A fairly touchy subject that is a pretty individual thing: how far do you go to fit in abroad? What compels you–pride, security, respect, one of the many other possible driving factors?
I thought of this as I researched for my journey to South America this year. I came across a posting on one forum where a woman said she had dyed her ash-blonde hair black to fit in more in Ecuador.
I have to admit, while living in Korea I definitely considered this. While I could do nothing about my above-average height, my light hair could certainly be dyed to (perhaps) lessen the stares. This wouldn’t be a great stretch for me: I’d dyed my hair dark throughout most of my university years. However, the new travel life I’d envisioned inspired a more low-maintenance routine that constantly covering up my natural hair colour didn’t seem to suit. For the past two years, I’ve lived my life without the hassle of dying, and fully embracing my natural hair colour–is this something I want to trade for the possibility of sliding under the radar in another country?
A more obvious method of altering appearances is–of course–clothing choice. Most travellers choose to follow suit and adapt their wardrobes as a sign of respect, but I was incredibly surprised at how many didn’t do that while travelling in Southeast Asia. Of course, it can be the norm in bigger cities, but I was surprised by those wearing bikini tops and short-shorts while walking the same streets as locals with long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Admittedly, I didn’t go all the way, but I stuck to covered shoulders and knees most of the time.
I’m not ashamed to be a white girl from North America, and I don’t feel the need to hide it. But, I do want to be a savvy traveller, and I think part of that is accepting and adhering to cultural norms dependant on the country. That being said, appearances are a hard thing to judge: between cultural norms, being respectful, practicing freedom, standing up to sexism–where is the line? Is this a matter of comfort? Pride? Am I overthinking it?
What do you think? Do you make an effort to dress like and fit in among the locals? Why or why not? Is it based on comfort or to make a stance? Do you judge the other side? Or is it “to each their own?”
A lot of questions–I know! I am very interested and would love to see the opinions out there!