Though El Corte Ingles is all over Europe, I can only speak to the two that I visited in Barcelona; They are out of this world. It is a massive department store—we are talking ten stories—filled with almost anything you could want, from high-end clothing to appliances. I walked in on a mission to find a charger for my laptop because mine happened to be thousands of miles away. I was thoroughly unprepared for the world I entered. To save you from the same fate I decided to write about my experience, so you don't experience the same confusion I did.
1. It Is a Classic Department Store
The operating word here is "department." I had never had a chance to visit a real department store, so I had no idea what I was doing when I walked in. I was treating the store like a mall bringing my purchases from one floor to another which is not how they roll in El Corte.
Furthermore, they had a few major checkout spots positioned around each floor, but they also had smaller checkout area in each section. Some of the employees were more than happy to ring me up at the smaller checkouts while others somewhat grumpily sent me to the central registers. I would suggest just finding the main checkout counter to buy your goods unless being scolded in another language is something you would enjoy.
2. One Word: Pita
For those of you non-Spanish speakers, the word is pronounced pee-ta, and it means beep. Even after we figured out that we needed to buy our items before moving on to the next floor, we had a lot of problems with our purchases setting off the theft detectors, so we kept having to go to the counter to have our items demagnetized.
Though the employees tried, their English wasn't that great which makes sense considering that in Barcelona English isn't even their second language. As soon as I said "pita" they automatically knew what I was talking about and would run our bags over the device.
3. Know Your Corte
One of my favorite stories about my trip to Barcelona was not knowing my Corte. As previously mentioned, I left my computer charger thousands of miles away, and that just isn't acceptable for a writer. So, after our first day exploring the area around our hotel and only finding restaurants and small businesses I thought that electronics were something they didn't have in Barcelona.
I did the only logical thing and asked the employee at the front desk of our hotel where I could go to buy a computer charger. She gave me straightforward directions to take the train three stops, and I would see it when I came out. That sounded easy enough even for a guy who had never ridden the subway in his life.
So I followed her directions, we hopped on the subway and went three stops. When we emerged from the tunnel, we found ourselves in an area similar to that around our hotel with no sign of El Corte Ingles. Thanks to our twenty-first-century technology I whipped out my phone and asked Siri where the store was. After some confusing directions, we were brought to a small storefront with the words El Corte Ingles on the window. Inside were two women sitting at desks and there were travel pamphlets everywhere. Thinking that there was some miscommunication and not wanting to make a fool of myself I retreated to the hotel none the richer in computer charging capabilities.
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Giving up was not an option so the next day I went back to the front desk and sheepishly explained that I followed her directions and found El Corte Ingles, but it looked like a travel agency. She shook her head judgingly and gave me the same instructions. She seemed sure, so I figured I'd give it one more go.
As soon as we walked down into the tunnel, my wife realized that we had gone the wrong way the first time. After correcting our mistake and going in the right direction we walked out of the tunnel to see not one, but two massive buildings branded with the El Corte Ingles logo and I immediately started laughing because the lady at the desk must have thought I was insane for saying it looked like a travel agency.
The moral of the story is, if you get lost looking for El Corte Ingles, you should know that there is a travel agency of the same name and your phone does not know the difference.
4. Don't Be Intimidated
When we first walked in, we thought that there was no way that we would be able to afford anything in El Corte Ingles. The first floor looked like Macy's if Macy's was quadruple the price. It was immediately intimidating, and I again questioned why she had sent me to a store like this for a computer charger.
As we ascended the escalators from floor to floor, everything started to come into focus. It turns out that El Corte is a lot like a massive multi-floor Target with everything from high-end clothing to reasonably priced brands including brands unique to El Corte Ingles. When we reached the electronics area, it was like being in a small Best Buy, and it was interesting to see all of their video games and movies exactly like ours just in another language. I eventually found the right charger for my computer and the price was about the same if not less than what I have paid for universal chargers in the United States. So, the moral of the story is that while El Corte Ingles can look a bit pricey from the front door, the deeper you get, the more affordable it becomes.
5. Have Your Passport Ready
I read a lot about using my credit card in Europe, and a lot of the information (like having to use a pin number for every transaction) was not right. What I didn't read was that I would have to show my passport for every purchase I made in a retail store.
It was interesting because nobody ever asked for my identification anywhere but the major retailers where we shopped. At one store, in particular, I was searching for my passport in my wallet, and I guess I was taking too long because the lady behind the counter said, "Sir if you don't have your passport I can't sell you this." I had it, and we quickly parted ways, but they are serious about having your I.D. to make purchases.
Shopping at El Corte Ingles in Barcelona was one of my favorite parts of my trip, which means a lot because it is one of the most amazing cities in the world. I hope to return to Barcelona one day, and a shopping excursion will surely be on my list. After having this experience and knowing what I know now I feel like I would only get more enjoyment from this out of this world department store.