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July 18, 2007

How to travel Part 2: What to wear

I work at a museum and spend much of my time talking to tourists. And although I love my job, everything becomes routine after a while. So the part of my brain that isn't answering their questions or politely asking them to stop smoking while leaning against an 800-year-old wooden building, is usually judging their fashion sense. Now I know I can appear to be high-maintenance, and I don't insist that everyone at the museum wear heels and skirts just because I feel like it. After all, there are cobble-stones, steep mountain paths and often rain to deal with. But Crocs? With socks? Is that really necessary, or even practical? If the point of Crocs is that they are sandals that can get wet, then doesn't wearing them with socks ruin their (dare I even say it) one possible good side? 

It seems that bad taste is mandatory for tourists, just like it is for Norwegians going to their cottages in the mountains. Too many adults seem to stick to the childish idea that clothes are divided into comfortable, practical play-clothes and stiff, itchy “dressing up” clothes. It apparently hasn't entered their minds that a t-shirt can be soft and have a flattering color and that shoes can be good for your feet without being Crocs. On one randomly chosen day, I saw 14 fanny packs, 20 people with socks in their sandals, 6 weird hats, 8 pairs of Crocs (at least two of them with socks), 5 pairs of tourist vests, 23 pairs of tourist shorts, 19 pairs of tourist pants, and 8 pairs of tourist pants with removable legs so that they can be turned into tourist shorts. To be fair, I counted 11 pairs of ok shoes, and 7 pairs of gold-colored shoes, which you would not expect in the average tourist's suitcase.

This strange tourist style makes me wonder about two things: Firstly, what are these people carrying around? They have twenty pockets on each item of their clothing, plus fanny packs and backpacks. But they don't have food or water (they always ask me where they can buy that), their sunglasses and cameras are carried on strings around their necks, and their sweaters are around their waists. So if the average tourist is carrying a map, a wallet and a cell phone, what is in all the other pockets? I haven't yet worked up the nerve to ask them.

The second mystery is this: why do the same people over-dress for flying and then under-dress once they've landed? OK, so I can't prove it's the same people, but when I see so many stilettos in economy class check-in lines and so many Birkenstocks with stockings at tourist attractions, surely there must be some overlap? One semi-logical explanation I can think of is that people with bad shoe taste want to bring their Crocs and their wedge boots (both in one closet; shudder) and the wedges are the heaviest.

Another possibility is that these people have seen some ca. 1950's airline ad (or for that matter, the 2000's in-flight commercials for IcelandAir) and have gotten the impression that long-distance flying is glamorous. Well, forget that. Your feet will swell, your eyes will itch, your food will taste bad, you'll freeze and then overheat and your mascara will fall off. The flight attendants may be wearing pencil skirts, heels and eye-liner, but they are not like other people. (Incidentally, now that I know how to fasten my seatbelt and adjust my own oxygen thing before helping a child, how about the flight attendants tell me how to apply make-up so that it stays in place for 12 hours of high-altitude dehydrated hell?) Flight attendants wear uniforms, and uniforms have certain distinguishing features: they are uncomfortable, they are traditional, and they are not what everyone else is wearing. So wear flats and pants. Not a mini-skirt that doesn't allow to sit down (you'll have to do that for take-off and landing, you see). Not something that needs to be ironed when you change flights. And if you must wear shoes with soles that could contain anything from knitting needles1 to samurai swords, at least make sure they're slip-ons so you can make it through security check in less than 20 minutes.

In fact, long-distance flying is one of the very few occasions when even my inner Prada-wearing devil can “OK” track pants and flip-flops in public. I recommend pyjama bottoms if you have the guts. Wear socks in your sandals for all I care. In fact, that can be good: you slip off your sandals in the air, but you're still warm; then when you and your swollen feet land, there's room for your toes.

There's an added benefit to dressing slouchy in the air: it shows you're high-class, at least according to Paul Fussell's very funny book about the American class system. People dress up for special occasions. Dressing way down shows that flying is something you do a lot, that you're completely comfortable with it (Fussell writes that walking around the aircraft barefoot promotes you to upper class) and that frankly, you have better places to wear your stilettos. Might I suggest The Norwegian Folk Museum?

Part 1 

1Airlines confiscate knitting needles and then hand out knives and forks. Makes perfect sense, right?

Posted by Julie at July 18, 2007 12:07 AM

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Synd jeg glemte å ta bilde av det, men jeg var temmelig søt med marihøne-hawaiianas og prikkete sokker fra Sao Paulo til München ;)

Ikke for å generalisere, men islendinger er virkelig mer selvhøytidelige enn oss, er de ikke?

Posted by: Anna at July 26, 2007 2:04 AM