There was a time when the only way people could experience an outdoor fruit and vegetable market was on a vacation to Europe. In recent years there has been a significant rise in popularity in so-called farmer’s markets here in the United States. This may lead people to feel as if they are familiar with the concept when they travel overseas. However, the etiquette may differ in European markets, so here are some general tips when visiting European open air markets:
• Do not touch the fruits and vegetables unless invited by the vendor to do so – vendors may find it impolite to have hands touching their merchandise. One clue is to look for plastic baskets or tubs, if you see them then it’s probably OK to select your own produce, if not, then it typically means the vendor will select for you, or observe the locals, are they selecting their own produce or is Luigi the Italian stall vendor selecting them the juiciest fruit?
• Tell the vendor when you plan to eat the item and they can help select something with the correct degree of ripeness for the time you plan to eat it
• As picturesque as these markets can be, remember that locals are there to get the ingredients for their daily meal and vendors are there to earn a living, so if you are just there to soak up the atmosphere, be considerate of people who are making transactions, step aside to let them shop and don’t expect the vendor to pose for a photo if he/she is busy with a transaction.
• Unlike other markets where you can buy souvenirs or antiques, these are not markets where you bargain the price of an item; the vendor is proud of his hard labor and quality of produce. And remember that picking up ingredients for an inexpensive snack or meal at a local market is much cheaper than going to a restaurant anyway, so you are already getting a ‘bargain.’
• Remember that European markets can be a social interaction between vendors and customers. Be friendly and make eye contact. If you smile, are courteous, and compliment the produce, a vendor may throw a few extra into your bag.
• Carry small bills and coins – this is not your local Safeway, don’t expect merchants to take credit cards, travelers checks or large bills.
• Europeans use the metric system and food in the markets is priced based on the kilo, so learn the approximate weight of things in metric. If you just can’t get your head around the metric system, watch and listen other shoppers, or in a pinch, describe how much you would like to purchase by gesturing with your hands.
European outdoor produce markets are a wonderful way to understand the local cuisine and the people. Full of bright colors they make for great photos and may launch your taste buds on a new adventure too. Which is your favorite European outdoor market?