What Makes A Local?

23 02 2011

What makes someone look like a local in a city? There is the assumption that tourists tend to wear comfortable walking shoes, apparel from the city they are in, have a camera ready at all times, and look confused or lost, among other things. So does a local person, wear the opposite? What constitutes “standard wear” for a person who feels at ease in their own city? I bring this up, because I was correctly called a local by a person who didn’t even know me, thus prompting me to question this situation.

I was walking in downtown D.C. yesterday when a stranger approached me. We were standing on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW and I was being asked where the Metro was. This is somewhat of a regular occurrence, so I simply told the man and his wife that the Metro was actually across the street from where we were standing at The National Archives building. The man thanked me and then happily told his wife something like of course I would know, since I’m a local!

But how did he know I really was locally from the city? It wasn’t like I was wearing uncomfortable shoes, and you wouldn’t be able to tell what else I was wearing, since it was cold out, and I was bundled up in a coat. Normally, I even wear a “retro” Washington Capitals hat, signaling that I have been a fan of the team for a while -and that I have thus been in the area for a long time. But that hat was not atop my head. I looked pretty ordinary, by tourist/non-tourist standards. So was this man a psychic? Or was it just a lucky guess? Or do I just happen to carry myself in the confident, typical “Type A”, hurried manner, typical of local Washingtonians?  I don’t know what it was, but it made me ponder how locals are perceived by outsiders.

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