There is nothing like figuring out how to shop at the grocery store abroad- especially when you are in non-english speaking country. When shopping in Italy you have two options: go to several different specialty shops around the city to find what you need, or brave the supermarket.
I chose to brave the supermarket because let’s face it, who has time to go to three, four, or even five shops to get food for the week? Not me!
The supermarket in Italy has been an adventure every single time I set foot on the dirty grocery store linoleum. The food is so different than anything I am used to at home in Colorado, and most of it is in a different language. I speak Italian pretty well, but there are so many words in the supermarket that I don’t understand-they don’t really teach that stuff in the classroom. And to top off the words I don’t understand, there are tons of foods I have never seen in a grocery store at home. I usually end up buying and trying something new every week.
And the rules! There are so many rules at the Italian supermarket. For example, when you pick up fresh produce at the supermarket you are supposed to wear a plastic glove. I learned that one the hard way. One of my first times in the supermarket I picked up a zucchini without a glove on and had an old man slap the vegetable out of my hand, start screaming at me in Italian, and then shove plastic gloves in my face! I stood there stunned and actually just left the store. I needed to regroup and try again another day.
Also, at the supermarket when you buy fresh produce, you have to put it on the electronic scale and print a sticker with a bar code on it. I once took all my stickerless produce to check out and was thoroughly embarrassed when I held up the entire line because I had to go back and get all the stickers for my produce.
Please, learn from my mistakes! To help you out next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of an Italian supermarket, I have put together a list of helpful tips.
- Leave yourself plenty of time. The supermarket is always an adventure, and usually a time consuming one, especially your first few visits. Leave yourself plenty of time each visit to get acquainted with the supermarket and get what you need.
- Know where the gloves are. Take my zucchini horror story to heart and learn where the plastic gloves are. They are usually on a tray on top of the plastic bags you use to carry your produce.
- Bring shopping bags. In Italy, you are charged for every plastic bag you use, if you don’t bring your own reusable bag. So bring a big purse, backpack, or reusable shopping bag with you to the store. Plus its easier to walk through the city with your groceries with a durable bag rather than a few plastic bags.
- Put stickers on your produce. Don’t hold up the entire check-out line, like I did! When you get your produce, place it on the electronic scale, press the button with the picture of the produce you have, grab the printed sticker, and throw it on the plastic bag. It’s pretty simple, and it will ensure you can scan the produce later when you are ready to check out!
- Bag your items yourself. At the supermarket in Italy, even when you are at the regular cash register, you have to bag your own items. The cashier will not do it for you, they will not help you, and there is no bag boy. When I am placing all my items on the belt, I try to organize them so I can easily put them in the bag after the cashier scans them. I also try to bag my stuff up as the cashier scans it so I can pay and immediately leave.
Shopping at the supermarket can be somewhat stressful and it is definitely always an adventure! Just remember to relax and laugh at yourself when you mess up.
2 thoughts on “The Adventures of Grocery Shopping Abroad”
An interesting read, I will certainly remember these tips when I go shopping in Italy. What did you cook in the end, did you master any Italian dishes?
I usually stuck with what I knew and made lots of chicken and veggies. And of course I mastered making spaghetti and bruschetta!