I was on the plane from DC to Zurich. At the beginning of the flight the seat next to me was empty for a while, then the stewardess directed a young man to the seat. He proceeded to strip. One layer of shirts after another, six layers in all. He folded everything precisely and placed them in a Disneyland plastic sack. As he sat down he added that he was wearing several layers of pants too. We got to talking. The young man from Switzerland had been in the US on a student exchange and work program. But, he also had been shopping. In Wal-Mart. He told me he had never seen anything like it. So much to choose from, so cheap. When he was not working he was at Wal-Mart shopping. He had bought gifts for all his friends and perfume for his mother.
On the train from Switzerland to Italy a young couple boarded the train struggling with huge suitcases almost bigger than they were. I struck up a conversation with the shy young woman from Indonesia while my husband talked with her husband.
“Have you been to the US,” I asked. Yes, her husband had studied there.
I eventually got around to, “What did you like best about the US?”
“Shopping in Wal-Mart, my husband would drop me off and I would spend the entire day there.” Her eyes lit up as she talked about her shopping experiences.
Shopping in Wal-Mart. I heard it over and over. Visitors to the US loved walking down all the aisles, looking at all the merchandise. The Wal-Mart that had the grocery store included was a special treat for them. Double delight.
I know what they mean. My first grocery shopping experience in Italy was a highlight for me. We arrived at the monastery outside Montepulciano on a Saturday night and at the welcome/introduction were told the grocery shops were closed on Sunday in Italy. After the welcome the guests made a beeline to their cars and the grocery store on the outskirts of Montepulciano. We had to wait a while to get a parking spot. It wasn’t really a parking lot just a pull in. Cars were parked at the front doors of the shop like someone had just dropped someone off so they could run in. Except no one was waiting in the car. Finally we followed other cars to the church lot on the corner and squeezed the car into the piggly wiggly parking spaces. There was no rhyme or reason to the parking. It looked like the cars had just stopped and parked. It didn’t matter if you were blocking cars or if the backend of the car blocked the road. Total chaos. It was exciting! We walked down the hill and into the store that looked on the outside like any grocery store in the US only smaller. There were not many carts and the store was crowded with shoppers. In order to get a cart you put a euro into the box on the cart to release it from the line. The aisles were tiny with just enough room for the cart to pass. As we zipped around the store I tried to figure out what the items were by looking at the pictures on the labels. I found peanut butter next to the Nutella. Was Nutella peanut butter? There was lots of that. We got to the vegetables and fruit. I’ve learned to watch before I leap. The women placed plastic gloves on before touching the fruit or vegetables. I followed suit. There was a counter with meats and cheeses that I just pointed to as I made my selections. The store closed at six, hurry hurry. There was an aisle of t-shirts, shoes, mops and brooms. At the check out the woman gestured, did we have a bag for the groceries? No? Plastic disposable bags were dispensed, with a fee of one euro. A deep breath and out the door we went. What did we buy? It was all such a blur to hurry up and shop.
Another time arriving in Menaggio, late on Saturday afternoon, we walked up the hill from the boat dock. On the corner was an old building with a grand stone stair entry that faced two sides of the street. It was the local grocery complete with so many sticker advertisements on the windows one could not see in or out. While I stayed at the bottom of the stairs with the luggage my husband hiked up the stairs and into the shop. I waited and waited and waited. Finally he came out with two cans of coke, Pringle looking chips and candy bars. What? “You will not believe that store, it is one way with yellow tape arrows on the floor to direct you through the aisle. I had to go around twice to find this stuff,” my harried husband revealed. I would get my chance to see the grocery later in the week.
On my visit to the store I found items from the floor to the ceiling. How you reached the items on the top of the shelves was beyond me. Everything was jumbled together so I had to go slow and look at it all. There was a vegetable and fruit section with a young woman there to provide you with the plastic gloves. I had to go around the store three times to find my items, each time passing the cashier, leaving my items, and then going out and in again. If there was someone behind me with a cart they had to go at my pace because the aisle wasn’t big enough to pass. The store had everything, I just had to really look for it. Again I paid for my plastic sack. One thing you didn’t have to worry about was parking. There wasn’t any. No one would take out a grocery cart. You had to go up and down many steps to get in or out. There wouldn’t be weekly shopping, too much to lug home at once. Daily shopping, walk to get there, bring your sack. I also did not notice any new cars. The small cars had scrapes, scratches and dents on them. The buildings had swatches of color on their walls that matched the colors of the cars. Nobody got too bent out of shape over parking here. Just stop the car and get out.
In the smaller villages of Italy the grocery shopping is more defined. A different shop for selected items. The wine store, the cheese shop, the butcher, the baker. I didn’t find a candlestick maker. These shops tend to be very small and full! Everyone knows everyone. I had a great time. Enjoy the pictures of the shops in Italy!