Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It Makes No Cents

Italian cashiers don’t like to make change. None of them. Nowhere. No time. It doesn’t matter what you give them, they always ask for something else UNLESS you’ve given them exact change. If the bill is an even 6 and you hand over a 10 note, the cashier will ask for a one euro coin so they can give you back a 5 note. Once, when the cashier rang up my purchase, the total was 4.98. I handed her a five. All she had to do was give me back one coin. She asked me for correct change. That would have required a minimum of nine coins: two 2 euro, one 50 centesimo, two 20 centesimo, one 10 centesimo, one 5 centesimo, two 2 centesimo, and one 1 centesimo. And if I hadn’t had those exact denominations, I would have needed even more.
One of the problems may simply be that the euro has too many coins: one- and two-euros, 50-, 20-, 10-, 5-, 2-, and 1-centesimo (cents). The fact that the original nine European Union countries could have their own designs on the tails side of each coin complicates matters. There are actually 72 different coins!
But the problem may go back to the days of the lira. Some of the smaller coins had so little value that they were made of aluminum. When I first came to Italy many years ago, cashiers in bars and some shops kept a dish of hard candy by the cash register. They would frequently hand over a piece of candy or two in lieu those aluminum coins. Now cashiers simply round off, usually keeping the difference in the till. For example, if you’re due back 4.96, the cashier may hand you 4.95, claiming not to have a one centesimo coin. It rarely goes the other way.
You can imagine the back-up at the supermarket. We all wait for each customer to scratch through a coin purse for exact change while the cashier takes a sip of water or talks with a co-worker. It’s very common for people to simply hold out a handful of change and trust the cashier to take the correct amount. I don’t subscribe to that method.
When I first came to Rome, the euro had only been in circulation for a few months. Cashiers always asked me could they look at my change. I was deeply offended because I thought they thought the foreigner didn’t understand the currency. Now I realize no one understood the currency, least of all the Italians. In those days, receipts gave not only the amount in euro, but also the lira conversion so people had a point of reference. And I honestly didn’t notice when that practice stopped.
I once asked a cashier who insisted that I look again in my purse for coins, “What is your job?” She grinned and said, “To ask you for correct change.” If you do have the correct change, the cashier says, “Brava! Brava!” as if you’ve done something outstanding.


Ellis Vidler said...

I'd go nuts, and so would they. The person behind me would probably hit me over the head and move up.
When I was in Mexico, they were in the process of changing currency and had old and new paper money. Too much for me--I held out my money and the clerks counted out what they needed. I don't believe any of them ever took more than the proper amount. They're wonderful people. I hope you've found the same in Italy.

Kath said...

Well, at least they give you kudos for having exact change. Actually the whole line behind you should cheer, huh?

Patricia Winton said...

Ellis, it's an amazing combination of impatience and willingness to put up with the wait. People here hate standing in line, but they take the change issue as normal. You have to laugh.

Patricia Winton said...

Yesterday, after I posted this blog, I bought a bottle of wine at the supermarket. I should have received one cent change. The cashier didn't have a coin. I was nodding my head with "Here we go again" when he asked a colleague for a coin. That was a first!

Alli Sinclair said...

Funny how the Italians have such a heavy influence on the Argentines. Quite often I've been given a piece of candy in lieu of change. It must be something in the Italian genes (given such a huge percentage of Argentina's population is of Italian descent)!

Patricia Winton said...

I'd take the candy today.There is a strong connection between the two countries. During the Argentine financial crisis 10-12 years ago, Italy made special arrangements for immigration of Argentinians of Italian descent.

Unknown said...

I seldom offer coins for payment anymore. I do keep a small stash in the car for emergencies and road tolls. I put most of my change in a can(bank) and raid it for quarters for occasional laundromat runs to wash throw rugs and take the rest to the bank for them to use a mechanical coin counter. Sounds like I would fit right in as an Italian cashier.

Christine Hammar said...

1 and 2 Cent coins are not in use in Finland at all. The prices are rounded either up or down.

If the customer does happen to have smaller coins than 5 Cents (which is quite rare in Finland), the teller is obliged to take them.

It has sometimes happened that the teller hasn't accepted 1 or 2 Cent coins but after a chat w his/her superior found that they're acceptable means of payment.

Patricia Winton said...

That's interesting, Christine. I obviously thought that all the coins were in circulation throughout Europe. We have a one-cent coin in the U.S. and some people hate it, but we do have prices with odd cents, so they're useful. American cashiers do not tell you that they don't have correct change to give you.