When I’m traveling abroad and suspect a person is an American, I always look at his shoes. More often than not, I can confirm or reject my suspicion based on his footwear. Don’t ask me how; it’s just something I know.

I had successfully employed this technique many times when my friend Michelle told me a story from the year we studied in Germany together. She had been ambling around the student village in her very German Birkenstocks when a young child eyed her suspiciously. Suddenly he pointed to her and said accusingly, “You are an American!” Stunned, she asked him how he knew. With a self-satisfied tone he announced, “You have no socks on!”

Besides the fact that it supports my shoe theory, I particularly love this story. It shows that even when we think we’ve got the local language mastered (Birkenstocks), it’s easy to overlook the subtleties (socks). That begs the question: how can someone identify you? Think about what makes you stand out, and whether you want to be noticed for it. If you want to fit in, you might need to put on some socks.

P.S. If you know Michelle, ask her to tell you the story in person. Nothing beats the real thing. And for the record, she fits in better than anyone I know.