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Blogger Abroad: Cultural Discoveries at a Spanish Grocery Store


“Your Story on the Rails” blogger and Spanish language student Gwen reminds us that one of the best things about studying abroad is the opportunity to perform routine tasks in another language while discovering a new culture. In “Shopping Trip!,” she describes some recent discoveries:

Have you ever been to a store in another city and immediately sensed the slight differences from your normal haunt?

I’m usually hit by a bout of worry (What if they don’t have Kleenex?) that breaks down into annoyance (Why would they put the Kleenex by the art supplies?), but eventually, I find what I need (I suppose it’s technically a paper product).

That’s what it’s like going shopping here—everything I’m looking for exists somewhere in the store, but its packaging, location, and what I need to do to get it are all slightly different.

The other day, I went to a grocery store with my intercambio (language exchange) partner, and as I followed her up and down the aisles, I noticed that besides the obvious differences, like brands and aisle layout, stores here differ from those in the U.S. in some pretty nifty ways.

First, shopping carts. While stores here also have the same big shopping carts we’re used to in the U.S., they’ve figured out how to improve those awkward plastic baskets that I can never figure out how to hold comfortably. Instead, wheels and a long, hinging handle are attached to the basket—no carrying required!

Next, we stopped by the bulk produce area, and right next to the plastic bags used to collect nectarines are disposable gloves. I’d never thought about it before, but lots of people touch those fruits and vegetables every day, so gloves (though not so great environmentally) make grabbing veggies at least a bit more sanitary.

On the way to check out, we walked past the bakery section, which is always stocked with fresh bread. Most people here in Zamora buy bread daily (or close to it) and eat it with most meals, so good quality, inexpensive bread is available all over town. Usually, grocery store bread is more of a backup plan in case the normal panadería (bread shop) is closed, but it’s cheap and still tastes really good!

In a new situation, it’s easy to be turned off by something that clashes with our norms—like the fact that I can’t find peanut butter here for the life of me—but difference, in and of itself, isn’t negative. Finding the positive just takes a little extra looking.

What pleasant surprises have you discovered while exploring a new culture?

Share your story @LeadWLanguages on social media!

Spanish grocery store image collage

Sanitary gloves, shopping baskets that roll, and lots of olives! Grocery shopping abroad still doesn’t seem like a chore to this study abroad blogger.