One night in the last weeks of Chris Bath’s Evening show on ABC Sydney she asked the question “what makes you a local?”.
I lived for a year in Tokyo. And it was interesting to see when you became a local.
Are you a local when you know all about the location? Or does it require other locals to treat you as if you belong?
I think familiarity is what makes you a local. I remember at the begin everyone treated me like a random foreigner. Being white you really stick out.
Over time, interacting with staff in the local stores and eating establishments, I could see people’s attitude towards me changed. The staff were more comfortable dealing with you, and more likely to help when your Japanese wasn’t good enough or you were stuck trying to workout bureaucracy (like paying bills).
By the end of the year I had learnt to navigate public transport, pay my bills at convenience stores and which ATMs worked with foreign banks. I had got used to the different scale of maps, everything is closer together than Sydney. And there were parts of the city I was comfortable dealing with without a map (this is before everyone carried an iPhone to find their way).
So had I become a local? What did the people where I lived think?
I felt more of a local. And while I may not have been a ‘local’, I had at least become their foreigner (to the establishments and places I frequented).
Coming back to Sydney I could see similar patterns to what I observed in Tokyo. With the exception (mostly) of language, familiarity and the way you interact with people is what makes you a local.
You may not know about all the secrets about an area. But how people interact with you makes you more a local. That people will help you if you get stuck, and not just because it is their job, I think that is what makes you a local.