Spain is a very modern country with all the types of shops you might expect to find back home. There are huge department stores in the major urban areas as well as small specialty shops in remote villages.
Whether you just want to buy a stamp or you plan on bringing a whole leg of Spanish ham back with you, you're bound to do a little shopping while you are in Spain. However, you might not find what you're looking for where you expect it to be. And, guidance on where to buy specialty foods and local products may smooth the way for your shopping trip.
Buying Stamps and Mailing Letters
Each town, city, or village in Spain has a post office. However, if all you are after is a stamp, it isn't worth waiting in line when there is a simpler alternative—a tobacconist.
Tobacconist shops are called estancos and have a burgundy and yellow sign. Ask for a "sello" (Spanish for a stamp). It is best to write the destination country on your postcard or letter in both Spanish and English. Show the postcard to the clerk and point to the name of the country and you'll get the correct postage. Mailboxes in Spain are yellow and they can be found all over a city.
As an alternative, use an online Spanish Post Price Calculator and then buy the exact quantity of stamps you need.
If you want to send an old-fashioned letter, envelopes and writing paper can be bought in a papeleria (stationery shop) or in El Corte Inglés (the big department found in every big city in Spain).
There are useful Spanish words for buying a stamp and mailing a letter or postcard:
- Stamp - sello (seh-yo)
- Is there a tobacconist around here? ¿Hay un estanco por aquí? (Eye oon es-TANK-oh pour ack-EE)
- Letter - Carta (CAR-tah)
- Envelope - Sobre (SOB-reh)
- Mailbox - Buzón (Bu-THON)
- United States - Estados Unidos (Es-TAH-dos Oon-EE-doss)
- United Kingdom - Reina Unido (Ray-EE-na Oon-EE-doh)
- Australia - Australia (Ow-STRA-li-ah)
- New Zealand - Nueva Zealanda (Noo-EVEH Zeh-LAND-ah)
- South Africa - Sur Africa (Soor A-fri-ka)
Names of common drugs may be different in Spain. If you have tried to buy acetaminophen in Spain and can't find it, that's because, in Spain, Acetaminophen is known as paracetamol.
Paracetamol can be found in all pharmacies (look for the illuminated green cross) in Spain. Note that the Spanish tend to take higher doses of paracetamol than in most countries, with one gram (that's 1000 milligrams) not uncommon. Ask for a lower dosage (200 mg or 500 mg).
Another common drug with a different name outside the US is albuterol, which is called salbutamol in most countries.
Other drugs with different names in Spain compared to in the US are the following (the name in brackets is the American name): glibenclamide (glyburide), isoprenaline (isoproterenol), moracizine (moricizine), orciprenaline (metaproterenol), paracetamol (acetaminophen), pethidine (meperidine), rifampicin (rifampin), and torasemide (torsemide).
Shopping for Traditional Goods
Traditional goods make great souvenirs. But goods are regional. You won't find, say, a flamenco dress in Galicia (Seville is best for that). Finding traditional Spanish goods to take home will depend on regional preferences, traditions, and Spanish culture.
- Ham (jamón) - Alpujarras and Granada (which gets its ham from Alpujarras) have the best ham, though it is available nationwide. Also, other pork products, in particular, chorizo (spicy pork sausage), will be found in these towns.
- Spices (especias) - especially saffron (azafrán) can be found in Valencia and Granada.
- Tea (té) - Granada is where you can pick up all sorts of great teas. Try "Pakistani tea," which is black tea with cinnamon and vanilla, available only in Granada. Otherwise, tea is not popular in Spain.
- Sherry (jerez) - Jerez, the home of sherry.
- Spanish Brandy (brandy español) - available nationwide, but it is usually made in Jerez.
- Wine (vino) - especially typical in Rioja.
- Havana Club Rum (Ron de Havana Club) - available throughout Spain. Real Havana Club rum cannot be imported to the U.S. but the genuine article is available throughout Spain.
Arts & Crafts
- Leather (piel) - sold nationwide, particularly in Andalusia. The Sol area of Madrid is good too.
- Lace (encaje) - Catalonia has a strong tradition in lace-making.
- Textiles (textil) - Catalonia is the best region for woven goods.
- Furniture (muebles) - Valencia.
- Toys (juegetes) - Alicante has a tradition of fine toymaking.
- Shoes (zapatos) - Alicante and the Balearics are the main sources of Spain's finest shoes.
- Handmade jewelry (joyas artesanas) - Cordoba has a tradition of excellent handmade jewelry.
- Pottery (alfarería) - Fajalauza in Granada has some beautiful pottery, made with old-fashioned techniques to create blue, green and purple glazes.
- Antiques Antigüidades - some great galleries in Madrid, near Plaza Santa Ana
- Rugs and Carpets (alfombras) - Cáceres, Granada and Murcia.
- Tiles (azulejos) - Triana, Seville, made by the local gyspy community.
Buying Euros in Spain can be done in ways that will save you money and waits in long bank lines.
ATMs invariably offer the best exchange rate. It also means you don't have to take out large amounts of money in one go, which is a big risk should you be the victim of a pickpocket.
You can choose to be charged in Euros or in your home currency. If you choose to be charged in Euros, your home bank will set the fees and exchange rate which will probably be more favorable.
Making Telephone Calls
If you have a phone from a country in the EU, "roam like at home" rules mean that when you use your mobile phone while traveling outside your home country in any EU country you don't have to pay additional roaming charges.
If you have an American phone that doesn't apply. Check what data options you can get from your provider. Many mobile phone companies have reduced the cost of their out-of-country internet price packages. It's best to make these arrangements before leaving for Spain.
If your phone provider doesn't give you good roaming options, you can get a European SIM. Your phone needs to take ordinary SIM cards, be unlocked, and GSM compatible (T-Mobile and AT&T run their networks on GSM technology, as examples). If all is compatible, you can order an international SIM before you leave or buy a Spanish SIM when you arrive.
You can also make calls at one of the Spanish call centers. Locutorios are public telephone centers that have private telephone booths. These are usually very inexpensive. It is recommended that you check the price before you make your call. You are billed when you leave and are free to make as many calls as you like. These centers usually also have internet.
Another option is to rent or buy a phone in Spain at a telephone shop. There may be some pre-paid phones that are relatively inexpensive.
Companies such as OnSpanishTime.com will rent you a mobile if you'd prefer. Some rentals include minutes for calling internationally.
Picking Up Flamenco, Soccer, and Bullfighting Tickets
When it comes to events, soccer, flamenco, and bullfighting are the most popular.
The best place to see flamenco is at a Flamenco Festival. If you are not in Spain during a festival, check out a show in Madrid, Barcelona or Andalusia. Many flamenco tablaos (or venues) now have internet booking.
Madrid and Seville are the best cities to see bullfighting. Bullfight tickets are priced according to where you sit (shade or sun, for example) and the popularity of the matador.
With two of Europe's most popular soccer teams in Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona), going to see a Spanish soccer match is high on many sports fans' lists. Tickets go to season ticket holders first and remaining tickets generally go on sale to the public at the stadium several days before each game. The most popular matches will sell out fast so your best option is to book tickets online.
If you are staying at a large hotel, a concierge (un conserje) may be able to assist you in getting event tickets.
TripSavvy trusts its readers to make their own decisions on the ethics of bullfighting as an attraction.
Making a Complaint in a Shop or Restaurant
Every public place in Spain—be it a shop, restaurant, bank, information center or even bus—has a sign on the wall that says, "This establishment has a complaints book for any customers that require them." The signs are in both English and Spanish, although occasionally the English is dropped in favor of Catalan or Basque. It is a legal requirement for the business to have this and it carries a lot of weight in Spain.
So, if you receive bad service in a shop or bar, ask the assistant or barman for the complaints book (point at the sign on the wall if you don't speak Spanish).
The forms are bilingual, so you shouldn't have a problem filling it out. Keep the two copies indicated (usually the green and white ones) and hand in the other (usually pink).
Each form is followed up on and the establishment can suffer heavily if the complaint is found to be valid. If two people make a similar complaint it is even more likely that the complaint will be taken seriously.
You may be wondering how this will help you when you are only staying a few weeks in the country. Well, these forms are viewed so seriously, you often don't even need to fill one out; as soon as you ask for the book the service often improves instantaneously.