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Being Aware

 (featured photo by www.luceschimney.com)

Reading Andrea’s recent post on staying safe while traveling, it reminded me of the biggest safety lesson I’ve learned while living abroad: being aware of your surroundings. This seems extremely obvious, and I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid trouble, but both observant and clueless people can slip up, which can be dangerous.

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(Watch out for your belongings! Photo by holidaybuzzed.com)

For one thing, no matter where you go in a country that “doesn’t speak English,” keep in mind that you have no idea who actually speaks English around you, so don’t think you can gossip about someone smelly in front of you and assume they won’t understand. In a story I’ll recount next, I made the mistake of telling a joke about an attack on random people while walking behind some French-speaking people and they consequently started walking faster because they assumed the wrong thing. Don’t let your personal conversation get you into trouble, especially because English is so commonly spoken these days!

My funniest story is the encounter my friends and I had with some drug dealers. We were trying to find the meeting place for a couchsurfing group, but we didn’t know the area and were walking around in circles for awhile. My brave friend decided to ask a young man sitting on a motorcycle if he knew the place, but he basically completely ignored us. We were a bit shocked at that, but after crossing the street and us being yelled down by cops, we quickly realized he was waiting to finish a deal and we accidentally got him busted. But somehow, the other dealers who witnessed the exchange thought we were really trying to buy, so when we kept walking, they tried approaching us. My “brave” friend somehow thought it wouldn’t be a problem to strike up a normal conversation with one of them, which meant that in a three block radius, we had at least a half dozen dealers vaguely circling us, thinking we were good customers. It was at this point when we started walking closely behind a random couple to help distance ourselves and I made my untimely joke. Needless to say, we decided the meeting wasn’t worth it anymore, no matter how calm those guys were.

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(Unfortunately, not every area announces the dangers- look it up before you go there! Photo by looksmartbesmart.blogspot.com)

And going back to Andrea’s 8th point about knowing where dangerous areas are, it would have helped us a lot to have known that the area was dangerous beforehand, so that’s definitely a valid point. Now I know the two neighborhoods where the drug dealers and prostitutes gather in my city, so I know to not walk there at night. Otherwise, I’m happy to report that Geneva is extremely safe. Actually, I had one local friend laugh at me when I recounted the drug dealers story, because apparently they are safe and harmless, too.

With a combination of smarts and luck, I’ve avoided any problems, but that doesn’t mean I can let my guard down, no matter how long I live in this city. So, above all, my biggest advice is to simply always stay on your toes.

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.