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Q. My husband (age 54), myself (age 53) our son (age 15) are traveling to Spain this summer. We'd like to fit in as much as possible, not scream out "American tourists"! We know the basics from past trips: no white tennis shoes, jeans, shorts. However, we'd like a little more guidance. I understand that people there "dress" in the city, but how "dressy" is "dressed"? My second question is about street crime. We have heard so many horror stories. How cautious do we need to be?Should we stay away from the Metro?
A. Twenty, thirty, and more years ago, it was much easier for an American tourist to stand out in a (foreign) crowd. These days, however, not only has most of the world adopted a more casual attitude toward dressing, the differences in clothing—particularly the differences between the United States and Western Europe—have almost disappeared. You find the same brands and styles of clothing in department stores from Los Angeles to London, from Rome, New York, to Rome, Italy. My best advice to you is to avoid any exaggerated clothing styles—very short shorts, overly bright colors, flamboyant headgear, showing off too much flesh (on any part of your anatomy) will be out of place in most European cities. But then again, if you think about it, those things are generally out of place in U.S. cities too, like New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas All right, not Las Vegas, but you get the idea. One other suggestion: go to the library and look at pictures of people in the places you'll be visiting. The very fact that you asked this question gives me confidence that you won't experience any problem in regards to how you should dress.
The safety issues you raise are good ones, but not particularly different or greater in Spain than elsewhere in Europe—pickpocketing, mugging, thievery from hotel rooms or cars are all far more common than we would wish, especially in Madrid and Barcelona, but can all be combated by street smarts and preparation. Read the crime section of the State Department's report on Spain at http://travel.state.gov/spain.html.