One of the best things about being a foreigner in an ethnically homogenous country is being ignored by certain people: the ones who give leaflets to strangers or ask for money for a good cause.

Living in London, I mastered the art of positioning myself in the crowd such that I almost never passed a fundraiser without someone else in between. I would increase my speed as I and a stranger passed the fundraiser in the same direction to maintain the blockage until eye contact was no longer possible.

In Japan though, pamphleteers and fundraisers mostly assume (rightly, and for more than one reason) that there’s no point in calling out to me. Once every couple of weeks, I pass by some besuited men passing out leaflets by a bus stop on my way to the train station. To a mix of reactions, they try to approach passers-by to hand out leaflets. They ignore me completely, as I try really hard not to grin. All I have to do is look foreign and they ignore me completely.

The exception to this formula for success is pamphleteers who intentionally speak English. A couple of times in Kyoto, I ended up with leaflets written in English (one of them for a new religion), because someone called out to me in English and I was so shocked by the novelty, thinking at first they must either know me or actually be a lost tourist from another Asian country looking for help or directions in English. (Maybe I should train myself to react in French?)

For the most part though, looking foreign is great for getting around without strangers pestering you in the city, and I wish I could do it at home too.

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