The first time I traveled outside of Mexico I went to Canada for a summer with some schoolmates. We had a scholarship for an English immersion program which was a fantastic experience.
My English was good at the time. I was confident about my grammar and writing skills, but for me (and for many others studying a second or foreign language), speaking was very hard.
While I was in Canada, It took me a while before I was brave enough to go shopping on my own. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to communicate with people in the stores.
I had to come up with a little list of phrases I could use for shopping. I would practice these phrases on my way to school, on the bus or while walking downtown. In no time, I was ready and confident enough to get out and do my shopping.
If you are like me and have found yourself outside of the stores, just looking from a distance instead of going in because you are afraid you are not going to be able to communicate with the store staff, this article is for you. If you have never ventured out to a street market in Mexico (or any other Spanish speaking country) because you think your Spanish is not “good enough” and people won’t understand you, fear no more!
I have come up with a list of the 11 most important phrases you need to know for shopping in Spanish. This is what I did in English to overcome my fear of not being understood and I really believe this list will help you feel more in control when you are in the same situation.
1.- Estoy buscando … / I’m looking for …
You can complete this phrase with whatever it is that you are looking for:
una falda / a skirt
unos huaraches / sandals
lentes de sol / sunglasses
pantalones / pants
You can also use this phrase at a grocery store or the market. Maybe you are looking for:
Una sandia / a watermelon
Jitomates / tomatoes
Lentejas / lentils
Jabón líquido / liquid soap
Papel de baño / toilet paper
We are going to pretend that you are looking for a shirt. You are going to say: “Hola, estoy buscando una camisa”
2.- ¿Tienes ésta en talla...? / Do you have this one in a... size?
Now, they are showing you the shirts they have and you found one that you like. You have to make sure they have it in your size:
chica / small
mediana / medium
grande / large
extra grande / extra large
If you wear a medium size you are going to say: “¿Tienes ésta en talla mediana?”
3.- ¿La tienes en otro color? / Do you have it in a different color?
Ok, they have the shirt you like, in a size that fits you, but you are not convinced about the color. Here is when you can ask if maybe they have the same shirt but in other colors: “¿La tienes en otro color?” (Use "la" for feminine nouns such as "camisa" and "lo" for masculine nouns such as "pantalón".
4.- ¿Puedo ver esa? / Can I see that one?
Sometimes, stores have racks of clothes that are beyond reach. Where the store clerk needs a pole to get certain items down from the higher racks.
You can use this phrase to have the clerk help you get a shirt or any other item down: “¿Puedo ver esa?”
5.- ¿Me la puedo probar? / Can I try it on?
In Mexico, not all stores have fitting rooms. Especially in markets or street markets (called “tianguis”) sometimes trying on things is not possible but in some occasions, they have a hidden space where you can try the clothes on, you just have to ask to make sure they have one. You can ask by saying: “¿Me la puedo probar?”
6.- ¿Cuánto cuesta? / How much is this?
This phrase is perfect for when you are like me and prefer to look around for the best price before buying something. In many places, it is very common to find the exact same item, same material, same quality but at a much more reasonable price in a different store, so it pays to ask first: “¿Cuánto cuesta?”
7.- ¿Cuánto va a ser? / How much will it be?
This is a phrase you can use when you are all done with your shopping and you are ready to check out. You would normally use it when you are paying for more than one item and you need the clerk or cashier to do the math for you, just ask: “¿Cuánto va a ser?”
8.- ¿Aceptan tarjetas de crédito o débito? / Do you take credit or debit cards?
In many places in Latin America, credit or debit cards are not accepted. Especially in small towns where they don’t have the technology or the means to accept them. When we are in Colima, Mexico, we usually withdraw enough money from the ATM for two or three weeks and just before we run out of cash we withdraw some more.
We try to make sure we always have some cash on us, but we have been in the situation where we are out of cash and need to buy something but there’s no ATMs around. So we are left with no choice but to walk around asking at different stores if they would take our cards. And the question we use is: “¿Aceptan tarjetas de crédito o débito?”
9.- ¿Tiene cambio de un billete grande? / Do you have change for a “big/large bill”?
This phrase may sound weird to you but you will thank me for putting it on this list when you are in Mexico and all you have is a $500 pesos bill and you are trying to pay for a $10 pesos bus ride because, chances are that the bus driver is not going to have enough change for you and, believe it or not, he may deny you the service for this same reason.
It has happened to me a few times that all I have is a $500 or a $200 pesos bill and I have no choice but to ask around in stores, or restaurants nearby for someone to change my bill so I can take a taxi, the bus, or pay for something. So the phrase goes: “¿Tiene cambio de un billete grande?”
10.- No necesito bolsa / I don’t need a bag
We don’t always need bags to carry our groceries, specially if we are not buying lots of things, if we have a backpack or if we have a bigger purse where we can put our items.
It is always nice to skip the plastic bag when we don’t really need it.
So, when you are ready to check out and you ask “¿Cuánto va a ser? You can also say: “No necesito bolsa.”
11.- ¡Muchas gracias! / Thanks a lot!
And the easiest and most important phrase from the 11 most important phrases you need to know for shopping in Spanish is: “¡Muchas gracias!”
These 11 phrases will make shopping in a Spanish speaking country easier for you. Practice this list a few times before going shopping and I guarantee you will be ready.
Have you ever gone shopping in a different country? How was your experience? Did you suffer from anxiety like I did? Let me know in the comments!