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Hiding in Plain Sight, Part II

What does it mean to keep a low profile? As I wrote about last week, I call it being the "gray man (or woman)." To be gray is to be someone who blends in and doesn't draw attention to himself. Being gray is not just important during a societal crisis; it's important, too, whenever you travel or venture outside your home area.

If you're getting ready to travel somewhere, especially to a place you've never been to before, do your research. How does the "average" person dress? If everyone dresses in colorful clothing, and you wear blacks, grays, and browns, you'll stand out. The converse is also true. I've traveled a lot in overseas cultures, and, no matter where I'm at, I can usually pick out the Americans relatively easily. Why? Well, to begin with, fairer skinned peoples (see Note 1) tend to stand out in cultures of darker colors. In melting pot cultures (like, say, many European countries), we Americans tend to stand out because, unfortunately, we tend to be a little loud and maybe a little too flamboyant, we tend to over tip (or tip when we shouldn't), and we expect everyone to cater to us (HEY, WE'RE FROM AMERICA...SO SPEAK OUR LANGUAGE, AND, OF COURSE, SERVE US FIRST!). As an American, who's been abroad many, many times, I abhor such behaviors and run far from them. Why? Well, first of all, they're just plain rude and obnoxious; secondly, they draw attention to the person behaving in such ways (and, in turn, to his [or her] "American" money and valuables; or to the perception he has money and valuables).

Not Becoming a Target

Why would someone target a foreigner as opposed to a national? Of course, there is a host of reasons, but I think the one that stands at the top of the list is this: if you stand out, you look vulnerable. If I were targetting someone and had to make a choice between someone who looks like he belongs (and can handle himself) and someone who looks out of place, I'd choose the one who looks out of place every time.

There are many reasons why "outsiders" are targeted. In our day, some point to terrorism, but I think those who focus on such motivations are more interested in selling their high-dollar preparedness packages than much of anything else. Hey, the scarier the world, the more "need" there'll be for their services. Sure, some people are targeted by terrorists; but the vast majority of overseas muggings and kidnappings are monetarily motivated. Even if someone were to be kidnapped by a terrorist group, the reason might not be so much to advance a political cause directly, but rather to fund their daily operations. As they say, terrorists need to eat, too.

A Few Things to Consider

I write all the above to encourage you to think about going gray whenever you travel outside your home base...even if it's just to another city in your state or province or another state or region in your country. Provided below are some strategies to help you plan your next gray man (or woman) excursion:

  • Research the area to where you'e going, and practice (to the best of your ability, and within reason [see Note 2]) emulating the ways in which the locals dress, talk, and carry themselves. The internet can help a lot, but it's limitted. Sometimes, you may need to engage in a little on-the-job training, where, the moment you're on the ground (or in-country), you start observing (and mimicking) the people around you. This means you may need to set aside a little "cultural adjustment" money to help you get in character and blend-in on the spot (like a chameleon). The principal idea, here, is to look like you belong. Speaking from experience, it's realistically possible to be a white American and look like you belong in the mountainous villages of Haiti.

  • Travel in groups; and, if you're in a foreign country, travel with a local (and experienced) guide. This has been especially helpful to me dozens of times.

  • Learn to speak a few key phrases in the language of the locals. This, too, has been exceedingly helpful.

  • In terms of who you are, what kind of work you do, where you're from, what you're doing, where you're staying, and to where you're going, hold your cards close to your chest—even when you're at dinner in a public place with friends. Voices (especially distinctly different voices) can attract attention from those you may not want to attract it from.

  • If you rent a vehicle, and if it's at all possible, rent a white, run-of-the-mill sedan or, if the situation demands (and many do), a white SUV or four-wheeled drive pickup. White is the most popular car color in the world. Just like here in the U.S., flashy (red) sports cars scream of money. If you tend to rent those kinds of vehicles when you travel to Italy, Japan, or, even, The Peoples Republic of Santa Monica, STOP IT!

  • When walking about, keep your maps and cameras to youself. Rather than carrying a purse, use a carrying case for your valuables that can be concealed. If you must use your phone, get off the street and go somewhere where you won't attract attention. Many people have had their phones, purses, and cameras snatched right from their hands. About thirty years ago, someone tried to grab my camera as I pointed it out the window of the moving vehicle I was in at the time. It happens—more often than you think. That whole episode reminds me that it's really good advice to keep your doors locked and windows up when you're driving (or riding) in a strange or unfamiliar place.

  • When moving from point A to B, enjoy the journey, but focus primarily on getting safely to where you're headed.

  • Above all else, practice situational awareness by paying attention (and orienting) to the people and environments around you. This is the ground zero of preparedness and of implementing all manner of "gray man" concepts.

Take care, happy travels, and God bless!!



1. Of course, not all Americans are fair skinned. Since I am (and a lot of Americans are), I write this purely as a generalization derived from my own limited experience.

2. Emulate, but don't sacrifice who you are. For example, I hate profanity and crassness. Just because the local population may speak and behave crudely doesn't mean I need to in order to not stick out. I can still be me and be gray. I think that's got the makings of a great slogan: Be gray, but still be you. Peace...


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