In many corners of Barranquilla there are places called “tiendas” which are essentially mini-stores where you can buy your most basic groceries such as bread, rice, snacks, basic meats, beer, soda and so on. In North America, we call these convenience stores – although here there aren’t any chains. Tiendas are almost all family -owned and run businesses, often located on the main floor of a house. The “tendero” (storekeeper) basically knows everyone in the neighborhood. You might even notice different Spanish accents with these people because most of them are from different regions of Colombia.

What’s more, when you’re a regular client it doesn’t even matter if you don’t have enough money when paying the bill, because at these stores, if they know you, they’ll sell merchandise on credit. Normally these debts are written in a notebook, and then the tenderos give the customer a receipt. The paper is called a “vale” and and it usually is just a handwritten list of all your accumulated debts. Of course, always compare your debts with the notebook to make sure you’re paying the right amount.

Interestingly, even though there are an increasing number of big supermarkets in the city; there’s no downward trend in the number of tiendas. In fact, some tiendas like La Colombiana, located on Carrera 20B and Calle 64C, which is twenty-seven years old, are still very profitable businesses, according to the owner of La Colombiana, Carlos Castro. Generally, prices at tiendas are a bit higher than supermarkets and they don’t have the same selection. But then again, if you factor in the free delivery and convenience, it all evens out.

Also, most tiendas offer home delivery without any additional cost which is a phenomenally handy service. Even so, many people still often walk over to buy their supplies at the tiendas because its a very old tradition and is a good way to interact with the community. So, if you’re a visitor or new to the area, don’t hesitate to check-out one of these local stores; it’s an excellent way to get to know your neighbors and plus, you can practice and improve your Spanish. On weekends too, it’s common for neighbors to head to the tienda for a few beers. If you want to learn a little bit more about the culture and local customs, most people are more than happy to chat – go have a beer with the locals.

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Carlos Guerra is a person who loves writing. His experience teaching Spanish to foreigners and his job as a Language and Culture Facilitator for the Peace Corps was his motivation to start writing about Barranquilla’s culture. He considers himself an ambassador of the Caribbean culture and Colombia. He loves teaching English and Spanish and enjoys learning from different cultures.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This article is spot on. When my husband lived in BA, Colombia, his family would often have some of their groceries delivered from a nearby tienda. My friend who also lives in Quilla tells me he goes to a store that’s right around the corner. C stores in the US are way less personal than tiendas. Usually cashiers come and go, so it’s hard to have a personal interaction with them. They’re also a chain, not family owned, most of the time. Although in my neighborhood, there is a family owned C-store that isn’t a chain, and the storekeepers have recognized me from time to time, but hardly speak English. Good post!

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