Becoming the “Grey Man”

The greatest skill any fictional spy can have isn’t their martial arts ability, it’s the ability to disappear into a crowd. James Bond couldn’t pass for Japanese and would most likely stand out in the African Jungle. So we don’t see James Bond working in those environments. When he goes to Africa, he goes to South Africa, where he fits in with the white minority population. If he goes to China, it’s to Hong Kong, where the British have long had a presence. But mostly, he’s in Europe, where he can blend in.

This ability to blend in is not only an important characteristic for fictional spies, but also for anyone who wants to survive. The last thing any of us need, in the midst of social unrest, starvation and a general breakdown of society, is to stand out as the one person in town who is well-fed and prepared for anything.

Standing out is dangerous. It attracts attention to yourself. In a survival situation, that could be deadly. People will be desperate to find the things that they need to have in order to survive. Anyone who stands out will merely attract attention to themselves, becoming a target for those people.

There are only two possible solutions to this. The first is to hide yourself well enough that nobody will ever see you. The second is to make sure that if they do see you, they don’t notice you. You can do this by blending in so well, that it is as if they don’t see you, even if they look at you. This is what is known as the grey man theory.

People miss seeing things all the time. They look; their eyes see those things; but they do not register in their brain. That’s what you need to count on. It’s really all about psychology; using their inability to see what is right before their eyes against them. doing that effectively will do a lot to ensure your safety.

Avoid Tacti-cool

Tactical attire and camouflage have become popular amongst the prepping and survival community. I understand that. I like that sort of attire as much as anyone. About the only pants I wear are cargo pants, because the cargo pockets provide me with someplace for my extra magazines, tactical light and other things I carry every day.

But that doesn’t mean that I would wear tactical clothing or camouflage out in public, if I had to leave my home in a post-disaster world. I wouldn’t. Nor would I wear such clothing on a bug out. While I might bring camouflage along with me, I wouldn’t put it on until I reached the woods; I absolutely wouldn’t wear it while in the city, even though I wear it from time to time now.

The point is, tacti-cool clothing would make anyone stand out in such a situation. That’s something we just can’t afford. So, while tactical clothing and camouflage might be practical in a survival situation, the need for remaining unnoticed is an even greater need.

So, How Do You Become the Grey Man?

Becoming the grey man is actually not hard. It merely means taking the pains to look like everyone else around you. The famous missionary, Dr. Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission, used this to good effect. All other European missionaries of the day dressed like Europeans, lived like Europeans and expected Chinese converts to change their habits and customs to European ones as part of being a “Christian.” But Hudson Taylor dressed like a Chinese man, to the point of having his head shaved around the edges and adopting a topknot. Although he was still clearly European, he did as much as he could to look like, act like and live like the Chinese. Because of this, he was successful.

If everyone around you is hungry, emancipated, dirty and wearing clothing with holes in it, you don’t want to be freshly bathed and shorn; wearing clothing that looks like you bought it last week. Even if you have to roll around in the dirt to make yourself and your clothing dirty, you need to do so.

The hardest part of this for most of us is going to be avoiding looking fat and healthy. Sadly, a large percentage of our population is overweight. We are accustomed to having all the food we want and eating much more than we need to. But in a post-disaster world, people will most likely have trouble finding enough food to eat. Most will lose a large amount of weight.

If you and I are still plump, when everyone else is thin, there’s no way we will be able to become the grey man. Rather, we must put ourselves on a restricted diet, so that we lose weight as well. Then, and only then, can we be sure of fitting in.

Another important aspect of being the grey man is avoiding movement that stands out from the crowd. If everyone is going one way, don’t be the only person walking in the opposite direction. If a mob is running, don’t be the only one standing still. If everyone stops to see something, don’t be the only one running.

People who Nobody Sees

I mentioned a moment ago that there are always people who nobody sees. They are all around us. People who our eyes pass over, without us taking notice of them. Some of this is intentional on our part, seeking to ignore things that make us uncomfortable. Some is due to us being so busy with other things, that we just don’t notice things which are unimportant to us. Then there are those who we notice without noticing; people who we notice not for who they are individually, but merely as part of the landscape of our lives.

One of the groups of people that we don’t normally notice are street people. We can walk or drive by them every day, without really seeing them. Our minds see them as an intrusion on our world, causing us to look over them, without really seeing them.

Another category of people who we don’t see are those in uniform. Typically, all we see is their uniform, not the person in the uniform. If people in those uniforms are expected to be in the area, wearing that sort of uniform, whether it is that of a maintenance worker or a policeman, makes you effectively invisible to most people.

In Conclusion

Using any method to make yourself invisible, to become the grey man, must be done with extreme care. The key is understanding the culture of where you are and what the norms are. It is in those norms that you can disappear, as long as you can replicate them. But if you misunderstand the norms and dress in a manner that misses the mark, you will stand out like a sore thumb.

Pay attention to details. Something as small as the quality of the fabric in the clothing you are wearing can make a difference. You want to avoid anything that makes you look different from everyone else, even if that means leaving something out of your wardrobe which is important to you. Any little detail can make you stand out, so avoid those details.

Rich Murphy

Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.

3 thoughts on “Becoming the “Grey Man””

  1. Good article.
    I would like to add, Bartering.
    I know this sounds good and there might be a day when it is useful tool.
    But remember, when you offer to barter… you have lost your grey man status.

  2. “James Bond couldn’t pass for Japanese…”

    Apparently you’ve not seen the movie “You Only Live Twice”. 😉

    Seriously, though, good article.

  3. You’ve posted a good article.
    I live in a rural Southwestern town in cattle country, but we get a significant number of tourists and seasonal (snowbird) visitors. For the city dwellers and suburbanites in your reading audience, all I can say is that you stick out like a sore thumb. If circumstances required city dwellers to become “gray” in a locale such as ours, I don’t see how they could pass themselves off. You just can’t fake being local, and that includes manner of dress, sun tan, and a whole lot more.

Leave a Comment