Hey man, spare some change?

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!

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18 thoughts on “Hey man, spare some change?

  1. It couldn’t more different in Turkey. Getting that sale is so important. Want to pay in pounds, euros, dollars? No problem. No change? No problem. They’ll send out a boy to scour the town and give you tea while you wait. Just don’t try using Scottish pounds, though. You’ll get a quizzical look of disbelief as if trying to con them with monopoly money. Mind you, that happens in London too.

  2. A possible reason for that could be traced in the shortage of coins experienced in Italy back in the 70s, which led to the invention of the “miniassegni” (now sort of historical artifacts).

    In any event, my trick to prevent troubles is a typical “I have no change, sorry about that”. It is so automatic that I use the trick also when I’m not in Italy, getting puzzled looks from cashiers.

    • I didn’t know about the change shortage of the ’70s! I’ve learned something new!!!

      I have the habit of getting so worried about not having change that even when I’m back in America I say “I’m so sorry! I don’t have the change, please don’t kill me!” and the American cashiers look at me all wierd! 😦

  3. Hey G – Good info to know for my Italian adventures next week. Question: What is the attitude towards charge cards? Do smaller stores/cashiers hate this with the power of 1000 suns as well?
    Here in the US, I just pay for things with my charm and huge rack.
    ~B-town

    • Hello Bethany! Thanks for talkin’ ’bout your boobs on my blog! *weh-wegh*

      You’ll want to pay by cash or debit more than credit card… at least for small things… I’m sure Gucci takes plastic though! 😉

  4. I was in Italy in the mid 70’s and I remember the cashier would give you hard candy as change. You would get your Lira and few pieces of individually wrapped hard candy!

  5. Although the post exaggerates the issue and is somehow racist, I have to say that change is quite important in Italy. However, the solution to this problem is to bring your credit card with you…no coins would be needed!

    • You FINALLY check out my blog and the comment you leave is telling me that the post is exaggerated and racist??!?! :-/ (this emoticon is supposed to be pursing his lips in disdain…)

      Don’t worry folks, Francesco just likes to “bust balls”! 😉

  6. Hi Garrettt! One day I had to pay the grocery shopping at my local Ipercoop with a five hundred euro …
    It was Saturday afternoon, my father had to change it and the bank was closed..Hence: change it at the mall! Can you imagine the face of the cashier??..If she could, she would have killed me..Ciao, un bacione,silvia

  7. This was hilarious. I haven’t experienced it but just got back from Peru and was amazed when they’d tell me, “no, I can’t take this bill as it’s been folded before”. Seriously? I was warned but I just didn’t believe it.

  8. Lol lol, that’s tragically true, and very annoying! 🙂

    I think the reason is that little shops have very cold relationships with banks. You know, you should go to the bank regularly to get the needed coins, but they just avoid going to banks… debts to pay, not to appear too wealthy to the director, and so on 😉

    Anyway, in supermarkets and big shops one is usually free from this “change curse” 🙂

  9. Ok, here’s one lil’ trick for you.
    You always have to pretend you don’t have the change. Then wait.
    You’ll be asked again. Now fake to give up your purchase.
    At this moment, one of these two things will happen:
    1. Many times they’ll just accept your banknote
    2. They really have no change, so you can go: “Aspetta, aspetta, ecco, ecco, ce l’avevo”, with a big grin on your face :))

    Ciao ciao 🙂

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