When you read “do you have change?”, are you picturing a beggar asking for some spare coins? Italy has more than its fair share of those, but think again – the person most likely to ask you for change in Italy is the person working the cash register at a supermarket.
I don’t know for sure why this is, but Italian stores love their spare change. It’s one of those little things you notice only after having been here a while, that starts to get to you. In supermarkets in the US, they push a button and ding ding ding out comes the spare change from a little machine that you can scoop up and dump in your wallet. Impersonal, but nice and fast.
Here in Italy, there’s a more involved process:
- The total price is calculated, and you can start to ascertain your ability to pay down to the cent by digging around in your wallet.
- If you don’t have exact change or aren’t in the mood to count it out, you can take out something and offer it to the cashier.
- They may make a counter-offer or ask if you have change. Say you pull out a 20 euro note, and the item costs 12 euros, they may ask if you have a 2 euro coin, so they can give you 10 euros back.
- You can accept, and spend time fishing out the requested change.
- Or, if you don’t have it, or really don’t feel like playing the game, you can declare that you have no change.
- At this point, the cards are all on the table, so to speak, and the cashier has to play the hand they were dealt and give change, or not, depending on what you’ve handed them.
Mostly, this doesn’t take too much time, but occasionally you are in line behind an elderly person who wants to do the “polite” thing and give the cashier the exact change on their 27.13 Euro purchase. Due to the fact that they grew up with the Lira, and given their failing eyesight, this can be a slow process at times. You can’t get frustrated – we’ll all be there some day – but you do wish that people were more inclined to hand over some money and just let the cashier do their job. If you think about 20 seconds wasted all over Italy, day after day, the time involved starts to add up. There are many ‘slow’ interactions in Italy that are quite pleasant and worth emulating – stopping to chat with someone, or otherwise taking the time to enjoy your day as much as possible. But counting out change isn’t one of them.