I have been abroad for a month now and I am currently settled into the beautiful city of Rome.
As I moved into my apartment in Rome and started to grocery shop, the first thing I noticed was that there are no Target or Walmart type stores that serve as a one-stop trip for all my grocery, pharmacy, toiletry and school supply needs. In fact, each of these has their own shop here in Italy.
Sometimes, running errands takes almost half of the day because not everything is conveniently packed into one giant superstore. In hindsight, I wish I knew what things in Europe would be cheap, what would be expensive, and what is not sold in stores, period. As a grocery shopping veteran, here is my advice for those getting ready to study abroad in Europe:
1. Towels are hard to find and they are expensive
(cheapest at 15-20 euro!). If your program does not provide towels or pillows, hit up your local Walmart for those $5 towels and $5 pillows before you go.
2. Almost nothing is sold in bulk here.
Expect to pay unit price for all items you want to buy.
3. … Except water.
Cases of water can be bought at grocery stores as Italians enjoy different varieties. However, when buying cases of water, make sure that it is mineral water (naturale or liscia), not carbonated sparkling water–unless, of course, you happen to enjoy sparkling water (frizzante). For something in between, look for leggermente frizzante, lightly carbonated (often referred to just as leggermente).
4. InCoop is a brand that is the closest thing to Kroger or an inexpensive chain grocery.
If you go to InCoop stores, also Todis, and buy their store brand, grocery shopping becomes considerably cheaper.
5. School supplies are much more expensive in Rome than at home.
Pens are a euro a piece and they do not come in bulk (see above). Notebooks, too, are about 2 euro each. The best way to stretch your pennies is to stuff some books and pens into your already stuffed luggage.
6. Grocery bags cost money.
At the check-out you can purchase plastic grocery bags for 5 to 10 cents. It’s cheaper (and better for the environment!) for you to bring your own reusable bag(s). Even so, do remember that you are walking everywhere and you most likely have to walk a few blocks to get the groceries back home so don’t go too crazy at the store. It is very “Italian” to only buy what you need for the day.
7. Grocery stores are not college-kid friendly.
Do not rely on products like Kraft Mac-N-Cheese or Hot Pockets to get you through. Even granola bars are more expensive here. Although there is the occasional frozen pizza and sliced ham for your sandwiches, preservatives are rarely used in Italy and for the most part not allowed. Plus, Italian natives enjoy cooking and you will be expected to do the same.
Basically, Italy has it’s own shopping culture. It’s different and not as convenient as we are used to in the States, but I’ve definitely learned more about the culture and the language by learning to shop like a local. Grocery shopping, as silly as it sounds, is part of learning the culture. The more you go, the easier it gets.
Ciao for now.