Being the Grey Man

This is a topic I know a little more about. We have had a lot of success as a family pulling off the Grey Man thing. More than once our family was approached on the streets in Germany by Germans and have them be shocked when we answered their questions in English instead of German. There is a lot of good ideas out there, so here ya go! civilian contractor board, attention contractors sticky thread:
“Buy some clothes in Europe on a layover. Yes they look like fag clothes but it will reduce you being picked as an American. Get different shoes and stay away from ball caps. Buy some European backpack and sunglasses too. Stay OUT of location that Americans are known to frequent.”
“Get euro threads and SHOES – no sneakers/tennis shoes/trainers !!!!! Leather shoes, with heels no less, are in.

No jeans unless they are French or Italian fashion styles. Leather belts WITHOUT the rodeo buckle please.

Shirts with collars.

No hats. Bandanas are acceptable if you also don’t shave. Or score one of the civi euro style brimmed hats with a red cross/crescent or some other aid group name & symbol on it.

Swiss shades, watches, and pocket knives are GTG.

North euro day packs and bags, Swedish, Norwegian, etc. are in right now.

Leather luggage & day packs are also very euro at the moment. Keep a euro or regional newspaper in the outer pocket of your pack or brief case where it can be seen.

Most non-USers are not using their iPods in public at the moment, but they ARE talking on their cell phone 24/7/365, or have it in a leather case on the belt.

Learn a few words, like “excuse me” in French, Spanish, and Russian. Anytime someone says something to you, you need to get past them, etc. respond with one first, such as “pardon” then press on in English.

Think rich euro trash post modern spoiled bored rich hippie for the look. Or if you prefer you can shoot for down on the luck English public school, Canadian square head, New Zealand mountain guide, or even gay neo-commie university professor looks. “

“Some of us just can’t help looking Norte Americano no matter where you go, even with euro clothing & etc. Good light cover that’s easy to provide documentation for:
– World Peace Now! Magazine journalist
– Injured techie/medic for foreign oil well fire suppression company
– Goofy/nerdy boring art history professor for foreign university
– No More War lefty ngo activist
– Sad looking Islamic Friendship Society foreign chapter vice-president
– Small time ngo aid worker on medical leave due to tropical disease de jure – note that pencil graphite brushed lightly on upper and lower eye lids and nose border will give you a hollow eyed sick look easily, slump a bit and hold your hand over your liver like you are hurting
– And similar low-pro not a fan of the US unimpressive semi-contemptible rather threadbare not a threat sorts of looks and feels – which means keep the cameras and iPods out of sight too
A worn ID card; a letterhead letter of introduction to some non-existent agency covered with colors, stamps, seals; a few business cards from other groups similar to your cover; an international drivers license… all easy stuff to come up with and pull out as needed. Passport? “It’s in the safe at the hotel.” “It’s at X embassy getting a visa.”

BTW, did you know that you are allowed to have 2 valid US passports? The second is only good for 2 years at a time, but is offered so you can keep Israeli and Arab visas in separate passports, or for similar situations e.g. India/Pakistan, Taiwan/China & etc. You need to supply a letter explaining why you need the second unit. Handy also when you really do have one shipped off for a visa.”

“These are a few things I’ve noticed about my own super-duper obvious American traits while traveling back and forth to Ireland a few times throgh Heathrow. I’m no expert, just a cop who is really fairly half-assed decent at people watching and noticing things. White socks; Americans always have white socks. Look around at Heathrow, or any other large, international airport and you can always tell the Americans by their white socks and running/basketball shoes. Also, Americans usually have newer, shinier stuff. Wear dark socks, more threadbare stuff, like cords and leather shoes. Don’t bathe for a day before traveling. Don’t look so friggin happy and point at everything different. Smoke. Many of us Californians have given up the habit; the rest of the world hasn’t. Disgusting personal habits and not being overly polite: we Americans generally don’t blow huge honking boogers in front of people or pick our teeth in fornt of others, not so in other cultures. Also, watch how the French, for example, behave in lines, it’s different than you or I are used to. “
“It is difficult to NOT look athletic or to walk like you haven’t had martial arts classes. So I tried to build those realities into my cover. I enjoy being the Extreme sports trust fund kid / world adventurer that I am so sick of meeting at ski resorts. Marmot or Burton jacket, good hiking boots (not Merrells) snow board or in-line skate bag and a bad attitude. Carebear patches on my jeans and a hackey sac. Stocking cap instead of ball cap. How does this sound? Does anyone think I’ll pass as non-threatening or not worth the time to surveil?”
“These are the items to also look at (mostly for traveling in general):

– Samsonite and American Traveler luggage (they usually disappeared at the airport), plus when you go outside to grab a cab it’s a dead giveaway. Buy some cheap, ugly looking suitcases they might blow out after 3-4 trips but for the price it’s not bad. Hialeah Flea Market (Miami) has the best selection.
– Stop acting all preppy and shit.. Don’t fucking dress alike when traveling with signficant other (it’s stupid to do anyways so don’t). Put away all the fucking toys (pdas, ipods, gameboys)
– Don’t acting like you are holyier that everyone because you are american. So stop the american symbols on your shirts, hats, t-shirts.
– Don’t put all your documents in your shirt folder sticking out like you just left the set of the Revenge of the Nerds.
– Look at your surrounding, you might not know it, there’s at least one person with eyes on you..
-Learn a fucking language other than English, I could careless if you hate hispanics, euros, russians, or the world for that matter and believe the everyone in the world should know english, it’s stupid period. Learn a language asap, it can be a lifesaver. I got stopped once in Dominican Republic when I was 14 or 15 and they asked me all these stupid questions Like if I was trying to leave the country on false papers (I was born in the Bronx so the heard about it in my NY accent.)
– Last but not least, if you must engage in a conversation, don’t discuss what you do out loud so every mofo can hear you. And if you are going to drink don’t drink to get drunk at a airport, you taxi ride to the hotel might end up leaving you six feat under.”
“Oakley sunglasses, especially the SI line… your wearing Oakley’s and have a subdued logo… your either military or have something to do with them.

Backpacks, kelty and other US brands stand out. An for godsakes do not put all kinds of badges (OIF/OEF/nametags) or flags on them.

Desert/other military and hiking type boots (this includes your cool Merrell sawtooths) Or any US made boot. Except maybe Timberlands… everybody and their brother is wearing those.

Not knowing what your doing here. Cover story! “…so your not military, what do you do then?” … blank.

Most of the clothing found at outdoor shops in the states, colombia, north face, patagonia, are not often seen on the streets here.

Luggage… brandless (cheap) shit works… no 5.11/BPG/Eagle/maxpedition or camouflaged bags please.

GPS’s … If I see one more fucker with an etrex trying to find his way through Amsterdam(or attempting to impress some bitch with his skillzs), I’m gonna monkey stomp his ass into the nearest canal… Get a fucking map.

Do not exchange currency at a currency exhange office… We have several in our area, an all of them often have guys hanging around doing nothing ecept looking who goes in and why… especially the one accross from Central Station on the corner. Exchange your shit at a hotel, or at a bank… yes the rates might be a little less vavourable, but remember the exchange offices ask for added commission.

Your not on parade, so do NOT walk that way. Look like a sack of potatoes is what a former instructor and longtime friend allways said to me, and it’s true.

Tattoo’s… cover them up.

If someone is picking you up at the airport… Have him dress like he would normally do, do not hold up any stupid sign with your name on it/company your with. I have been in Airport terminals looking at people who are looking at people who are getting of an airplane… try not to meet in front of the gate.

Short hair is fine, high and tights are not.

Shorts are fine… in the summer. That’s it. summer lasts about two months here… wear regular pants.

No flipflops(especially the shower kind), unless you get the entire -just back from the beach, and don’t care- look right.

No crusty beards if you look halfway like someone from the US.

No Ipods/PDA’s/US type cell phones, carry your phone in your pocket, not on your belt, unless it’s in a leather case or something and it fit’s with the rest of the look. If your over the age of 16 you do not show your Ipod to anyone.

No printed T-shirts/caps/whatever etc. you didn’t buy local.

Do not EVER show or take out your military ID unless you really have to. And definately do not have it in one of those beige/tan OIF/OEF ID things for around your neck. Yes the ones with the little US flag on them.”


About cptcaveman

An Army Major, my family and I are in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We enjoy photography, cooking, reading and outdoor sports like hunting, fishing and trapping.
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3 Responses to Being the Grey Man

  1. Kyle says:

    Looks like another set of posts I saw on another website, but very good info, well worth reading and sharing. How are you my brother? take care.

  2. cptcaveman says:

    Yeah, the last 2 topics have been done so much and so well, but the info is still so relevant I decided it was time to compile it in one place. All the sites I linked have a ton of info and are worth checking out.

    Overall, doing very well. Getting close to finishing French and getting ready for another series of world travels. Headed up the coast in a couple weeks to dive for abalone and planning on heading to Alabama for Christmas. Hectic, but nothing to really complain about except lack of time!

  3. Kelly Bowers says:

    When Gail and I were in Rome in 2004 we wandered into a gelato shop near Trevi…… the man waited on us in halting english, very kind. He asked where we were from and I told him California. He shook his head no and said, “I don’t think so”. I politely insisted, “Yes, California.” He said, “No, I think you are from England”. I asked, “Why”. “Because you do not wear too much color.” Gail and I really dress down in Europe, plus it was winter and we own black jackets. I also don’t wear anything but black shoes in Europe….. never was told not too, just didn’t and since white socks look crazy with black shoes, I wore dark sock. In addition, I only brought so many clothes for the nearly three weeks we were there so they always looked a bit “worn”.

    In another shop in Rome, the proprietor began speaking to Gail in Italian. I thought he was asking us to leave since it was about 8:30 in the evening. He said, “No. I look and I think is she or isn’t she Italian.” Gail has one of those looks that pass for others easily.

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