So Shoe Me – Shoe Shopping in Spain

Dear readers: I realize that I have written pitifully little about the school year so far. When I sat down to untangle my thoughts, I was simply overwhelmed. I will fill you in on serious matters later, but for now let me disconnect from work by writing about a frivolous yet frustrating affair–shopping for shoes.

Shoe Shopping in Spain

Faithful black flats from Target, how I miss you!

It’s satisfying to see shoes paired up, Noah’s-ark style, at the foot of my closet. I’m rather proud of my humble collection, as I’ve battled for each and every set.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe shoe shopping in Spain. I’d rather wait in a grocery store holding a 20-kilo ham leg than try to find a comfortable pair of illusive black flats. Black flats are as ubiquitous as jamón, but with the unfortunate detail of being located inside of a shoe store.

In the U.S., shoe shopping is Cinderella simple; pick up shoe, slide it on, slide it off. When you set foot in a shoe-selling establishment, be it a sports store or a department store (say, Kohl’s), you get an eyeful of what’s available. You know the exact color options for rubber rain boots, and which sizes are left of those faux-leopard sandals with rhinestones. You can calmly try on different sizes without bothering anyone else. Additionally, you have the luxury of trying on the entire pair, a boon for those of us with wonky arches, wide feet, or simply those who would like to make sure it is possible to walk in a straight line.

Beware–shoe establishments in Spain will beckon you inside with their hip displays. The storefronts are lovingly arrayed with the latest trends, and the variety will make you believe that your cup overfloweth with options. Another misleading lure is that the shoe store will be chock-full of browsers. This is not because they are satisfied, returning customers; on the contrary, they have such a taxing time finding shoes that they must undertake weekly pilgrimages to zapaterías in order to stay clothed through the winter.

Here is a rough breakdown of the process: You enter said shoe store. You zero in on shoe. There will only be one shoe, usually the one for the right foot, since of course most of us are right-footed (tough luck to all you lefties).

Next, you need to get the attention of the shop assistant. I had never encountered that rare species, the “shop assistant,” until I came to Spain. We first met in the pages of an English-learning book, which is where shop assistants love to mix and mingle with other equally rare professionals such as refuse collectors, fishmongers, headmasters, and telephonists. (Microsoft Word does not even recognize [or should that be “recognise”?] telephonist as a legit word.) Thus, it will take American eyes a minute to adjust. Hint #1: Shop Asses love to blend in as they are not wearing any special uniform. Hint #2: Look for people actively hiding from customers; seek and you will find.

Once the shop assistant has been tracked down, ask him or her to bring you the appropriate shoe size. The most typical response is for a shop assistant to wordlessly disappear for an absurdly long time, long enough for you to go cross-eyed wondering which make and model initially enticed you in. When they do reappear, they will make you feel beholden to them for waiting on you hand and foot. Brace for waves of guilt as you begin to imagine life with a pair of loafers that pin your big toe to the pinky.

Sometimes the Shop Ass. will come back bearing not shoes but rather the news that this specific model is only available two sizes up at a sister store three towns over. Would you like them to call and reserve the shoe for you? By the way, it is only available in lime green.

Of course, you can only make it this far if you are lucky enough to know what your shoe size is. Half sizes are the black sheep of the Boot family, and the ‘ole Tennis gang has them relegated off the court, as well. You’re a Women’s 8.5 in the US? Well, I don’t see you winning the shoe lottery anytime soon. Better luck next year.

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If you live in Spain, what have been your experiences with shoe stores?

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21 Comments

  1. I just bought some black flats at Blanco that look EXACTLY like the ones in your pic. They’re pretty comfy too! I love shoe shopping in Spain.

  2. This was hilarious. I know what you meen and always feel like an inconience for the clerks (or store asses as you’ve appropriately called them.) This same analogy coul work for many clothibg boutiques as well. There is typically 6 to ten extremely overpriced items in the entire store, each in only one size and color. I’m generally too poor to shop for much anyway but when I do I never leave a store thinking that I am going to return because of the great service.

  3. My experience = ughhhh. I have big feet (but I am 5’11”), so I wear a size 41 at the littlest. It’s hell finding that in any shops but specialty shoe stores, which obviously tend to be more expensive.

  4. Cassandra

    Liz – I did come across some boots at Blanco’s rebajas in January, but their options usually drive me crazy with the hanger inserts.

    Kat – Yes, I feel about as welcome as a pimple in these stores! Somedays (okay, most days) I just wanna do some shopping without having to exchange words with anyone but the cashier.

    Kaley – Pobrecilla!! I can’t even imagine your dilemma!

  5. haha. In Denia it was always hit and miss, but hardly ever tooo crowded that I had to wait to long for help from a shop ass. Then there was the time I got yelled at for touching a shoe on display…oops! Just a few days before you posted this, I had decided I need to buy (yes, need) a pair of black or brown boots…now I’m anxious !

  6. Shoe shopping is certainly not an easy affair. It took me several years to realize that even though the sizes are 35,36,37, etc. that people just say 5,6,7; which then makes me wonder what people in the 40s do… oh yeah, they don’t have any.

    Also, why so uncomfortable Spain? Everybody walks everywhere and yet the people here are incapable of putting a little arch support in their shoes? I’m shamelessly sporting a pair of Toms around town, which look suspiciously like Spanish old lady shoes… but hey, they’re comfy!

    • Cassandra

      Elle – Best of luck to you! Let us know how shoe-shopping differs between Madrid and Denia.

      Hayley – I never knew that about abbreviating the sizes! That explains the raised eyebrows I get when I ask for a 37 instead of a 7. And yes, I agree about the discomfort factor. I marvel at the prevalence of high heels, as well; sensible, flat-wearing me believes high heels + cobblestones are a reckless combination.

  7. You have chosen the correct abbreviation for the notorious Shop Assistant.

  8. I wish I had some shoe-shopping stories to share (vaya alliteration) but unfortunately after one attempt last year, I’ve never returned. I, like Kaley, unfortunately suffer from Large North American Foot Syndrome, and usually can’t swing anything below a 42. The solution: buy shoes in Germany.

  9. Cassandra

    Shana–It sounds like this must be a fairly common dilemma (er, Syndrome). Don’t lose the fe!

  10. Angelica

    although you’ve had to suffer the wrath of shop ASSistants, you could have just told me and i’d have shipped you some! save you the trouble! 🙂

  11. oh boy… shoes in Spain. They almost ruined my first year here. Let’s see, they never have my size (US 9.5) when they do they are either ugly or super uncomfortable, and when I do find something “good” I walk so much that they wear out in a month!!! When I’m home I go to Marshalls every week and stock up on inexpensive, good quality, my size shoes!

  12. Cassandra

    Angelica–Thank you dear! I may have to take you up on this. Since I’ve got a ticket to the Arkansas in December, I will try to plod along ’til then 🙂

    Lauren–I definitely find that the quality is much lower than what I can find in the states. Last year I made the mistake of spending a lot of money on a pair of shoes that ended up falling apart as soon as a drop of rain came by. For now my tactic is to buy cheaper shoes that I know will wear out and then stock up once I’m in the states. I can’t even imagine how this problem would be exacerbated by having a larger shoe size!

  13. thanks mom for shipping me my american made flats from famous footwear, that i wont have to try on and I know they’ll fit…. because thats how much ive given up on spanish shoe shopping

  14. Cassandra

    You’re not alone!

  15. This is hilarious and SO true! I am still on the hunt for the elusive black flat. I bought an amazing beige pair last spring at mango but I have ruined them since. I should have gotten them in black but I couldn’t afford both, and I have regretted ever since

    • Cassandra

      Oh no, there’s nothing quite like shoe regret in Spain. Now we know what to stock up on…!

  16. Michael

    This Spanish shoe store fracas is an exclusive female affair. Do men in Spain simply go barefoot?

    • Cassandra

      How stereotypical of you, assuming the natives don’t have shoes! 😉

  17. This may be an old post but this is SO true. I never bought any shoes in Spain because I couldn’t be bothered to track down the shop assistant and then try on the shoes. Plus I was never sure what my equivalent size was. I’m usually between an 8 and an 8.5, I have trouble finding good shoes that fit in the US so with European sizes forget it! I didn’t feel like wasting an hour trying on different sizes for shoes that might not even be comfortable!

    I only buy my shoes at DSW in the States. I’m a Rewards Member and I just dropped some money on 3 pairs of summer shoes. I know the brands that are comfortable and in my opinion the shoes are better quality. I can get in and get out and not have to talk to any employees. It’s fantastic.

    • Cassandra

      It’s funny–before I wrote this entry I couldn’t remember anyone else having said that it was difficult for them to find shoes in Spain. But now I know I’m not alone!!

      I am between a 6.5 and 7, so depending on the make of each shoe I could wear either a 36 or 37. The shop assistants get so aggravated when I explain that I fall somewhere between the two and need to try on both pairs. When shopping for heels this time around, I also discovered that my feet must be wider than a typical Spanish woman’s. Figures.

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