Not everyone likes being invisible, but I often find it refreshing — and convenient, especially when I’m on the road. As “a woman of a certain age” — too old to require construction workers to launch into catcalls, too young to inspire Boy Scouts to assist me across the street — I can choose to slip quietly through the world without a fuss, observing rather than being observed. “I am never happier,” notes British journalist and author Storm Jameson, “than when I am alone in a foreign city; it is as if I had become invisible.”
Becoming invisible isn’t terribly difficult, as the authors of this famous attention test discovered.
Under ordinary circumstances, I find (spoiler alert!) dressing up in a gorilla costume doesn’t actually help you go unnoticed, but my point is that in a busy atmosphere, it’s not that difficult to fly under the radar. Surrounded by people clamoring for attention, often simply avoiding extremes of behavior and dress is enough to let us fade comfortably into the background.
“We live in a time and culture that value display and are largely indifferent to the virtues of passing unnoticed,” writes author Akiko Busch. “If we don’t get the interest, attention and recognition we think we deserve — whether we are men who have retired, women of a certain age (over 50, like me) or millennials who obsess over their brand visibility — we tend to file grievances. . . Which makes me wonder if it is time for all of us to reconsider the beauty, elegance and imagination that can come with being unseen.”
One of the small, peculiar pleasures of my Seville life is walking past the nearby high school when the kids are outside on break. They gather in small groups on the sidewalk, chatting and flirting and flexing their muscles the way kids do. To them I am completely invisible; I can walk through cluster after cluster of kids without anyone glancing at me or seeming to know I exist. And yet, as if alerted by radar, they part before me like the Red Sea, rippling apart to open a path and flowing back together when I’ve passed. One day I stepped forward just as a kid making a point flung out a hand, and he smacked me in the chest. He leapt a foot in the air, turned white then red, and regarded me with open-mouthed shock, as if I had just materialized out of thin air wearing a gorilla suit.
Breaking the illusion of invisibility can be startling, as actress Mindy Kaling discovers in this popular Superbowl ad.
Travel is one of the best opportunities to practice being invisible. You’re in a strange place where no one knows you, so you’re unlikely to be dragged back into the limelight by running into someone you knew in high school or met at a conference last summer. If you’re lucky enough not to speak the language, nobody is going to attempt to engage with you for very long. And that leaves you free to watch the world unfold before your eyes, visible in all its splendors, rich in nuances that for once you have the time to appreciate.
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6/6/2015 11:43:53 am
Thanks, Yvonne. I'm a fan of yours as well. I just reposted your blog post The Schlep-It-Yourself Vacation (http://www.escapingtheemptynest.com/blog/the-schlep-it-yourself-vacation). Some great pack light tips! Although my personal favorite of yours is about why you didn't choose your own clothes until you were 40 (http://www.escapingtheemptynest.com/blog/why-i-wear-my-uniform). Very funny and I think we can all relate to some of the fashion challenges of bygone years!
6/5/2015 10:40:52 am
What an apt observation. I made that same comment to my adult son visiting me in Spain...that I am now invisible, which allows me to observe some interesting/entertaining behavior.
6/6/2015 11:47:20 am
It's great fun on the street anywhere, and especially Spain. The things you see and hear! And luckily we're not invisible 100% of the time; we can still summon waiters and taxis when we need to. But the fly-on-the-wall perspective is really interesting!
It is, indeed, easy being invisible while traveling, unless...you're the only Asian in your tiny Montenegrin town, where everyone stares, or giggles with glee while pointing at their eyes and happily clapping, asking if you're Japanese. Also, speaking Spanish in a small Mexican town, confusing all the locals. Then, it gets to be a little more complicated to be invisible. Ha!
6/6/2015 11:49:40 am
Yes, Ang, I can see how invisiblity would be a little more challenging for you! And any measures you might take, such as wearing a large-brimmed hat with a heavy veil, would only draw more attention. I did find a spell on the internet that claims to actually make you invisible; let me know if you want me to send it your way.
6/5/2015 01:04:30 pm
over 10 yrs ago the today show did a book review with the author of 'the invisible woman'. are you the author?
6/6/2015 11:50:46 am
I am not the author of that one, Lee. But you are giving me an idea for a future project: The Invisible Traveler. Hmmm, have to think about that one!
6/7/2015 05:38:45 am
Lee, you really inspired me. I just launched The Invisible Traveler section on my website, where I'm posting information of special interest to the 50-plus travel generation. You can check it out here: http://www.enjoylivingabroad.com/the-invisible-traveler.html
6/6/2015 11:54:10 am
Glad I could help, Sarah. The world is a little odd about women of a certain age ... they can't quite figure out what to make of us. So we can have a bit of fun by baffling them with an air of mystery and invisibility. Works for me.
6/22/2015 10:20:25 am
What!!!! These kids made a path for you to go through? It never happened, I'd swear. In Spain the only time they'd see us would be if you gave them a shove. They never learnt to share the sidewalk/pavement.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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