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.