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Rome: 5 rules for shopping in a Roman grocery store

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Grocery store in Rome
Fruit shopping in a Roman grocery store. Photo: EliBrody

By Nicole Arriaga in Rome—

Cheapos looking to save a buck or two during their trip to Rome can certainly save some money by buying food at the local neighborhood supermercato. If you have access to a kitchen during your stay, you can obviously save big on meals. Even if you don’t have cooking facilities, a supermarket is a great place to stock up on water, fruit and snacks.

Before venturing into the supermarket, however, I’ll let you in on a few cultural tips to help your shopping experience go more smoothly. Here are five rules to follow:

Grocery story

Weigh your fruit! Photos: Nicole Arriaga

1. Put on the protective glove

When it comes to picking out your fruits and vegetables, Italians don’t want your grimy hands touching every peach, pear and pineapple. After all, no one knows where your hands have been. That’s why you’ll notice little plastic gloves hanging right beside the produce bags.

I was totally unaware of this the first time I went fruit shopping until I got scolded by another shopper for contaminating her food with my germs. Yikes! You would have thought washing your fruit and veggies when you got home was enough. Apparently not. So, word to the wise: Wear the protective glove when picking out your veggies!

2. Weigh and label your fruit

In Italy, it’s your job (not the cashier’s) to weigh your fruit and vegetables and to adhere the label to the bag. If you haven’t weighed and labeled your bag, you’re in a for a scolding when you get to the checkout line. Don’t be surprised if they send you back to weigh it yourself (or worse, send you to the back of the line).

Grocery store Rome

Put on the glove!

3. Bag your own groceries

In Rome, the bag boy is you. Baggers don’t exist in Italy and you won’t see the cashier volunteering to help you with your duty. Her job, after all, is to scan your items as fast as she can and keep the line moving. Thus, your items will pile up into a mountain with the next customer waiting anxiously for you to finish. Bag it!

4. Bags aren’t free

Speaking of bagging your groceries, those bags aren’t free. Depending on the store, they can run anywhere from 4 to 10 cents per bag. So be careful about choosing how many bags to take. Of course, you’re welcome to bring your own bags or cart.

5. Line cutting is permitted

Little old ladies are notorious for cutting the line in Italy. No matter how long the line is, it’s not uncommon to see a sweet elderly woman give a cute and clever smile while working her way up the line. Hey, whatever works.

Also, if you have only one or two items to buy, it’s common to ask people to let you cut in front of them. People with carts loaded with groceries are usually willing to let you skip ahead if you only have a couple things in your basket. So don’t be afraid to ask, “Mi scusi, le dispiace se passo avanti per cortesia?”

Other supermarket rules?

Do you have any other shopping rules to add to our list? Add your own in the comments section!

About the author

Nicole Arriaga

About the author: After her first trip to the Bel Paese in 1999, Nicole Arriaga knew she would one day return permanently in search of the good life. Before moving to Rome in 2003, Nicole worked as a TV producer and a writer in sunny Miami. She has written for Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The American and various other travel publications. She currently works as a freelance writer and as a programs coordinator for a study abroad organization in Rome.

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5 thoughts on “Rome: 5 rules for shopping in a Roman grocery store”

  1. Rule n. 1: the apparent purpose is to prevent contamination but in reality this “rule” was pushed by the gloves providers ( see n. 4). Don’t let that stifle your search for that just-ripe avocado. Having been a farmer I can tell you that your hands are much cleaner than the groceries on supermarket shelves.

    Rule n.2. They do occasionally check the weight if they have suspicions ( there are plaincloths security). so don’t cheat. At least, not too much.

    Rule n. 3. If they had a bag boy he would be entitled to a full salary ( not minimum wage: we’re too civilized for that!)) of about € 2K for 14 months and 1 full month vacation. So, bag your grocery!

    Rule n.4: it’s another scam ( see n.1). Bring your own bag!

    Rule n. 5. Nice old ladies don’t cut the line. It’s …holes that try to do that. Don’t be afraid to shout at them. My wife being American obviously hasn’t yet learned how to cope with this and I find her forever at the end of the line…
    And she just says: But everybody is getting ahead of me!

    But, it is true that if you have just a few items ( and a nice smile) people will let you go ahead.

    Reply
  2. And try to always have small change with you. For some reason, cashiers don’t like to break big bills. Not only will they always ask if you have something closer to the exact amount, they’ll frown and act put out, if you don’t.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rome: 5 rules for shopping in a Roman grocery store | Budget Travel Tips – EuroCheapo -- Topsy.com

    1. Don’t forget, in Europe you are using the metric system; so you don’t buy produce or meats in pounds or ounces but in grams.

      Reply

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