Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shopping in Spain

Coming from the states, one of the most difficult adjustments was going from the land of twenty-four hour convenience to a country where shops and 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 to 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.

But over time I realized: whereas in the states I went to massive stores like Staples for stationary, Home Depot for hardware and Costco for my shopping, where the employees worked in shifts to provide maximum service; in Spain it was the small family run 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 maybe their kids pitching in, which made two in the afternoon time for a family lunch and the weekends a necessary break from their jobs.

Besides, the whole concept of shopping here was different to what I had previously know.  Back in Los Angeles, I'd hop in the car, drive a few kilometers, fight to find a place to park, and wander through places that were more warehouses than shops with ceiling high shelves of prepackaged, super-sized products sold in bulk at discount rates.  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 began in the morning with the smell of baked pastries and bread in the air.  Taking carrito with me, I'd step outside and start the day with a coffee at a local bar before heading to the panadería for my freshly baked bread and croissants.  Next I'd walk to the local market that was full of stands that specialized in different foods.  There were multiple carnicerías for different cuts of meat, charcuterías for the many Spanish hams and cheeses, fruterías for fresh fruits and vegetables and pescaderías for just caught fish and seafood.  Each person shopping seemed to have their favorite one, as did I, and when my number was called, I'd 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 tended to my needs, knowing what I liked and didn't like.  Then when the carrito was full with enough food to get me through the next few days, I'd head to the market bar for a small beer and a sandwich before returning home.

Even the fact that everything closed on Saturday afternoon had become a positive, because by forcing me to do all my shopping in the morning and not putting it off until the last minute like I did in the states, I now had 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.

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