“Thanks very much,” I said as I passed my cash across the counter of a non-descript gas station somewhere in Nevada. The attendant looked up. “That’s a mighty pretty accent you got there miss. Where’re you from then? Texas?” “Ahh, no, a little further south,” I replied with a smile.
This was not an isolated incident. Over years of travel, my flat, non-traceable accent is often remarked upon, and I’ve realised it’s actually a case of mimickery on my part – I unknowingly mimic whatever accent I am listening to. I also sometimes mimic body language and posture of those around me.
Embarassing perhaps, but I’ve learned not to just live with my habit but to embrace it, as the delight of being a camouflage traveller has sunk in.
Now I love it when someone speaks to me in French so fast that I am completely lost, because they think I am a native speaker. I chalk up as a small victory when a street hawker in a busy tourist town doesn’t approach me to buy their wares. To walk down a street and not be classified by my clothes or demeanour is a dream. These are all small triumphs that define becoming camouflaged into local communities.
I have found that the key to camouflage is quietness and observation. Learn to not project yourself, your expectations or demands, but instead sit back and let your surroundings sweep you up in them. By blending in with the local community we gain the insights into our surroundings, allowing us to notice the subtleties of language, the lilt in a voice, the glance of an eye, the tilt of a head and other subtle nuances of daily transactions. Through stillness we get an intimate view of the culture, the people and the insights they have to share.
Remember that the camouflage traveller is not about not being yourself, but rather about not being anything at all; it's about being a neutral canvas. Let your surroundings be your guide, as in quiet and observation we often not only find truth in others, but also within ourselves.