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Tourism by Everyday Shopping Errands in Madrid, Spain!

“There gets to be a point,” said the somewhat smelly British traveler as he packed his backpack to move out of the hostel, “where you become so sick of famous waterfalls that you can’t bear to see another one.”

I was on a short vacation in Brazil with my best friend four years ago when we met this Around the World traveler in a Rio hostel. The man and his wife were on their eighth month of the journey.

Grocery shopping in Madrid, Spain!
Grocery shopping in Madrid, Spain!

“How can they stand to travel for so long?” my friend gasped, shaking her head. I nodded in awe.

Now, that long-traveling freak has become… me. And now I begin to see what that sweaty man meant. After eight months of a new city each week, there are only so many tourist attractions you can take in!

With time and continued travel, you begin to ache for the attractions of such things as — I kid you not– washing dishes. The thrilling “new attraction” of sightseeing becomes everyday, and the “mundane chores” of life at home become a rare treat.

Buying greens at the market in Madrid.
Buying greens at the market in Madrid.

And thus, when I found myself along for the ride for the Saturday errands of a childhood friend of a coworker of my Mother’s in Madrid, Spain (yes, that is a miraculous chain of hospitality, I know!), it was an absolute joy.

“I hope this is not boring you,” said my host apologetically.

“Are you kidding?” I laughed, “This is the best kind of tourism there is! Tourism with heart: right to the center of things.”

“I suppose I understand,” said my host. “When we visited the U.S. we loved to look around your big, shiny supermarkets. And when you are here, you Americans love to see our small, personal way of shopping.”

A meat market in Madrid, Spain.
A meat market in Madrid, Spain.

Absolutely! I watched in awe as my host greeted every salesperson by name, and each inquired about the other’s family. Then they had a detailed discussion of the freshest and most delicious meat, cheese, fish, and produce to buy, calculating the amount needed for the specific meals and events on the horizon. Nearly all the food was fresh from Spain’s plains and shores.

At least twice, I heard a salesperson utter the phrase: “Los negocios son importantes, pero lo que es mas importante es la amistad.” Business is important, but friendship is much more so. Impersonal, plastic America, this was not! I liked it.

We returned home laden with delicious goods, jolly from connecting with our fellow humans. Grocery shopping tourism: Yum!


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Monday 21st of August 2017

[…] it can still get routine with respect to the day-to-day stuff. I just went grocery shopping and then cooked an omelet. I proctored the SAT yesterday (boring). I live in a very western enclave […]


Tuesday 20th of July 2010

When I was in Scotland, one of the things I enjoyed was happening into some of the small local pubs in random towns in the highlands. All you see is locals and the bar area is small enough that you have no choice but to chat them up.

I always liked food stores in Europe. Smaller, more intimate, and not near as much processed food or mass marketing as there is in our mega-grocery stores.

Imported Blogger Comments

Thursday 27th of May 2010

Dave said... Very, very true, Lillie - it's funny how the smallest and most mundane things become some sort of fantastic and fascinating experience after being on the road for months, while the tourist stuff becomes almost mundane.

"Check out the world's highest waterfall? No thanks, I need to go and buy some shoelaces."

Great post :)

April 15, 2010 1:29 AM

Heidi said... So hilarious to see my childhood friend on your blog. I'm glad you had such a wonderful time together! Can't wait to hear the stories when you return!

April 15, 2010 3:09 AM


Thursday 15th of April 2010

One of my favorite things about France when I visit is standing in line at a small shop. Each time a person enters they offer a "Messieurs Dames!" to everyone. A civil and simple greeting of hello to all within earshot. Very fun. - Chris

Ben S.

Thursday 15th of April 2010

Travel is fun because it allows us to discover things. The wonderful thing about most tourist attractions is that they're remarkable or spectacular in some way; the trouble with most tourist attractions is that their presentation *as tourist attractions* makes it hard for the visitor to feel as if she has, in fact, discovered something. More like "seen" something, which is pleasant, but less so.

And maybe this explains why it's so fun to go to shops and stores in foreign places: we get the sense that we're forming our own impressions, devising our own theories, and making our own comparisons: that is, we're discovering something.

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