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Checking in at hotel - Ask for a QUIET room on a high floor. Madrileños have very late night hours and you will be further away from any street noise that may occur at 3 or 4 am. The quietest room may be an interior room with no street view, but you will be able to sleep better. You can also buy inexpensive ear plugs before you go.
Pickpockets - As in many countries, they abound at the metro stations and train stations (Many have been trained at the school of the seven bells. Before graduation, they have to pick the pocket of a mannequin which is outfitted with 7 small bells. If none of the bells sound, they graduate.). Also beware of women asking for alms, especially if they have children with them. The children are meant to distract, while the women pick your pockets. Be on your guard and do not wear your wallet in your back pockets. Women should use purses with straps that go across their chest, with the zippers closed. You also may find pickpockets at American fast food franchises. One more reason to try out the Spanish restaurants!
Taxis - These are inexpensive and it will cost you about 5 or 6 euros between destinations downtown. You will save time by taking a taxi. Your time is precious as a traveler and you are worth a taxi, aren’t you?
El Retiro Park - This park is a huge park in downtown Madrid. Using the same caution you would use at home, do not go unescorted to any isolated areas of the park at night or during other lonely times of the day (at lunch or siesta time, between 2 and 5 pm).
Tipping - Tipping is not a Spanish custom. At a restaurant, if you give the waiter a tip of 5%, this is considered generous. Most Spaniards leave loose change. For a hotel porter, 1 euro for each big bag is enough. For a taxi, 5% is adequate. In big American cities, people leave 15 to 20%, but in Spain this is unheard of.
Dress - Madrid is one of the fashion capitals of Europe and Madrileños pride themselves on their dress, wanting to match everything, especially the women. Men are also dandies here. Many travelers dress down when they travel, but if you go to Madrid, dress up instead and do as the Spainards do. You do not want to appear like a country hick!
Important Spanish phrases - These are the most important phrases to learn in Spanish. If you greet Spanish with these phrases AND A SMILE, they will be happy to help you in everyway. The Spanish are very hospitable people and they love to help foreigners:
Gracias - thank you.
Hola - hello.
Buenos dias - good morning.
Buenas tardes - good afternoon.
Buenas noches - good evening.
Do not criticize them in public, because all the young people know English now and they will resent this. If you need help in directions, best to approach a young Spanish person because chances are they understand English. Older people may not know English.
Bargaining - This is done only in flea markets. In jewelry stores, it is acceptable to ask for a small discount with a smile. If the proprietor likes you, he may give you a 10% discount.
The IVA - If you are American and you go to a store that advertises tax free shopping or the El Corte Ingles department store, you can reclaim the 16% sales tax that is put on goods that are not consumable (such as food). You need to have bought something worth more than 90.15 euros. Ask the clerk for the refund and the clerk will prepare the paperwork for this. When you leave at the airport, you have to show the customs inspector what you bought and he will stamp the paperwork. There is a post office box just after customs, where you drop off the form. About 2 months later, your credit card will be credited with the amount. At the El Corte Ingles, you can accumulate your receipts and ask for your refund at the end of your shopping.