Experience Italy Travels | How to shop for groceries like an Italian
Learn how to behave in italian grocery stores, how do you line up if there’s no line-up? How do you get the freshest products?
italian groceries, How to shop Italian groceries
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How to Shop for Groceries Like an Italian

Learn how to get by in grocery stores: how to line up if there's no queue? How to get the freshest products, and the right amounts?

How to Shop for Groceries Like an Italian

If you’re buying groceries in a busy Italian store, you may find yourself under stress. The first issue you’re likely to face is the absolute lack of a line-up. This is due to two reasons: the first is logistical – the space in front of the counter is limited; the second is cultural – Italians are rarely orderly. Unlike most supermarket deli counters where you take a number and wait for it to be called, in smaller Italian stores they often just yell: “Who’s next?” (“Chi è il prossimo?“) and then it’s fair game!

In situations where there is no line-up, you have to be alert. Here are a few tips that can help: 1) Once you’re in line, keep an eye on the door – if you see somebody enter the store, then you were there before them! Be assertive if they say otherwise. 2) When the person in front of you is being served, pay close attention to the vendor, keep eye contact with them and be ready to raise your hand as soon as they look for the next customer. 3) But the best technique you can adopt is to be proactive. As you enter the store feel free to address the other customers and ask: “Who’s last?” (“Chi è ultimo?“) Once you’ve established your spot in line, all you have to do is keep an eye on the person ahead of you (it’s safe to assume they are doing their best not to be butted in front of).

When you’re being served, remember that you’re in control. It’s fair to ask for a particular cut of prosciutto or to open a new round of cheese if the one on display is down to its last slice (Italians don’t like to buy anything that wasn’t sliced in front of them). Keep in mind that it’s not common for the vendor to provide samples. If you need one, consider buying a small amount: place your order by number of slices rather than by weight (e.g.: “Quattro fette di numero” – Four slices in number), or to ask for the smallest slice of cheese they can possibly cut.

Finally, remember that Italy uses the metric system – you’ll have to order everything in grams, hectograms, or kilos (e.g.: “50 grammi di bresaola, due etti di prosciutto cotto, un chilo di patate“).

If this seems like a lot of trouble, don’t worry – it’s actually fun once you get used to it, and the reward is phenomenal! Italian delis carry fantastic products. You’ll soon be shopping for groceries like an Italian!

Paolo RigiroliItalian born and raised, Paolo Rigiroli blogs on Quatro Fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu about the differences between the popular Italian food of North America and the authentic cuisine of continental Italy.
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