June 25, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Traditions

Or maybe, how not to. I’ve been asked by countless people how to “blend” in a bit more here, particularly with my impending wedding and some 40 Americans making the long journey to Spain. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to clarify how to stand out like a sore American thumb and how not to (largely after nearly four years of learning the hard way, I should add). I will preface this with the disclaimer that these are obviously generalizations on my part, so of course not everyone falls into these categories ;)!

How to look like an American:

    1. Wear flips flops anywhere but at the beach or non-beachy locations (I used to wear flip flops like it was my job – I now realize that Spanish women from Madrid would sooner be caught dead than consider such a thing a wardrobe staple).
    2. Wear a sweatshirt, or even better, a hooded sweatshirt…or if you really want to up the ante, wear a hooded sweatshirt sporting your university’s name on it.
    3. Baseball hats. Period.
    4. Gym clothes anywhere but at the gym (or anything resembling pajamas anywhere outside of the house). Seriously, people here don’t even wear their gym clothes to the gym – they change there.
    5. Any sort of summer clothes before it hits 80°F, maybe even 85°F. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worn a dress with no tights in 80°F weather and had Spaniards interrogate me about how cold I must be!
    6. Running shoes anywhere but at the gym and other outdoor excursions (and maybe not even at the gym – Spaniards seem to like to wear street shoes at the gym….and swim trunks).
    7. Ugg boots – I can spot an American college student from a mile away because of these things.
    8. Wear sports paraphernalia, or better yet, wear a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap (oooh, or a visor!!) representing your favorite team! Don’t forget those running shoes either!

In case you’re not super eager to look like an American, why not Spaniard-ize yourself? Here’s how:

    1. Wear anything with “GAP” or “Abercrombie & Fitch/A&F” written on it. (I didn’t know Gap even sold stuff with their name on it anymore. They must apparently do so in order to fulfill the massive European demand for stuff that says “GAP,” because certainly no one in the US is buying it – not since 1995 anyway).
    2. Men: wear really colorful ties and pants. Actually, all parts of your outfit should have colorful potential (salmon is a particular favorite).
    3. Women: wear tights, boots and scarves until it reaches at least 85°F.
    4. Older men: messenger hats = instant Spaniard (a cane and a cardigan will give you added street cred).
    5. Women: every once and awhile just wear LOTS of purple. Make sure everything you wear is some shade of purple – it doesn’t matter what shade, all purples match and you can never ever wear too much of it.
    6. Ladies, during summertime, don’t leave your genie/hammer/parachute pants at home.
    7. Wear Levi’s and only Levi’s – no other jean exists in your world.

I was bound and determined to get photographic evidence of these fine specimens of American-ness and Spanish-ness, but you see, it’s not so easy trying to discreetly play paparazzi. Lord knows I saw my fair share of people looking very American at airports in the last weeks while in the US, and no joke just today after 15 minutes in downtown Madrid I’d already seen three people proudly donning A&F t-shirts. But alas, I have no photos. That said, if you spend just a day walking around Madrid’s center, my point will easily be proven. You just can’t help but chuckle at how distinctly our cultures express themselves even though it may not seem so obvious to the inexperienced eye.

I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up. Now excuse me while I put on my purple hammer pants with a UOP sweatshirt and flip flops.


12 Responses to “How to look like an American in Spain”

  1. Melinda Says:

    Well said!! I love the observations. When we went to England in 1998, Nicole and John told us they wouldn’t be seen with us if we wore white athletic shoes. I’ve learned a lot since!

  2. Heather GG Says:

    I hear you on the tights/scarves up to 85 degrees! Living in Asturias, however, meant living with clothing confusion. For a summer walk around town, I’d immediately reach for my sandals and capris, only to find everyone else decked out in closed toe shoes and jeans/trousers. That’s because in a blink of the eye it goes from sunny to rainy and cold. In August! Yet when it looked cloudy, I’d head out in closed toe shoes only to find everyone else in sandals, and then the sun would burst through the clouds. What did they know that I didn’t? So confusing. (And please tell me they are still not wearing parachute pants this summer!)

    My first week in Spain gave me a serious wardrobe education. I moved there from Costa Rica and let me tell you, my Costa Rica wardrobe was not all Spain appropriate!!

  3. Tito Says:

    MASTER-LOL!! :oD

  4. Sabrina Says:

    Haha! So funny! Thanks for that post! It made me laugh out loud.

    I’m German and I live in Texas and I am so sad to admit that the flip flops have caught on with me… I never even owned any before moving here and now I wear them all the time!

    And regarding the scarves… oh boy! With my large collection of scarves, I am the weird one at work sticking out like a sore thumb that always wears on up until April/May. And yes, I believe that has attracted some comments from American co-workers in the past about my “European-ness” 🙂

    Purple? In Spain also? We were in Italy for New Year’s 2009/10 and everybody was wearing purple! Everybody!

  5. Erin Says:

    @Heather – The weather in Asturias is sounding an awful lot like San Francisco in that it can be overcast and freezing one minute and then toasty and warm the next. No one ever knows what to wear there, but being Americans, we of course usually err on the side of flip flops rather than boots (a mistake I won’t make here!!). @Sabrina – A German in Texas – I’m sure you’ve got some good stories! And regarding the purple, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this bizarre Mediterranean obsession. Go figure!!

  6. Sabrina Says:

    Hey Erin,

    the occasional embarrising/funny culture clash does still happen. But since I’ve been here for 5 years, most of it doesn’t stick out to me that much anymore. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and write a little post about the fun beginnings in Texas 🙂

    The purple… weird, right? I don’t get it! Let’s see how long it lasts! Personally, I prefer blue 🙂


  7. Status Viatoris Says:

    Ha ha ha! At least neither are like the British, where grown men think that going out wearing your team’s football strip is acceptable… Cringe, cringe, cringe. Young Italians have a pretty spectacular dress sense that I don’t really understand, but the older guys still stick faithfully to their salmon/terracotta/burnt ochre trousers. There are also many many many Italian men that proudly wear pink. It takes some getting used to.

  8. Erin Says:

    It’s sounding more and more like the Italians and Spaniards are far more similar than they’d ever like to admit. Those salmon trousers are a staple here (they look especially nice when paired with a colorful yellow polo or sweater).

  9. Holly Says:

    OMG I’m just now reading this. TOO FRIGGIN’ FUNNY!!!!

  10. Erin Says:

    Now you must take note of the crazy amounts of purple happening here. It’s out of control!

  11. Ietje Says:

    Haha! Very funny. Your post reminded me of my years in San Francisco, sweatshirts, flip flops… it kept amazing me how people can be dressed like if going to the beach while it is freezing out there!
    And here in my ‘barrio’ in Madrid it’s the other extreme, you see all this little grandma’s with furcoats at 20 C…! Or like you said monocolored (I think dark green is also definitely one of their favorites!). Ever noticed posh madrilenos look like they go hunting..?:-)
    Anyway, I am not judging, I am Dutch and we sure have no history of best dressed people ever (unless somewhere short colored hair for women, shirts with bold prints, and hammer pants with a zillion pockets -so convenient for on the bike!- are highely regarded upon!)

  12. Erin Says:

    It’s funny you mention that about the US – now when I go back, I’m baffled (maybe even horrified) by how everyone looks like they are in their pajamas. And then yes, on top of that, they will wear flip flops and skirts all year long. I must admit though, I miss the days of being able to wear my gym clothes to run errands or get coffee. Now I get all kinds of stares if I so much as leave the gym wearing my gym clothes (which I still do of course).

    Haha, the pijos always do like they’re going to go hunting!!! Or riding horses. Too funny.

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