I'm very proud to be an American living in the greatest nation on earth, but not everyone's a fan. There are places in this world, friends, where it's best to keep your love of all things 'Murica on the down low. I made mention of some of these places in an earlier post, What Is a Single Operative and the issues that may arise when traveling to these places alone. If you find yourself there, a few skills in your back pocket can help alleviate the anxiety. You can read all about that here.
If you're heading to a country that doesn't exactly appreciate American greatness, then you need to develop the ability to blend into the surroundings as soon as possible. Believe me, I appreciate the value of blending in. I'm a blond hair, blue-eyed, 6'5" white dude with a booming voice. Blending doesn't come easy to me even in my own country. If you have challenges too, here are 3 strategies that all good single operatives follow. It will help you keep your profile low.
Don't Look Like an American: Nothing says I'm an American like a baseball cap, t-shirt and athletic shoes. You need to ditch these stat. Opt for dark or muted colors - preferably logo free. Yes, I know that can be a tall order. I live in the South where we wear our favorite camo hats to bed. Trust me, I get it. But, when I go across the "big pond," I lose the hat and anything associated with a my favorite football team's logo. Start out conservative. You can always adjust once you check out what the locals are wearing.
Don't Eat Like an American: It may surprise you, but we Americans have different table manners than the rest of the world. Clint Emerson, author of Escape the Wolf Risk Assessement: Personnel Security Handbook for the Traveling Professional, recounts the tragic tale of the Jedburgh operatives in WWII. The Jedburghs were a group of elite American and British operatives, who inserted into occupied France to conduct espionage and guerrilla operations. These operatives lived on the edge of the blade, posing as local frenchmen among the Nazi occupying forces. The Jedburghs looked the part, talked and walked the part, but oddly enough, it was their eating habits that gave them away.
Americans typically eat with the fork in the right hand, while leaving the knife on the table until needed. When cutting, we switch the fork to the left hand and cut with the knife in the right hand, switching back and forth as needed. Europeans, on the other hand, use both the knife and fork throughout the duration of their meal and never switch positions. This and other tell-tale signs are what sadly gave the Jedburgh's away. Many were captured and imprisoned. Others were shot on the spot. Emerson delves more deeply into the Jedburghs and the lessons they teach for those of us who travel abroad. I've used many of the tips in his book and highly recommend it.
- Don't Sweat the English: Contrary to popular belief, the majority of foreigners won't know you're an America just because you speak english. Keep in mind, the dialects are not as pronounced for a non-native speaker. Unless that person has trained to spot the difference, they most likely won't know whether you're Canadian, English, Australian, or an American. Furthermore, if you get the mannerisms right, you might be able to pass yourself off some other foreign national who just happens to have a command of the English language. If have a little background in a another language, that's even better. I've passed myself off as a German national when I was in North Africa and the Middle East. It's very doable.
Got a unclassified travel story to share with us? Leave it below.
Mark Booher is a former soldier, prosecuting attorney, and certified close protection specialist. He has trained hundreds of military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel on the subject of intelligence and security operations.