Accidental Shoplifting in Spain – Stories From The Road

Using dirty words in Spanish that I didn’t understand, the small, middle aged Spanish lady tried to yank my groceries out of my hand.

For two months in August/September of 2013, I lived in Granada, Spain. I found work at the Granada Inn hostel via helpX (a web site that connects travelers with jobs in exchange for accommodation and/or food). I started out cleaning rooms and ended up guiding Tapas Tours (in Granada when you order drinks you get free food called “Tapas“) and historical tours for tips. My arrangement was only for accommodation, no food. It was expensive to eat out for every meal, so I purchased food from the local supermarket and cooked it myself.

Shopping bag

The bag look something like this.

One day, I went to the supermarket and it was exceptionally busy. There were no hand carts available and a bigger cart cost €2. There were however these cloth rolling carts(pictured right) lined up near the entrance , so I picked one up and began gathering my groceries. I had all of my groceries picked out and was heading to the counter to pay.

Suddenly, this small, middle-aged Spanish lady snatched the cart out of my hands and shouted angrily in Spanish. With no idea what was going on, I snatched it back. After a brief tug of war, the store manager emerged from his office.

Finally she calmed down enough to explain herself to the manager (angrily of course) and I could finally understand her enough to realize that this was her cart that she brought to get her groceries back to her house. Apparently many people bring these carts because they have to carry their groceries home by foot, and this rolling cart makes it easier. They have to leave them in the front of the store, however, because they could potentially be used to conceal items for shoplifting purposes.

I was not aware of this practice.

I was not only accused of taking her cart, the store manager also thought I was trying to use it to shoplift!

Oh, and to top it all off, I had a backpack on, which is what I used to transport groceries to and from the hostel.

It’s amazing how fluent you become in a foreign language in an emergency situation. In better Spanish than I thought I knew, I stumbled through an explanation that I didn’t know it was hers and there were no carts available when I walked in and I thought that these were carts.

To them, it probably sounded something like “I not know that she’s, I think them for all clients.”

The grocery store manager seemed to understand that I was a foreigner who had no idea what was going on and took pity on me. He took me into the office, with my complete cooperation, and made me empty my backpack which had nothing in it, and my pockets. He told me that somebody had just been caught shoplifting a champagne bottle, so they were on high alert.

This whole time I’m thinking “Man, now I’m going to have to collect all my groceries again!”

Luckily, I walked out of the office to see the woman angrily emptying the cart onto a single shelf. I picked up my groceries, paid, and went back to the hostel thankful that I didn’t get taken to jail in the poorest part of Spain, a country with 20% unemployment.

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