Making change is not a big issue at home. Most every ATM spits out $20 bills. If I want a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and all I have is $20, no big deal. The cashier makes no objection to the bill, and makes change.
For some reason, making change is a big deal in France. Almost every transaction includes and appeal from the cashier if you don’t have something smaller and exact change. So we rummage through our pockets for 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 euro “centimes” to make as close to exact change as possible. Now, here’s where it is interesting.
Over the years I’ve noticed a gender distinction. Women, by and large, like giving exact change and will take extra time combing through their purses for change to the penny. Martha is that way, and especially in French, where she has conquered the numbering system (don’t even ask me!). A cashier or vendor will announce the price, I’ll try to give a large bill (to make change), they ask for exact change, and Martha finds it for them, leaving me with the big bill unbroken.
Now, you might ask. What’s the big deal with that? The ATMs in France spit out 50 Euro bills. Cashiers and vendors hate 50 Euro bills. They will throw up their hands and make popping noises with their lips as if you had just done something inconceivably stupid! So, the other day I withdrew a bunch of Euros (all 50’s) and decided to walk into the bank that had the machine that gave me the cash, and ask them for change. After a long line, practicing the phrase “Changemont si vou plais” in my head, my time arrived. I asked the teller who turned to the manager, who waved his finger and told me that the bank does not give our change! The BANK does not give our change. Totally befuddled, I asked where I could get change. He pointed out the door and said “La Poste” (the Post Office). No way was I going to stand in line at the post office and ask for change.
What did I do? I drove to the MacDonalds, where I was already planning to do email and bought one cup of coffee, with a 50 Euro bill. No complaints at the MacDonalds…they do change!