It’s a strange thing being considered a local of Saipan, yet being white and hailing from Australia. However, I’ve learned the term “local” here is applied loosely to mean someone who resides in Saipan, not just someone born and raised here. Most locals see me and assume I am likely a tourist by my skin colour. I open my mouth, and all doubt is washed away when my mixed Aussie, Kiwi, English and American accent greets their ears. It is decided that I am definitely a tourist. This doesn’t bother me; I do not fault people for making a judgement call and dealing with me as though a tourist. I dare say 99 times out of 100 they’re accurate in making that assumption about people.
However, it does leave me disappointed. Why? Because I love being a local – of anywhere. I never bought into the whole tourist mentality. When I travel to a place, I want to experience life as the locals experience it. I don’t want a trip that has been prepared to suit me as a visitor; I want to know how the locals do life. I think it’s cool getting to see how cultures function in that way. You can miss so much if you go to a country and jump on a tourist bus and just go see the sights. There is so much more to places than that, and the key to experiencing that is with the residents.
I’ve never travelled as a tourist; I always stay with a local and as much as possible just meld into their life. I spent seven weeks in the United States only a couple of hours drive from a few “must sees” that I never went to see, because I was too busy being a part of the local life where I stayed.
Because Saipan is such a small island, it thrives off its tourist industry. Prices in a few places are hiked up to benefit from rich visitors. However, they do still take care of the locals by giving discounts to them. Being assumed a tourist means I’ll be charged maximum price until I say I’m local, or flash my local ID. Once they discover that, they’re usually very apologetic about charging me the tourist rates and instantly drop the price.
Being new here, I’m still learning which places discount, so I know to say I’m a local or get remembered as one. Another plus with this being a small island is there are so few people that you get remembered quickly. Everyone is so friendly; I love wandering down to the local grocery shop and being greeted by name. The sense of community is fantastic.
I am very much looking forwards to becoming a part of this culture. At the moment, I’m still a bit of an outsider who looks and sounds like a tourist. Though, even my wife (who has been here three years) gets mistaken for a tourist, so it could take a while.