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Via Media

How to not look like a tourist

It’s always a big concern for American travelers…will we look like tourists? How should we dress and act so we "fit in?"

Part of the concern is safety, I do believe. No one wants to be a target. But part of it also stems from, well, wanting to look like you belong in the place you’re visiting.

So, I came to believe…no uber casual clothes, NO WHITE TENNIS SHOES (which I don’t wear anyway)…don’t stand in the middle of the road studying your map, and so on.

Well…too bad.

Perhaps the dress code business would have been more of an issue in warm weather, but in late February, it really wasn’t. I saw plenty of women wearing jeans. Now, you will not see Italian women dressed like most of the people I’ll see when I go to Kroger’s later today – including me. There is a sense of being "put together" rather than "thrown on." And there were a couple of important accessories that distinguished the Italian women from the rest of us:


Scarves and boots. Most Italian women went out with both – loved seeing them perched on their motorcycles dressed in that way.  To really fit in, that’s what you need – a scarf that could, if spread out, double as a shawl, tastefully thrown around your shoulders, and some great leather boots. Big earrings quite often, as well.

As I said, though, the summer might be a different story…

As for not wanting to wander with maps and guidebooks in hand  – give up.

First off, if you try to do Rome without a’re sunk. It’s hard enough with a map.

Secondly – if every person I saw in Rome who was holding either a map or a guidebook (usually the Eyewitness Guide, in any number of languages) was suddenly Raptured…all that would be left would be shopkeepers and the Pope. Honestly. Even outside the areas that you’d expect to find tourists – there we were, usually 2 out of every 3 people you’d see – at least – , holding maps, clutching guidebooks, looking alternately confused and awed.

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Blind Squirrel

posted March 17, 2006 at 5:06 pm

Haircuts–for men, anyway–are always a huge giveaway.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:13 pm

Yes, good leather (especially well-chosen footwear*) and well-fitted clothing.
No shorts. (I remember warning a friend about St Peter’s and he only relunctantly brought a pair of trousers with him in a bag as we went, and he sulked when he had to go off to change to get in.)
* One major exception to fine footwear in Italy. In Venice during the flood season (Nov-Mar), always have a pair of worn fine shoes. That way, you can keep them on happily as you tread through the water. And watch along with the Venetians (whom you should imitate by concealing your inner smile) as tourists make the big mistake of removing shoes in the water. (What kind of bird frequents the Piazza San Marco?…so how slick does the wet pavement get? So how many people slip and slide and fall unshod?) Also learn the way Venetians are so cool and calm as dinner is served in well-watered restaurants, waiters calmly gliding through the water…. YOu have got to love a culture with such an elegant way of grinning and bearing with reality.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:15 pm

Oh, and noooooo fanny packs, please.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:31 pm

It’s not the fanny packs that give Americans away, I’ve found. It’s the fannies.
Also, the VOICES. And the dental work.
Actually, I’ve found that I don’t really care if I don’t look like a local when I travel. After all, I’m not. I just try not to stick out too much. No “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts, respect the local customs and relax.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 5:57 pm

If your goal is to try to affect an Italian look while in Italy (a goal that to me makes no sense, but that’s another issue), you will never achieve it if you purchase your clothes in the U.S. Even though there are many Italian clothes chains in the U.S., the clothes they sell in Italy are just different than the clothes that are sold here. Take shoes for example. Even though Italian dress shoes are popular here and American casual shoes are, to some degree, popular in Italy (they like Timberland for example), the average pair of shoes sold in a department store in Italy looks really different than the average pair of shoes sold in a U.S. department store. Same goes for shirts, sweaters, pants, etc.
The desire of Amercian tourists in Italy to affect an Italian look derives not from a generalized desire to fit in wherever one travels — I don’t think Americans feel a desire to affect a Mexican look when in Mexico, for example — but rather from a consciousness of the Italians’ superior style and the superiority of their culture insofar as beauty is concerned. The things that contribute to this superiority are often very subtle and, for that reason, virtually impossible for a foreigner to successfully copy.

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Michael Barber

posted March 17, 2006 at 6:53 pm

Well, if you’re in the country of Rome there’s a lot you can do to not look like a tourists. But if you step into the sovereign Vatican state, it’s much harder. Basically, if you’re not wearing a little red hat on your head, everybody knows you don’t belong.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 8:48 pm

I was kind of surprised Michael was taken immediately as an American, assuming he didn’t wear white tennis shoes and assuming that was before he spoke. I thought he looked more like a European than, say, I do.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Wear a blazer. My basic travel wardrobe always includes a black wool blazer. I’ve been asked for directions in the Paris Metro, the financial district in London and all over Rome. Asked for directions by people who lived there. At that point, I admit I’m an American and loan them my map. (Although I wear the blazer to keep warm, conceal my pocket with my essential documents, etc. and because it doesn’t show dirt. Not so I blend….)

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Fr. Totton

posted March 17, 2006 at 10:48 pm

I have a friend who studied at the PNAC and he was telling me on the occasional Saturday afternoon (after he had been in Rome a couple years) he would don his jeans and Chicago Cubs cap and jacket (why not wear a bull’s eye?) and go out about in Rome, a very intentional “tourist.” I think he did it just to see what reaction it would engender. Kind of an interesting twist on this discussion.
Having read Liam’s post above, I suddenly have the desire to go to Venice during the flood season.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 10:32 am

Yes, those scarves and shawls. They know just what to do them and wear them with such ease and elan and they really do change the look of an outfit. I wear black slacks/jacket/shoes in Europe with a few bright tops and feel like I don’t stick out like a sore thumb that way (Maybe I still do, but ignorance is bliss)…also get by carrying fewer clothes.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 10:55 am

“When in Rome…”

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posted March 18, 2006 at 9:03 pm

“If your goal is to try to affect an Italian look while in Italy…you will never achieve it if you purchase your clothes in the U.S.”
I agree entirely. Brought my duds to Rome ‘cuz I heard they dressed so well. Realized when I got there they were American cut and so am I, and so I looked like an American tourist dressed more formally than his comrades. As people have said, Italian style is part of the atmosphere there and would probably take three years to acquire–like moving from a cold-weather to a hot-weather climate.

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posted March 20, 2006 at 1:09 am

As much as Americans love to celebrate our diversity, when we leave the country to visit other lands we discover that we are indelibly stamped by our nation to such an extent that even with our mouthes closed, it’s perfectly obvious. It’s an opportunity for us to be our country’s best and most gracious diplomats.

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John Sheridan

posted March 20, 2006 at 10:50 am

When I went to Italy, at first I wanted to “fit in,” but then I realized that my wardrobe wouldn’t let me. Italian guys do NOT wear short-sleeve polo shirts and khaki pants. I also realized that I didn’t really want to be a trendy and fashion-consicous as your typical Italian guy. I didn’t want to wear huge sunglasses indoors and wear form fitting t-shorts with a blazer. Whgat would I do with these clothes after my trip? Likewise, my wife had trouble shopping in Italy because “femminile” means form-fitting. And she had to return to the States where she would have to wear these close to work.
Also, I realized that Italy is so full of tourists that you begin to be able to pick them out yourself. At least the Americans are not as bad as the Germans for weird clothing choices. One favorite among German tourists appears to be wool socls with sandals. One would have thought that the Spanish tourists would have blended in with the Italians, but they actually appeared more American: lots of polo shirts and khakis on both sexes.

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Anna B

posted March 20, 2006 at 11:09 am

Nothing wrong with jeans, as long as they are Armani.

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posted March 22, 2006 at 9:40 pm

chan tay

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posted March 22, 2006 at 9:41 pm

Actually I should say you can learn to tune performance in two to four days, tuning itself actually takes a long time and is a continuing process because things change constantly. I?m not talking about performance tuning in the ?limit resource usage so the server does not crash? sense that you see in limiting connections, but in the sense of getting the most from your server, making specific changes and measuring the results. Remember folks, if you don?t benchmark you have no idea if your changes have improved your situation or actually made it worse. Do you want to know if your server can handle a traffic spike? Better to simulate one ahead of time than find out the hard way.

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