5 Unexpected Shopping Quirks for Travelers

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little girl, shopping, red dress, bagsIn case you somehow missed the ads livening up the airwaves, web banners, and—yes—even good ol’ newspapers, Black Friday is this Friday. It kicks off the Christmas shopping season, and for the past nine years it has held its reign as this country’s busiest shopping day of the year. Whether you’re planning to set up a tent outside an electronics store or hunker down in your house with a plate of leftovers in one hand and your tablet in the other, you might enjoy reading about how the rest of the world shops. Here’s a crash course for you in international shopping.


The French are environmentalists so there are no free bags at grocery stores, and the bags you can buy are the sturdy, reusable ones. You’ll also need to put your items in the bag you brought—or bought—as there are no baggers. And when you’re in the produce section it’s up to you to weigh your own produce. Just put your fruits and veggies on a scale, which prints out a price tag to put on your goods. Don’t worry, though, there are cashiers and they’ll certainly assist you in checking out—that is, as long as you’ve weighed your two kilos of potatoes first.


According to an article in The Guardian, 80 percent of all purchases in Sweden are made electronically. For comparison, according to this 2013 study, the rate of general purchase card payments, or electronic purchases, in the Unites States was 60 percent in 2012. Electronic purchases are gaining momentum (and the use of cash and checks is dwindling) worldwide, but Sweden is leading the globe. There, you can use a credit or debit card practically anywhere, including with homeless street vendors. As a result, public transportation runs more efficiently and robbery rates have dropped significantly. If you’re planning a trip to Sweden, taking a card that doesn’t charge you a foreign-transaction fee would be a very good idea!


On the flip side, if you want to get some shopping done in Mexico, hit up an ATM first. You can certainly use cards at the big retailers, but since Mexico has a thriving small-business sector, many of the little shop owners only accept cash. And if you do end up shopping at, say, a Walmart in Mexico, you’ll still need some coins; it’s expected that you tip the baggers, especially because many don’t receive a base salary and are paid purely in gratuity. And one more thing: If you’re in Mexico City, you can also expect to tip the viene viene who helps you guide your car into one of the scarce parking spots outside of a store. Basically, don’t be caught shopping without a pocketful of change!

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Americans are used to drugstores being open 24/7, but most malls usually close around 9:00 p.m. Dubai, on the other hand, is known for its massive air-conditioned malls that are open late. The Dubai Mall, which is the biggest in the world, stays open until at least midnight all week. Smaller shops outside the malls often close at midday for a meal and rest time since the heat is sweltering. They open again around 5:00 p.m. and stay open late. Some shops don’t open until mid-afternoon on Fridays, as it’s a holy day for Muslims. Bottom line: get a good nap so you can go bargain hunting at night!


The Germans are frugal conservationists so don’t forget to bring your own bag when shopping—or expect to pay for one with your purchases. Make sure you have some coins in your pocket, too, if you’re heading to a supermarket in Germany. Most large grocery chains there now require a one-euro coin as a deposit to use a shopping cart. Once you return the cart, you get the coin back. It’s a way to ensure that the store gets its shopping carts back, and you might save your car a few dents in the process. This security trend has made its way to some supermarkets here in the United States—at Aldi, for example, the German-owned grocery chain. There, it’s a quarter for a shopping cart—quickly refunded upon return, of course!

Do you know of anyplace else in the world that’s adopted this cart-security measure?


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