If any of you are looking for the quickest way to make an enemy in Italy (besides shouting out “Hey, your guys’ cuisine sucks!” along the streets) then the easiest way to do it is to try and pay for a €6 sandwich with a €20 bill.
Italians absolutely and profoundly hate giving change. I’m not sure if the European Union calculated wrong and just didn’t produce enough coins when Italy switched over from the Lira to the Euro or what the hell happened. All I know is that paying for anything in any store anywhere in Italy will likely lead to eye rolling and huffing and puffing if you aren’t going to be paying in exact, down-to-the-penny, change.
My previous example of paying for a €6 sandwich means that the cashier would have to give you back €14 (for example: a ten euro bill and two 2 euro coins). Doesn’t really seem like a big deal, right? I mean, it’s not like you’re buying a €1 scratch ticket and saying “Do you mind if I pay with a 500 euro bill?” Well, in Italy, this could invariably lead to the cashier giving you a dirty look, throwing your change back at you like you were an @$$hole, or in the most extreme of cases saying “I don’t have the change to give you, so just leave the sandwich on the counter, get out of here, and don’t ever come back.”
I have personally experienced walking into a store in Italy to buy something, only to have the cashier tell me that they can’t sell me the product because they don’t have the change to give me. Just last week, I went to buy a few lightbulbs at this store, because we have this friggin’ lamp in our apartment that burns out more than a high school teacher with no pension plan *zing*. Anyways, the lightbulbs came to a total of €7.50 and I had the audacity to try and pay with a ten euro bill. The only reason that I was able to actually return home with the lightbulbs is because the fruit vendor next door was able to break the change for the lightbulb store guy (though I’m sure Mr. Lightbulb is gonna be in some hefty debt with Mr. Fruit for asking him to give up some of his precious change). Let’s not forget that we are talking about €2.50 of change here which could constitute as few as two coins.
Sometimes Italians will even give you a discount, just to avoid giving you back change. Here’s an example:
Cashier: Ok, so that comes to €31.25.
Me: Here you go! (handing over two 20 euro bills)
Cashier: (horrified) You don’t have the change?
Me: No, sorry.
Cashier: Ok then, let’s just make it €30. (handing me back a ten euro bill to avoid giving back coins)
Me: (Thinking to myself) Sweet! Maybe I’ll start pretending I never have the right change to nab discounts all over the place! To hell with Groupon!
Honestly, I have no idea why this is and even the Italians I’ve asked can’t seem to explain it…
On the other hand, a surefire way to get in good with Italians is to pay in exact change. If I were to pay for a €7.38 piece of parmesan cheese with exactly €7.38 in bills and coins then I would probably hear the cashier yell “Hey Antonio! You see this kid here? He’s good people! We should fix him up with your daughter”. If I were to respond “Well, thank you ma’am but I’m not really that into 1830′s-style arranged marriages”, then the cashier is apt to reply “That’s a shame! You got good change, kid!”
You see, in Italy, a few coins go a long way!