Buying Produce in Italy

From the time I touched down in Florence I was craving a salad.

Italian SaladAlmost 24 hours of travel means a great deal of road food and none of it particularly good.

I needed veggies. Stat.

After finding my apartment and getting slightly acquainted with my new home, I went to the little bistro downstairs to enjoy some WiFi and my first Florentine meal. The salad was ample and my body was thankful.

Knowing the craving would return, though, I set off for the market. With my ridiculously little Italian, I thought it would be quite the adventure.

When in Florence?

The store was similar to the small markets found in New York. Except of course all the prices are in Euros, the weights in kg and packaging yet untranslatable, it was all quite familiar. I was immediately happy to see fresh fruit and veggies right near the entrance and started picking my way through. Huh.

Maybe not the adventure I thought.

Pomodori? Check. Peperone Rossi? Yup. Melezana. Oh please yes.

I loaded my basket as I usually do — declining to use plastic bags which make my little environmentalist heart hurt. I noticed a few others using plastic gloves (gasp!) to handle and fondle, and many seemed to really care about how much their items weighed.

I was focused on processing prices and checking things off my internal list.

Cornucopia of green, yellow and red in my basket achieved.

I wandered up and down the other isles taking stock of what else might be available. I even found some tofu and though rather expensive I decided to treat myself to a block. I nabbed some dried beans and lentils as well as coffee.

Ok. Well done. Off to the register.

Check me out

I loaded my bounty onto the belt and waited, observing the usual flow of people through line. When it was my turn Sergio greeted me with “Voule una busta?”

Darn. Don’t know that one.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand” I replied with a smile, internally giving myself a little pat on the back for being mistaken for Italian.

“Bag. Do you want a bag?”

“Oh. No thank you. I have some.”

He smiled and started scanning things through. Until…

“ahhh. You need… um…”

Darn. What?

“You have to use the scale and get the ticket.”


Sergio was as nice as he could be, even offering to let me cut back into line when I was done — “you don’t have to wait, just come to me”– but I was stuck embarassedly piling everything back into my handbasket with many apologies to go get prices stuck on it all.

ScaleI went back to the produce section with my chin held as high as I could manage to weigh and bag all my goods. I darted from bags to bin (to get the assigned number for the veggie) back to scale and printer with a wry smile on my face.

Well maybe not as Italian as I thought.

Alas, in less than 5 minutes my mistake was corrected. I hated that I had made the error. I should have paid more attention to others.

But at least now I have learned my lesson and can do it right next time.

Sergio said as much when I went back (after waiting briefly again in line though appreciative of offer). “All of Italy we use this system,” he said.

Va bene. Got it.

Half the battle

I did google it later. Finding the system all laid out in other places. Apparently it is preferred that you do indeed use the gloves, though I have found that to be about 50/50. I simply do the inside-out bag trick if I want to squeeze or test, otherwise I take whatever I touch.

UntitledMore importantly: now I know what to do from experience.

Mistakes are apt to happen and I didn’t die from mortification.

Besides the guy behind me in line, I doubt many even noticed. If they did? Even fewer took the time to care.

We are the centers of our own dramas. If we let little disturbances and missteps slide past us and just picking up the information needed, we are are the better and smarter for it.

I’ve often had trouble forgiving myself for my errors. But this time, instead of slinking off and continuing to replay the episode in my head like some horror film only I can see, I moved on. I am sharing it with you as an object lesson and practical tip all in one.

I’m disappointed I didn’t pay more attention but I’m not berating myself. Now I know.

And my buddy Sergio? Did he snicker or smile the next time I appeared in his line at the silly American who didn’t understand the Italian system? Nope.

He didn’t even recognize me the next day. He simply said, “una busta?”

“No, grazie. Ce l’ho.”

I got it.

So if you are in Italy buying veggies, they have this amazing system where you weigh and ticket your own produce…

VeggiesLive even the mistake-filled moments.

They are life’s greatest teachers.

The payoff is tomatoes that will bring tears to your eyes.

Experience the new.

Even through discomfort, it gives us the nourishment our body and soul needs.

Always be IN,

Jo Signature


PS – to follow along my food and non-food adventures, check out my A Photo A Day Project on tumblr or on Facebook.


  1. “Live even the mistake-filled moments.”
    Yes. Beautiful reminder.

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