What Not to Wear by Caroline Boone

Caroline Boone is a junior at Ohio University majoring in political science and minoring in Spanish. Caroline is currently studying in Toledo, Spain at the University of Castilla- La Mancha.

American students abroad should acquire certain qualities of a chameleon. Specifically, the ability to blend in. (Not the ability to catch flies with your tongue. Come on, that’s gross.)

In this post, I will give you some guidelines on how to blend in, speak, act, and dress properly in Spain. (Much like Stacy London and Clinton Kelly in TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”) Ready? Into the 360 degree mirror of the Spanish café.

It is raining quite hard today, so naturally I’m holed up in the most recent of my cute-café finds.  Complete with a fast internet connection and enormous croissants.  Score.

Just when I’m comfortably settled and feeling super cool and incognito (keeping my American-ness as minimal as possible), three Americans walk in speaking loud English to each other and plant themselves at the table in front of me. Fine. It’s a public café and you’re allowed to sit there. But I have rules for Americans in cute Spanish cafés.  Here are a few:

Rule #1.  You must keep English-speaking to an absolute minimum.  Coffee, muffins, and tea are to be ordered in Spanish.  As is the request for the internet password.  Speaking amongst each other in English should be done quietly.  The goal is to blend into the atmosphere as much as possible.  Cute cafés all have their own vibe.  You, as a patron of the cute café, play a part in creating this vibe. Think of it like playing a role in the chorus of a play. For the sake of the artistic aesthetic you should participate and try to blend in. That way others have the opportunity to enjoy it as authentic and Spanish, too.

Rule #2. No backwards baseball caps, dude. That’s the antithesis of European.  See above commentary on blending in.

Rule #3. When you walk in, do not go to the counter to order unless you intend to sit at the counter.  In Spain, we walk in, choose our seat at a booth, table, etc., and wait for the waiter (“camarero”) to come to us. Do not expect him to bring you a menu – if you are there for a meal, you can ask for it, but for the most part there are standard options (coffee, tea, chocolate with churros, pastries, tortilla española, French fries, etc.). I’m not going to list them all here, but you get the idea.  When you go to a café, you should have an idea of what you want.  If they don’t have it, they will tell you what options there are.  (I, personally, always go for the chocolate con churros.)

Rule #4. No hoodies. Please. If baseball caps weren’t the antithesis of European, hoodies would be. They’re a close second.

Rule #5. In Spain, we do not leave a tip.  There are two exceptions to this rule: 1) If you eat a sit-down meal in a restaurant, not a café, and you enjoy your meal then it is a good idea to leave a small tip.  2) If the waiter brings you a lot of free food (like a big plate of tapas), or a free drink, or something, then it would be okay to give him a small tip as thanks, but you don’t have to.

There you have it, some beginning steps to being a cute-café chameleon in Spain.

Now, back to my charming little nook of warmth and coffee fumes. And homework.


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