When you move in a new place, everything changes. Among the first things, the grocery shopping. Back in Spain, I used to do all my groceries from a supermarket, 500 m from where I lived. Quite convenient. Every once in a while I was visiting a Mercado (one of Valencia’s 3 main markets, which are more tourist attractions, than actual markets) for some olives specialties, or home-made turron, but this was probably once every 2-3 months.
Since I move to Lisbon, the grocery situation changed. Although I do have a supermarket close to where I live, there are also a lot of very small places, mostly run by Indian or Pakistani owners, popularly called “loja de 1 EUR” (the 1 EUR store, which is obviously not entirely true, as there many things that you get for way more than 1 EUR). And there are also small butcheries, run by local people, and padarias (pastry) where you can get surdough bread in many combinations.
So my groceries habits had to shift drastically, and fast. In about two months I ended up with about 5-6 different stores that I visit regularly. Some are for vegetables, some for bread, some for fish and some just for other stuff.
At one of these places, I once entered with a 6 liters water bottle that I just bought for another place. I was there for the vegetables.
“How much?” the owner, a young Pakistani guy, asked me.
“I think 1.5 EUR”, I answered, not sure.
“Well, I have 1 EUR here, much cheaper”, he immediately replied.
After I got in a few other times, I understood that he was doing this on purpose, as a marketing strategy. He was constantly asking other people how much they spend on other products, and if he happened to have the same product, he would have come up with a lower price.
So, one day I skipped buying water until I got to his place, with the intent to save 0.5 EUR, by buying a 6 liters bottle from him.
When I got there, surprise, the young Pakistani was out, and inside was somebody else, most likely from the same country.
“Can I get a bottle of these?” I asked, pointing to the bottle.
He looked at me, he looked at the bottle, then he said: “Yes, sir, that is 1.5, sir”.
I paid, without commenting. After I bought a few other items, I pointed towards the bottle again and I said: “Wasn’t this 1 EUR?”.
He looked at me, he looked at the bottle, then he said: “No sir, this one is 1 EUR”, and he pointed towards a 5 liters bottle: “This one is 1 EUR, sir”.
I got out happy that I supported again a local vendor, smiling a little at the whole situation. I wasn’t feeling sorry, on the contrary, I was just smiling. I guess the price has a lot variability, based on many, many factors. One of them being when, and from whom you buy.
Fast forward a week, and I’m coming home following another route. I stopped to another loja de 1 EUR, one that I was never in, and bought a few fruits: bananas, apples and a few peaches. Just at the entry, there were a few small boxes with grapes that were looking really nice.
“Do you wanna try, sir? Very good grapes”, the guy at the counter said, noticing exactly where I was looking. The grapes were slightly more expensive than the regular grapes on the shelves, but not by much.
“Well, yes, why not” I said.
After I put about half a kilo in a bag, I then aligned everything on the counter and waited for him to weigh it. As he was weighing bananas, apples and peaches, he was trying to make a little bit of conversation. I wasn’t following through, mainly because I was thinking at other stuff, but then, when he got at the grapes, he said quite loud:
“These grapes are very fresh, sir, you’re very lucky”.
I smiled, said “Thank you”, paid and off I went.
When I got home, the first thing I did was to unpack the grapes, wash them and taste them.
And, oh, he was right. Those grapes were some of the best I tasted since I got to Portugal.
As I continued to eat (finishing almost the entire bag in one go) I thought for a while at the unbearable frivolity of the existence.