying please and thank you can still be categorized as the vocabulary of a tourist. Even learning swear words in the local lingo is a common thing that travellers do. Actually using them appropriately (if they are ever appropriate), however, can mark the transition from an ephemeral visitor to a permanent resident.

Before you start giving it your all, however, evaluate the situation. Inappropriate use can not only make you the subject of ridicule, but worse, can spark a fight. And if you start getting in trouble with the locals, you’re likely to be reverted to your initial position: that of foreigner. So use your local knowledge with care.

  1. I lived in France for a year as an exchange student, and I still remember that first time I dropped something and swore in French instead of English – my host father started laughing and told me my French was finally becoming second nature.

  2. I would have to say that 1,2, and 6 are hands down my way of knowing you are starting to become a local. I would have to say whether or not I am actually considered a local is less important than number 6 itself.

  3. I think something that goes along with #2 is that you start to recognize people when you’re not in your own neighborhood… After living in Santiago de Chile about 6 months now I ran into someone I know walking down the street nowhere near my apartment the other day… it felt great and very local.

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