Whether you are on an escorted coach tour or travelling around Europe independently, at some point during your holiday you are going to need to buy something from a shop. It might just be a snack at a convenience store, a gift for a someone back home, or you might even need to stock up on groceries. Whatever it is you're buying, it's good to know some basic shopping etiquette and what to expect in stores and at the markets in Europe.
General shopping etiquette
- Greet and farewell shopkeepers in the local language when entering and leaving their store and try and manage a 'please' and 'thank you', as well. They will be grateful for your efforts.
- Be prepared to pay with cash as many smaller stores are not fond of credit card transactions.
- In rural towns and villages, particularly in France and Italy, be aware that most shops - even supermarkets - close for lunch between (roughly) 12 midday and 2.30pm. Sunday trading can also be rare.
- Many Europeans still shop for food daily to ensure they purchase only the freshest of produce. The local bakery is the first place many Europeans visit each day to purchase their baguette or crusty loaf for breakfast.
At the supermarket
Shopping in European supermarkets can be a fun experience. I always find it interesting to look at the different products and brands available and to try them out for myself.
On recent trips to Europe, I've found the price of most grocery items in the supermarket is generally a little more expensive than in Australia (even when the exchange rate is favourable), but meat is very expensive. Meat and delicatessen items are always priced per 100 grams, so be sure to keep this in mind when calculating the price in your head.
You’ll find most things in European supermarkets that we are used to in Australia (and lots of the brands are the same) but there are some things you will have trouble finding. These include Vegemite, condensed milk, canned salmon and English Breakfast tea bags - I always take a small supply of my own.
Like our larger supermarkets in Australia, the European versions stock everything from food and wine to clothing and stationery - and pretty much everything in between.
When purchasing fruit and vegetables at the supermarket you must remember to weigh and price the produce. Scales that print out price stickers are located in the fruit and vegetable department for this purpose. Don't worry if you can't read the local language - many of the digital scales shows pictures of the different fruit and vegies so it's just a matter of placing the item on the scales, pressing the corresponding picture and your price sticker will print out. If you get to the checkout and haven’t priced your fruit and veg, you won’t get a very friendly reception from the check out operator (or those in the queue behind you!).
You'll need to take your own ‘green’ bags or purchase them at the register as most European supermarkets don't provide shopping bags. ‘Green’ bags are often quite attractive and make great, inexpensive souvenirs or gifts. In most supermarkets you'll be required to pack your own groceries at the check out, just as you do at ALDI supermarkets in Australia.
At most check out counters you'll be able to see the final price of your purchase displayed on a screen. This is a great way to ensure you hand over the correct money when paying for your purchase if you don't understand the local language.
"In department stores and shopping malls, don't forget to stand on the right hand side of escalators. Just as they drive on the right, Europeans stand to the right."
The local markets are also a great source of food. Many towns, particularly in France and Italy, have a regular market where everything from food to clothing is sold. You’ll only find the freshest, in-season produce at the market, as well as other locally-produced goods like cheeses and salami.
As a general rule - don't touch the produce! Point to the particular items you would like and the stall holder will then weigh them for you. He (or she) won't appreciate you squeezing his produce to check how ripe it is as he prides himself on selling only the freshest produce.
If you are heading to Europe and travelling around independently, you might find my self-catering guide useful.
What are your tips for shopping in Europe? Please share in the comments below.
© Holidays to Europe