When shopping in a local alimentari (grocery store) in Italy, you won't need a shopping cart. These shops are fairly small, and if you're trying to shop the way the locals do, you'll arrive with your own mesh or fabric bag to put your groceries in--or a basket, if you're feeling nostalgic. They will have just about everything you need... water, sodas, cheeses (cut to order), deli meats, sausage, produce... even very good wine (we paid no more than 5 Euro per bottle and never had a bad bottle). Perfect for gathering things for a picnic or making your own meal back at your rental apartment.
Then there's the small, in-town, chain mercato, lots smaller than American supermarkets. Think--convenience store merged with a food market. These are in city centers and are a bit tight on space. Surprisingly, what looks like a small shop entrance on the the exterior often opens up to a larger than expected store inside--still not "super" though. They might have smaller sized shopping carts or convertible basket-trolleys. You can still bring your own bags to carry your purchases in.
People tend to shop differently in Italy and don't buy enough groceries for 1-2 weeks as many families do in the States. This is reflected in the smaller size of their refrigerators. Because of this, we rarely saw Italians with shopping carts overflowing with food, and in fact, rarely saw the carts being used at all, unless someone was buying a lot of overly heavy items. Most people tend to bring their own reusable mesh or fabric shopping bags, or even folding shopping carts like people did when I was a kid in the Fifties.
(Read my article about the trend toward "Zero-Packaging" and "Zero Waste" markets in Europe HERE).
There is also another class of supermarket called the Hypermercato or for short Ipermercato (EE-perr-mher-COT-o). These are like the mega stores we have, Super-Walmart, BJs, etc. They are usually in an industrial area or well away from town centers and are as big as anything in the U.S. If you're vacationing in Italy, even for a prolonged stay in one location, you shouldn't ever need to waste your time in one of these--unless you're just curios about how similar or different they are from similar stores at home.
I should also address buying and pesatura, or weighing your produce in larger supermercadi. First of all, it's customary (for hygiene reasons) not to touch the produce with your bare hands. For this reason, you will see signs saying something like,
"Servitevi - Per motivi d'Igiene Non Toccare La Merce"
Self Service - for reasons of hygiene Do Not Touch the merchandise
(A good phrase to remember, there are "Non Toccare" signs in other types of shops, too. )
Somewhere near the fruits and veggies you will see plastic gloves. Put one on the hand you intend to use to pick up your selections and use the other hand to hold the bag to put them into.
Now, for pesatura: look around for a scale, and place your bag on the the scale. Above the scale there will be a panel with pictures of the fruit and vegetables on sale that day. Press the the corresponding picture button and you'll get a label printed out. Stick it on your bag. Repeat with your other items.
Happy shopping... and don't forget to buy a mesh shopping bag before heading to Italy.
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