Everywhere I go, I am a native. I had been in Oslo for less than an hour and was waiting for a bus when a British couple walked up to me and asked me how to use public transit. And I knew the answer. Four hours later, at a tram stop, a college-aged Osloan asked me in Norwegian if this was the right corner to pick up his tram. I was like “English?” When he asked again in English, I didn’t know the answer. Just because I look like I know what’s going on doesn’t mean I actually do. But surprisingly often, I have a clue. I’m aware of the “asking for directions” pickpockets and other scams, so I am always on the lookout for strange behavior. But usually, people just want to get somewhere. I am not sure why people ask me directions wherever I go.
Four days later, in Gothenburg, Sweden, a man had a map to an appointment, and I helped him find the right tram… this time completely in Swedish (which was neither his first language nor mine). A week later in Vienna, a similar story. Walking back from grabbing a coke at a grocery store in the Westbahnhof train station, a confused mom with two tweens got off an airport bus with a map to her hotel and asked: “Do you live here? Do you know where I can find this?” Clearly, I live everywhere. (And I was able to point her in the right direction).
It is certainly not my clothes that make me a native. I don’t wear skinny leg jeans or wear only black. I dress like a strange hybrid between slacker American backpacker and non-quite European. Maybe I look friendly. Maybe I look smart. Maybe there is something about my aura that says “I worked a dozen years in hotels and have given directions to a lot of strangers.” I’m not sure what it is, but it’s fun to feel like I belong. Although there is also the chance that I just look like a guy who rides the bus.