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As a Brit living in Madrid with an embarrassingly poor grasp of Spanish for a student of the language, feeling out of place is hardly unfamiliar. However, it took the Erasmus ‘Welcome Dinner and Party’ to highlight yet another difference between British and Spanish girls: our style on nights out. Upon buying the ticket for the event, designed to encourage Erasmus students to meet and befriend the city’s Spanish students, my friends and I asked the girl in the office about the dress code. “Umm… Just dress as you would for a party I suppose” was her response. OK, easy, party = dress and heels.
The night of ‘la cena’ arrived. We chicas strutted out of the flat in our dresses and heels (no tights or jackets) and headed towards the metro. Cue Phase 1 of our most awkward night in Spain. People eyed us up and down with shock and disapproval, presumably at our appearance and outfits. Almost every passer-by went out of their way to look at us and a wave of tutting could be heard as we walked past. If a group of girls had been dressed like this on a Friday night on their way to Gatecrasher, I’m pretty sure no-one would have batted an eyelid. But here in Madrid such choice of attire is clearly not the norm, and it made for a very uncomfortable metro journey during which we were stared at and whispered about for the duration.
Phase 1: Awkward Journey was finally over. After a few issues including getting on the wrong metro line we finally tottered down the steps of the restaurant reassuring each other that we wouldn’t stand out so much here, that there would be other similarly dolled-up students, that we would have an amazing night and come away with a great new friendship group. How wrong we were.
Cue Phase 2. Walking into the room of the party we realised how incredibly overdressed we were and how much we stood out. We were greeted by the same reaction we had received since leaving home, as all the other girls were dressed far more casually in jeans and flats. Cringing and blushing at how deeply we had misunderstood the dress code we decided that the best way to combat this horribly awkward situation would be by hastily consume large quantities of the unlimited, free sangría.
We left the Erasmus night and headed to Puerta del Sol, the very heart of Madrid. Here we looked equally out of place, and walking around the cobbled streets of Madrid in stilettos was practically asking for a broken ankle. We shivered with the lack of tights or a jacket, and vowed that on our next night out we would take advice from the comfortable and warm but still very stylish European girls whom we had met at the Erasmus event.
So, lesson number 1: don’t wear heels on nights out in Madrid. Don’t wear short dresses without tights. You will look, as we did, like the most ridiculous Geordie-shore, OTT, try-hard girls, and will be stared at because it’s just not the done thing. Spanish girls, or possibly just continental Europeans in general, seem to dress much more casually on nights out, donning flat shoes and usually a jacket and still managing to look fabulous. Strutting around the city in heels and body-con dresses without a coat just isn’t how girls roll here, therefore avoid doing so if you want to fit in as an über-chic Madrileño, as us Birmingham girls so sadly failed to do.
By Rachel Trow
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham