It’s obvious you’re English!

Como se nota que eres inglesa!’ 

As my neighbour walked towards me with his supermarket trolley, I stared at him in bewilderment. Why was he telling me it’s obvious I’m English? He already knew that. I’d often chatted with him and his wife walking their dog in the paseo.

He laughed and began to explain. 

‘I didn’t recognise you at first. I was down the other end of the aisle when I saw you coming the wrong way, bumping in to everyone, and I thought, Oh, she must be English.’

‘The wrong way?’

‘In Spain we drive on the right so we start shopping on the right. But you’ve started on the left.’

It took a moment for the penny to drop. So that rule applied in supermarkets, too, did it? The aisles were streets that everyone had to negotiate in the same direction?

‘D’you know,’ I said, ‘I’ve been here seven years and that’s never occurred to me before. Anyway, in this supermarket, the entrance is on the left, so it seems logical to go down that aisle first, not walk up to the other end.’

‘Not to us, it doesn’t. Even if we go straight to the fish counter, which is just inside the entrance, we all walk up to the far end to start the rest of our shopping.’

But surely I’d seen people wheeling their trolleys from both directions? True, a lot of foreigners used this particular store. But most countries drive on the right, so maybe the culprits were all English. Had I sometimes noticed impatient looks when I met other shoppers head-on with my trolley? Or was I becoming paranoid?

‘Oh well, people must be used to us English by now, with so many of us here,’ I said. ‘It’s some achievement that I’ve got used to driving a car on the right.’

He laughed and began to tell me of his difficulties when he first worked in Sweden, back in the days when they used to drive on the left. Something else I didn’t know.

While I laughed along with him, my mind battled to remember how we negotiated supermarket aisles in England. Did all shoppers in Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s walk in the same direction, from the same starting point on the left? Or was it a free-for-all? I was no longer sure – it was such a long time since I’d shopped there, and my memory was a bit wonky.

Maybe this was just one more example of a bizarre Spanish rule. Either that, or it was a sign of how much I had left to learn. What do you think?