A note on culture

On Mondays, I used to like to go to the grocery store during my lunch break… until I figured out it was the worst idea ever.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store in this country is not simple. Maybe you don’t believe me.

On Mondays, it’s especially bad because everyone else goes to the grocery store then since going there on Saturday means waiting in line for hours and you can’t go on Sunday because it’s closed.

Unfortunately, usually by the time Monday rolls around I’m running low on fruit and other things like bread, milk, cereal, etc. And you know, occasionally I also need to pick up some toiletry items like face wash, floss, toothpaste.

The first thing you need to understand is that buying produce at the grocery store is probably the worst thing you could do. This should be reserved for emergencies only. Before I figured this out (sometimes I’m slow and have to make the same mistake over and over before I learn) I ended up with some seriously funky looking asparagus, brown lettuce, and never-going-to-be-ripe bananas. In order to get decent (or actually quite good) produce, you must go to a fruteria.

Fruterias sell–I’m sure you guessed it–fruit. And veggies and beans and sometimes eggs and other farm-type goods like honey, etc. The quality is one million times better than the grocery store and the prices are quite reasonable. I can usually walk out of there with more fruits and vegetables than I can eat in a week for less than four Euros.

So, cool. Cheap, fresh fruits and veggies? Perfect. Except, that I have to go there in ADDITION to going to the grocery store because I still need milk, bread, cereal and floss. Also, it’s lunchtime so I’m really hungry. And it’s Monday so the grocery store line is loooong (not that it’s ever actually short. They only have three cashiers ever working at one time.)

Also, I now have bags full of fruit and veggies which I will not be allowed to take into the grocery store. There is some sort of locker system where you can keep your stuff at the front of the store and come get it when you’re done, but I’ve lived in Spain for a long time without fully understanding that system, and I’m not about to start now.

So usually I can manage to put of my supermarket adventure another day or two. When I do finally venture to the supermarket to pick up my beloved cereals (I’ve found a cereal I love even more than Frosted Mini Wheats. However, I can eat an entire box of it in three days and it’s sort of expensive, so during the week I eat All Bran and I save the good cereal for the weekends) I know exactly what I need and I’ve already sorted out the produce part of it.

So I get my milk, my bread, some cheese, and everything, and then I venture into the personal hygiene aisle. I pick up some toothpaste and start looking for dental floss. I’m looking, I’m looking. I see mouthwash, I see teeth whitener, I see toothbrushes, I see no floss. I guess Spaniards think flossing is overrated. But I NEED to floss, so I investigate very carefully. On the top shelf, I see an empty slot where I’m assuming floss used to be. I reach up to feel around since I can’t see anything and I hit the jackpot! Fancy floss that expands when it gets between your teeth! It’s three Euros and LOCKED IN AN INDIVIDUAL PLASTIC CASE TO PREVENT SHOPLIFTING. I mean, it makes sense since floss is such a hot commodity, and you just can’t trust those flossers; they’re always trying to get something for nothing.

At this point, I don’t even bother picking up face wash because it too is locked away. But instead of having it’s own plastic case that the cashier undoes at checkout, you have to find a cashier, wave them down, and ask them to take the face wash out of the see-through vault they keep it in along with shaving cream and condoms. Yes, I don’t get it either. I don’t bother with all of that–I just buy it from a separate store (again.)

I wait patiently in line, judge others by the groceries they are buying and head home. Did I mention the closest grocery store to my house is said to support terrorists? That’s the rumor. But, my god, they have great cereal.

You may have noticed that there were no meat products on my grocery list. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, picking up meat at the grocery store is even worse than picking up produce at the grocery store. Imagine the bad quality vegetables, but this time in a form that could make you super sick. To get meat, you go to a butcher who inevitably has a lamb head sitting in the front case and has cured legs of pig with the hooves still attached hanging from every square inch of the ceiling.

Living in Spain this long and hearing stories about how pigs are slaughtered (slowly, so that they bleed a lot) and having to consciously think about where my meat has come from has really made me lose my appetite for meat. I eat it every once in a while, but will never buy it or cook it (remember the veal spaghetti incident?)

So there you go. My weekly grocery store adventures. I remember my study abroad director once said that in Spain, you can’t ever expect to get a lot done in one day. Never try to go to the store and the bank and the cleaners all at once. You’ll never be able to do it! That’s how my grocery shopping has become. It’s a multi-step process. And you wonder why I’m always complaining about being busy!


About juliemcg

Marketing, writing, editing, traveling, social media-ing woman from Colorado.
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