Shopping in Spain


First, watch how others behave and then mimic them. For example, those women there in the dress shop: do they politely form a queue at the register? Or, is everyone out for herself, squeezing through to be the next person helped? Do not be alarmed or offended by this behavior — just do as the Spaniards do. It can be exhilarating!

In the tienda (shop) do the vendor and the customer greet each other and have a brief chat before business is taken care of? Or, does the vender ignore the customer until directly confronted.? Also, does the customer just make a purchase and leave with minimal interaction? (hint: It’s probably a good idea to say hello to the vendor.)

Second and most important: be flexible and be prepared.

Do not assume that just because the tienda you’re standing in front of is open right now (while you are not in the mood to shop) that it will be open 30 minutes later when you finally are ready.

Prepare your list before you leave the house, carry it with you, and if the shop is open make your purchase.

These days, siesta is observed with less frequency, even in the south. However, the shop owner just might decide a siesta is needed on the day you need some strawberries at 3 pm. So, shop from 9 am until 2 pm; or 4 pm to 7 pm — just in case.

Though more and more markets and department stores remain open on Saturday and Sunday, most small independent fruterias (produce shops) and carnicerias (butcher shops) will close at 2 pm on Saturday, and not reopen until Monday morning.

Insider Information

There are things that everyone living in Andalusia just knows, and so they are not mentioned.

Spain is a very Catholic country. You may not see many people at Sunday Mass but the holy days and Holy Week are a part of Spain’s cultural heritage.  And, as such, they are honored.

Just as in Italy, there are many, many holy days in Spain that result in shops being inconveniently closed the afternoon you need some oregano for that very special dish you are making for dinner.

Look for handwritten notes in the window.

In the grocery windows, holy days are not necessarily posted in an official looking way. If you see a handwritten note on the window (even if you can’t read what it says) that includes a date  (in day, month, year order) you can probably assume the tienda is closed on that date. During Semana Santa you are expected to know that shops will only be open mornings.

Shopping in Andalusia is great fun. There will be times that you will be confounded by the seeming arbitrary closure of businesses. There will be times when you will be unable to find a can of tomatoes for your stew because all the stores are closed. Save the stew for tomorrow or the next day and do as the Spanish do – go out with friends for tapás and a cerveza.


Tapas with Sevillanos Heather and Jonah Bailey at El Paladar.

Here are a six tips for shopping in a supermercado:


  1. In a grand supermercado, such as Corte Ingles you will drop off your packages and backpack at the guardaropa (coat check) the attendant will give you a number in return. Pay attention to what pocket you put that number in!
  2. Make sure you have some 1 euro coins In supermercados like Carrefore and Mercadona make use of the available lockers to store your, packages, backpack, carrito (granny cart), etc. You will need a coin for that. Pay attention to what pocket you put the key in!
  3. You will also need a coin as a deposit on a shopping cart. You will get the coin back when you return the cart.


  1. While you are in line watch what people in front of you are doing. When they get to the cashier, do the costumers put the money or card on the tray? If they do that then you do that, too. Also pick up the change or card from the tray.
  2. For the time being, single use plastic shopping bags have not been banned. But you will be charged for them and you may be asked how many you want.
  3. You are expected to bag your own groceries. Do you remember the best way to pack a grocery bag? Watch the baggers at home if you don’t remember.

AND remember to pick up your packages, carrito, and backpack at the coat check or out of the locker. I don’t know how many times I have been so distracted by the novelty of the experience that I did not pay attention to where I put the coat check number or the key to the locker. A couple of times I completely forgot I had left anything behind until I was back out on the street.

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