March 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm #4936
While the vast majority of my time and energies are spent in extreme wilderness climates, I also (naturally) address Urban issues a lot as well. Here is a summary of some key things I’ve learnt in my travels on things to do (or not!) if you are in a ‘new place’…. Hope it is of interest!
The overarching consideration for this type of problem can easily be broken down into two categories. Deciding on a recommended course of action or displaying a behavior can always be held up to this simple litmus test…
1) No harm can come from this… (Insert action)
2) No good can come from… (Insert action)
See how this applies in the guide below:
Be Observant – Breaking rules in other cultures can attract moderate to severe penalties. (Go to Deera Square in Saudi Arabia on a Friday afternoon to see a stark example). Due to the potential severity of punishment of what we may see as ‘slight’ or minor issues the exquisite art of observation must come into play as early as possible. Scrutinize your surroundings and compare yourself to them and see in what ways you will/are ‘stand out’ and then take action to address those issues swiftly. No harm can come from being observant.
Keep Covered – This applies to men, but even more so to women. No harm can come from covering as much of the body as possible in an unknown area (See how the test works!?) If you feel you ever are realistically going to find yourself in such an ‘unknown’ situation we are illustrating, then make sure long sleeved trousers and tops are worn or are immediately available. Early observation should indicate if you need to cover your head. For shawls/scarves/head covers unless you KNOW the tribal identifiers (e.g. patterns and colour connotations on a shemagh) keep them as neutral and non-specific in style as possible. Your dapper blue cravat may look great at the cocktail bar in your tennis club but will probably cause you problems in South-Central LA.
Avoid Comments – Let’s face it, you are probably already ‘pinged’ by the locals or residents as being a stranger. Trying not to stand out will help, but an overheard comment (especially a negative or derogatory one), no matter how outstanding, strange, odd or degrading event you are commenting on is going to get you on peoples radar swiftly and not in a good way. No good can come from mentioning how ‘different’ these people are from you or you are from these people.
Stick Within Your Gender – Do not attempt to engage, in any way, with members of the opposite sex. Full Stop (Period). Be as affronted at this advice as you want, but take it. No discussion is required. If you can’t follow it in this format you WILL be taught another way…
Also know this isn’t just about you. If you are introduced to a woman do not offer her your hand. Wait for her to offer. If you hold out your hand in simple politeness you may be forcing her to choose between insulting a guest (you) or touching a man she is not married to—either or both of which may be harshly punished for.
Steer Clear of Religious Buildings/Areas – In the absence of a professional guide, or clear acceptance of tourists, the odds of you breaking up a VERY significant rule are so off the scale it is not worth the risk.
Remain Clear Headed – Degenerating your ability to be observant, and cognitive ability to understand why you need to stick with these rules is a plan no good can come from… On this, please note, just because you see locals doing something doesn’t mean you can too…don’t get drunk or stoned in dangerous places. More strongly, NEVER alter your mental state except in a confirmed safe place.
Don’t Engage with ANY Solicitation – Do not give to beggars, do not feed the poor. From personal experience don’t stop the child running in to the road clearly in your line of sight (it’s bait for a trap you don’t want to be in). Don’t talk with prostitutes, even if you are ‘Just asking for directions’, avoid street vendors, touts, self declared taxi drivers… You get the idea.
If You Need Help, Ask Someone In a Public Facing Role or just ‘Back Up’ – Look for assistance from service staff, waiters, store owners etc. DO NOT stop random strangers in the street, and don’t stand in the street looking lost and/or bewildered. If you have ‘inadvertently’ found yourself in the wrong place, turn around and go back the way you came (Like if you ever accidentally take an express subway that doesn’t stop at 70th Street in New York City, but takes you straight to Harlem at 11pm at night, and you are translucent white, not American, and look like you just got a beating from Muay Thai class, get back on the Subway and head back the way you came…)
No Pictures – You’ve realized you may not be in tinsel town, so stop wandering around like a tourist. Unless you’re taking pictures of your teeth for dental record analysis later on, no good can come from getting in peoples way with a camera.
Don’t Display Wealth – If it’s shiny and possibly expensive looking stow it away or hide it.
Most important point last!
Be Polite – Not witty, engaging, entertaining, fascinated, shocked, pious, or committed to ‘educating people’, or any other way you may think I mean by ‘Polite’. Out and out, genuinely polite. You are the odd one out, you are under scrutiny, anything going wrong WILL be seen as potentially your fault, so try not to do anything ‘wrong’ (even though you don’t know yet what wrong is) so be sincere and respectful in your actions until you’ve figured out what is going on…March 29, 2014 at 2:35 pm #4941
Wow, this is a really powerful message. I would love to hear more about how something so nearly-instinctual as stopping a child who’s running headfirst into danger can backfire on you, but it’s just one of the many valuable lessons in this about ways you could not predict something going wrong – but it would! I admit that I’d stop the child, too, so I will have to drill into my brain not to do that in unfamiliar places.
Thanks so much, and you write really well; it was an enjoyable read as well as educational!March 29, 2014 at 2:50 pm #4951
Great, well-written, true advice Toby C. Hope those who travel readMarch 29, 2014 at 3:01 pm #4953
In standard terms, most criminal acts will have a ‘precursor’ commonly referred to as the ‘interview’ to establish your victim profile (As in are you a good victim for what is about to happen) When I was in Africa, an easy way to get targeted as ‘soft’ was how you reacted too seeing apparent dangers (e.g. Kids running towards you in the road) Once you’ve reacted some of the (normally ill intentioned) ‘bystanders’ have identified you as ‘soft’ (or weak) as you cared so much about a kid (remember in this regions life is CHEAP, that is VERY difficult for most people to understand) and will target you for further things, counter to this, if the kid does get hit by a car and you are going to ‘assist’ you are potentially lining yourself up as being guilty of ‘luring’ the child over and causing the accident. The price of your ‘compensation’ or details of your ‘punishment’ will likely be discussed on the spot and in a rapidly escalating manner.
This also happens in Iraq, Afghanistan and I am sure numerous other places… So yes, if you’re not sure of the area, keeping the most primal instincts in check is to be considered necessary…
All the above can also apply if stepping in to ‘intervene’ say if you see a man beating a woman…March 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm #4964
Thanks for elaborating on that. Now that I understand how the criminals perceive it, that will definitely help me keep the lesson in mind.March 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm #4966
First class advice in this thread, and worth rereading to digest and make a part of one’s thinking.
Bugs Bunny: "I speak softly, but I carry a big stick."
Yosemite Sam: "Oh yeah? Well I speak LOUD! and I carry a BIGGER stick! and I use it, too!" BAM!March 29, 2014 at 6:05 pm #5069
Very well said Toby, and nicely organized.
Thanks.March 31, 2014 at 10:14 pm #5959
Thank you so much for this advice.
I will be sharing it with those close to me.
HannahMarch 31, 2014 at 10:59 pm #5972
sharing as well, eye opening culture difference. i take for granted my liberty sometimes. must learn to keep myself in check.
Prepare, Preserve, Protect...March 31, 2014 at 11:15 pm #5977
The military addresses this issue greatly , they have several pointers for how generally not to offend unknown people , particularly a downed airman – ind tribe situation .April 1, 2014 at 3:12 am #6028
Be the Grey Man.April 1, 2014 at 3:14 am #6032
Kinda hard ……….if your the only white guy in a black nation . Just SayinApril 1, 2014 at 3:36 am #6045
Great advice Toby!
I was in a gang in my teenage years and what you learn there being and dealing with criminals is also to simply don’t talk too much. If you are quiet people can’t really judge you. If you talk too much people find ways to pick on you and use this information against you or simply might realize you are a soft target.
Within a gang you always have some sort of small infighting going on for more status. So you can not show any weakness. Especially when you are with other people you don’t know that well (and we also met with other gangs to fight, deal or hang out and party) . Everyone looks for ways to raise their status and this is either through violence or some other way of abuse. The victim is everyone who most likely loses and sticks out of the crowd / catches some attention.
Within gangs you always have the guys who just tag along, who are used for shitty jobs, who sometimes get even politely robbed or extorted and get a casual beating on top of that (for fun). Usually they are the guys who are not in line with what is considered “cool”, strong or dominant. Sometimes they were also simply nice guys who decided to hang out with bad guys.
So if you find yourself suddenly in such an environment simply talk less, act cool and confident but not arrogant. You are the quiet guy who takes what he wants but other than that is trying to stay out of the spotlight.
Alea iacta est ("The die has been cast")April 11, 2014 at 6:49 pm #8136
We were discussing kids in the road… Here’s the latest from Detroit…April 12, 2014 at 3:24 pm #8291
Gypsy Wanderer HuskySurvivalist
sharing as well, eye opening culture difference.
Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.
George S. Patton
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