I was always wondering how is that everywhere you go, locals can so easily tell that that you’re a foreigner. I understand when that happens in Indonesia or India or Thailand – white American-looking guy sticks out there. But I figured that in Central Asia, I have more of a chance to “blend” in – if nothing else because of the language and being better familiar with the culture.
This weekend, I took a marshrutka (mini-bus) to visit a friend in Tokmak, a small city about an hour away from Bishkek. The second I stepped out of the mini-bus, the taxi drivers standing nearby approached me: “Deutch? England? Inostranec (foreigner)?” When I told them that I was just a regular guy from Bishkek, they didn’t seem too convinced.
When I met my friend, I asked him how they knew. He sized me up within a second and starteded listing the clues:
“First, you’re smiling too much. What do you have to be so happy about? Nobody smiles that much here. It looks suspicious…
Second, your shoes are a give away – they are too different. (that’s true – it’s amazing how much you can tell about a person’s origin by their shoes. For some reason, Adidas has a huge presence in Central Asia).
Third, you’re wearing a backpack and you’re more than 12 years old.
Fourth, your jeans are too light, your glasses’ frame is exotic, and your haircut is too neat.
The list went on and on, but these factors – especially the first 3 – were dead-on. I guess if you want to fit in, turn that smile upside down, get a pair of Adidas, and stuff your belongings into your pockets.
I guess I should’ve known – after all, I always found it to be quite easy to tell Americans apart in Central Asia myself… I just thought I was better at camouflaging 🙂