From Barcelona: Shopping in Spain

From Barcelona: Shopping in Spain

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Trying to buy something as simple as bread and milk during siesta time used to frustrate and bother blogger Jeremy Holland but not anymore.

Coming from the US, one of the most difficult adjustments was going from the land of 24-hour convenience to a country where stores pretty much open when they feel like it, or as they say in Spanish, cuando les da la gana.

The whole concept of Spanish service is a bit of an oxymoron, because unlike in America where everything is catered to the consumer and you can buy anything at anytime, here it's basically - if you need it that bad, you'll find the time to get it.

And, if you have a problem with that: tough. It is what it is.

I remember getting really frustrated by this attitude my first year here. I couldn't believe everything closed at the one time I was free during the week (lunch), or that come two o'clock on a Saturday, most businesses were shut for the weekend.  Not to mention not being unable to go to the supermarket on a Sunday for some milk and bread, when the only establishments open were the bars and churches. How on earth did they expect a person to buy anything and keep their economy going? I thought as only an American could.

Photo: Francesco Crippa
Barcelona, frutas -  Photo © Francesco Crippa

But over time I realised: whereas in the States I went to massive stores like Staples for stationary, Home Depot for hardware and Cosco for my shopping, where the employees worked in shifts to provide maximum service; in Spain it was the small papeleria two doors down for pens and notebooks, the ferretería a block away for a hammer or screwdriver and the el mercado down the street for my groceries.

Most of them were run by a couple with their kids pitching in, which made two in the afternoon time for a family lunch and the weekends a necessary break from their jobs. In other words: they were people just like me and not employees of a multinational company whose duty was to serve their customers at the expense of their free time.

Barcelona, pescaderia - Photo © BocaDorada
Barcelona, pescaderia - Photo © BocaDorada

Besides, the whole concept of shopping here was different to what I had previously known. Back in Los Angeles, I'd hop in the car, drive a few kilometres, fight to find a place to park, and wander through places that were more warehouses than shops with ceiling high shelves of pre-packed, super-sized products.

Then, when my cart was stacked high, I'd wait at the check-out counter where a clerk would mindlessly scan all that I had bought, before loading up the trunk of my car and returning home with enough food to feed an African village - much of it going to waste as the expiration date passed before I got a chance to eat or drink it.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, shopping begin in the morning with the smell of baked pastries and bread in the air.

Taking carrito with me, I’ll step outside and start the day with a coffee at a local bar before heading to the panadería for my bread and croissants. Next I'll walk to the local market which specialises in different fresh foods. There are multiple carnicerías for meat, charcuterías for hams and cheeses, fruterías for fruits and vegetables and pescaderías for fish and seafood. Each shopper seems to have their favourite one, as did I.

Barcelona, fruteria Photo © BocaDorada
Barcelona, fruteria Photo © BocaDorada

When my number was called, I will step to the counter and receive a warm hello that would lead to a conversation about our families and the weather, as the couple working tends to my needs, knowing what I like and don’t like.

Then when the carrito is full with enough food to get me through the next few days, I head to the market bar for a small beer and a sandwich before returning home.

Even the fact that everything closed on Saturday afternoon has become a positive. By forcing me to do all my shopping in the morning and not putting it off until the last minute like before, I now have the rest of the weekend free to enjoy: whether it be going to the beach in the summer or laying on the couch and watching TV in the winter.

Shopping in Spain is definitely great, but different.

Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Written by an American expat, From Barcelona is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya  (Catalonia).

Photos credit: Francesco Crippa; BocaDorada


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2 Comments To This Article

  • republican posted:

    on 13th July 2009, 12:35:53 - Reply

    I agree with Jay...they don´t have Wal-Mart here...yet. but they do have Carrefour ,Alcampo..etc...which has all those spanish stores that were mentioned in the blog
  • Jay posted:

    on 24th June 2009, 12:01:40 - Reply

    You make Spain sound so oldie-worldie, but in reality that has changed a lot in the past years. Sure there is not 24/7 shopping, but there is the large supermarkets that do open early and stay open all day until late at night. Most larger towns now have at least one of these hyper-markets if not 2 or 4.If you have a car you can do all your weekly shopping in the hyper-markets just as you would in America (except not at 3am)
    It is nice to think Spain is this country that has not progressed for the past 100 years, but reality is that it has.