We all want the most authentic experience when we go abroad, and one of the universally-agreed best ways to do that is to spend time with the local inhabitants of an area, eating where they eat, socializing how they socialize, and learning the local folklore directly from the local folk. For some helpless extroverts, starting conversations with locals is simple and nearly mindless, but for some, it takes a lot more courage and planning to prepare and execute a productive conversation with a total stranger from a different culture. Here are some ways to ensure that you’re inviting and fostering fulfilling conversations with local inhabitants.
Learn some local greetings. A deep language gulf separates you from the land you’re visiting, so sometimes, offering a local greeting will help break the ice. Sometimes, mispronouncing it terribly will invite an even better conversation about local greetings, how to create certain sounds, and the differences between the local greetings and American greetings.
Read the local newspaper. Assuming there’s a version in English, the local newspaper will provide fantastic insight about what’s going on in local politics, the lives of local celebrities, and the events that are most important to the readers. If you’re informed on the news that’s fit to print, you’ll be able to offer relevant commentary on the local happenings to locals and ask more probative questions about the history and recent events pertaining to the present news.
Eat at local establishments. It’ll become clear quickly which restaurants cater to foreigners and which cater to locals. Not only will you get more authentic food at the local restaurants, but the waiters and patrons will also be local people who would love to answer your questions and share their culture with you.
Travel in the off-season. Locals are inundated with curious tourists during peak travel season, but often, during the off season, they’ll be able to give you more personalized attention and discuss things in more detail.
Ask for directions. As the cultural norms permit, ask passers by or people with you on local transportation where you need to wind up and the best way to get there. Locals are often sympathetic to travellers who may not know their way around and will likely help you as much as they can. Furthermore, if you tell them the kind of place you’re trying to get to, they might offer a better suggestion that you’d never thought of.
If you try a little courage, you might learn a lot more about the place you’re visiting than you otherwise would have.