A Case of Mistaken Identity?

In this month’s National Geographic Traveler, Daisann McLane confesses to sometimes lying about her profession when she travels in “The Lies We Tell.”

One lie, two lies, and soon I was tumbling down the rabbit hole. The next thing I knew, I was in a café in Salvador, Brazil, drinking a caipirinha and telling the owner I was an ex-jazz singer who’d come looking for a school teaching the martial art capoeira. Disconnected from my everyday self, I exhilarated in the freedom of trying on new lives, new personae.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we travel? A little harmless story here and there, a bit of identity makeover, is part of the romance of the road. Plus, if I had not become a jazz singer and capoeira enthusiast, would the waiter have spent so much time giving me tips on where to hear great music in Salvador?

This confession got me to thinking about the lies I’ve told while traveling.  Other than little white lies of convenience, (“Yes, I’m married”) I haven’t really told any whoppers that I can recall.  That is, other than the biggest whopper of all.

The first time I ever called myself a photographer was when I was filling out my entry forms for Kenya.  Other than my one photography class in college and doing my cousin a favor by photographing her wedding, my time with my camera was strictly a hobby.  I’d worked in the marketing industry since graduating college but, in order to move to Kenya for 7 months, I’d quit my job and knew in the back of my mind that my time in that industry was over.  Marketing didn’t describe who I was or, more importantly, how I wanted others to see me – even if it was just the immigration officer.  Photographer seemed to fit my adventurous spirit at the time so, as we descended into Nairobi I wrote my new “profession” in big, block letters. PHOTOGRAPHER.  And the lie didn’t stop there – everyone I met on that trip knew me as a photographer – and I did my best to fit the part.

At some point in those seven months, that documented lie morphed itself into a truth.  By labeling myself a photographer and playing the part, I actually became one.  Who cared if my Nikon D50 wasn’t a professional model or that I traveled with it wrapped in a long-sleeved shirt and zipped into a gallon-sized ziplock?  Or that I didn’t have a website or a card or even a laptop to do editing and backup.  Friends would click through my my camera and admire my images and their reactions told me, definitively, that my inflight lie was becoming the truth.

And now, almost four years later, the deception is more alive than ever.  Little did I know that the lie I sheepishly wrote on the occupation line on an immigration form would become my reality.  “Photographer” is not only on that form but also on my business card, my facebook and my taxes.

Imagine what would have happened if I’d claimed to be an movie star or a doctor or millionaire.

There’s always my next trip!

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