Sightseeing and food are the preoccupation of choice for many travelers. People travel to gain novel experiences. Tourists are often easy to spot: suited with fanny packs, and taking shots with their cameras like automatic weapons. People-watching is part of the joy for many tourists. Seeing others with different mannerisms, exotic clothing, and peculiar gaits can be a stimulating experience. Locals provide a degree of novelty that satiates, yet tourists can be equally as captivating to the locals. My travels tend to take me off the tourist circuit (perhaps subconsciously I’m just trying to find the hood). For this reason, I often find that— in a role-reversing plot twist— I am the object of interest. In my Asian travels, I’ve found myself at the butt of a lot of inquiries: from the more mundane, “Where are you from?” and the amusing “Are you wearing a wig?” to the provocative “Is it big?”
Eyes, they say, are windows to the soul, and they’re the lenses that most people use to absorb the world. They’re also of what most are aware when they find themselves outnumbered in a foreign environment. People stare. Many locals are naturally curious about you, the latest import. For some, you may be one of a handful of your likes with whom they have interacted. Others you may simply repel. Naturally, everyone has their own biases and preferences (which in turn have been influenced by media in some manner). Certain people just have prejudices against people of a particular race, color or creed. These types of situations can create opportunities. At the minimum, the viewer will have another reference from which to work the next time they encounter a person of your lot—via real life or some vicarious experience. And for the drifter, it can be an exercise in patience, something that all of humanity needs, especially the voyaging variety. Some people just may not know how to process you. This isn’t negative in and of itself. It can be quite amusing. Some people resort to a sort of awkwardness, and perhaps you’ve made them uncomfortable by expanding their experience of the world by just a smidgen. And of course you have the flirts. Granted certain societies are more liberal than others, but people who dig you tend to express it, regardless of how subtle.
Despite globalization and certain uniform practices around the world, societies still have their own ideals: White skin, no freckles, skinny, etc. Further, etiquette may also vary amongst lands. Take physical proximity. As an American I can say we like our space. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had no personal boundaries to speak of— none. And in the same places, certain people have inconvenienced themselves to distance themselves from me. “That’s cool lady, you want to wait for the next elevator going down?!” As an American, as a Nubian, or as a <--however you self identify-->, you’re bound to generate some sort of interest or reaction in a foreign environment. Some instances may be unique and magical, the type of experiences that make travel so amusing. Yet, there are arses amongst us. My advice is to keep it cool. If the individual is being egregiously stupid, you may want to check them— lightly. But please, no jaw-tapping. In my experience, some folk are just ignorant and need to have a sour encounter in order to become better socialized. And the traveler needs to stay on top of his game. Even if you aren’t getting paparazzied as you walk down the street, eyes are on you. So respect yourself and the environment in which you’re dwelling. Represent.