While on a plane to India for business, I read an article on how to blend in as a tourist. It was full of clear, straightforward actions such as “wear semi formal footwear. Only Americans wear sneakers.” “Always carry an umbrella, never carry a backpack. Only Americans carry backpacks.” Most of all, and this point, apparently, could not be stressed strongly enough, “Never ever wear a baseball cap.”
The problem with this advice, while superficially sound, is that no hat will disguise the fact that I’m white. I couldn’t be more Caucasian if I’d been snipped out of printer paper. Mind you, not tan or beige. Not a blond haired, blue eyed, long legged Scandinavian who would blend in north of the Rhine. Not an olive skinned, black eyed beauty at home south of the Rhone. In other words, there’s nowhere in the world I blend in, no matter what shoes I wear. (Oddly enough when I’m in Belgium I blend so completely I could walk down the street naked and people would still stop to ask me directions to the post office in French.)
So I’ve decided to embrace my outer whiteness and proceed forward boldly. Full frontal Caucasian, as it were. I wear tee shirts and jeans everywhere except temples, churches and mosques. I wear sneakers with ankle socks – mostly white athletic socks – because that’s what I have, and they’re comfortable. Sometimes they even have lace edging. I carry a backpack, or worse, one of those string corner athletic bags the color of lollipops, with logos of American sporting events.
And I wear baseball caps. Everywhere. (OK, not temples, churches or mosques.) Once I decided to travel this path, I embraced it wholeheartedly. To be as American as possible, and to blend in as little as possible. I am American, why would I want someone to think I’m Turkish or Scottish or Chinese? I like to think of myself as “the nice American”. Central to this is the choice of specific cap. It’s not as simple as it sounds.
I once attended a week long seminar at which I overheard one of the other participants say, “It took me forever to pack, I couldn’t decided what image I wanted to project.” I laughed when I first heard this – what a bimbo – but now I totally get it. It was the same with choosing my baseball cap. A sports team, showing my playful spirit and regional pride? If so, baseball or football? Proball, semi-pro, or local? Or maybe the purple and turquoise little league hat I snitched from my son’s coach because I liked the colors? If I was going to declare my American pride, maybe it should be a corporate hat? Coke, Pepsi, Nike? Ok, maybe not. How about a hat displaying a political or humanitarian ideology I believe in? So many hats, only one head.
I started to look around me to see what other people were wearing. What did they wear in the city, what did they wear in the suburbs, what did they wear in Europe, America and Asia? What did they believe in? What do I believe in? That’s when I realized I had come full circle – trying to figure out how to blend in, if only from the hat up. The answer was clear – I would wear whichever hat was clean and handy, and stride forward proudly in my sneakers and ankle socks, my backpack filled with water, and my generic baseball cap on my ordinary brown hair.