Saturday, June 28, 2008

And one more thing I'll miss...

My apologies but since my last post was a very late one last night here at Malibu after a long beach day, I forgot to mention one of the more amusing customs in Sicilia, the aversion to making change by merchants.

Travel guru, Rick Steves, advises you that when touring Europe, try to have as close to exact change as possible when transacting business. Rick's main reason for this travel tip is that in some cases you may be dealing with an unscrupulous businessman who will try to short change you if you give him say a 50 Euro note for a 6.64 Euro bill. This seems like sage advice from the guru of European travel.

Now for someone the likes of financial goddess, Koreen FitzGerald, exact change is NEVER a problem in any currency, continent or country. For us mere mortals, this is rarely the case.  

I have made it a point to carry 1 and 2 Euro coins so as to make transactions all the more simple. I have found Sicilian merchants to be honest but they fear change also. The cause of their phobia... I don't think some of them can make change without having to take off their shoes to count. I have actually had storeowners refuse to sell me a 2 Euro bottle of Fanta because all I had was a 20 Euro note and they did not want to make change and maybe shortchange themselves!

Another factor in the making change issue are the ATM or Bancomat machines as they are called here. About 95% of these handy money dispensers dole out no less than 50 Euros at a time and only distribute currency in 50 Euro notes. This of course is too big a bill for most merchants to even fathom for an under 10 Euros purchase.

The IPERSIMPLY Change Crisis
of June 27, 2008

With all of this as background, here is yesterday's chain of events.

First I stopped at a Bancomat and got out 100Euros, as usual it gave me two 50 Euro notes.

No problem, I went to the Post Office and paid my 37 Euro parking ticket figuring the Italian Postal System would certainly be able to come up with 13 Euros as change. They did, neatly handing me back a 10 Euro bill plus three 1 Euro coins.

Next it was off to the Two Marias to pick up 4 Hawaiian shirts they had dry cleaned for me for 12 Euros. Easy doing business with them and I still had 1 Euro left from the first 50 Euro note.

Also of note at this juncture, fashion conscious Italians give me very funny looks when I wear one of these American fashion statements. I may possess the only four known reproductions of the elusive hibiscus flower in all of Italy. I am kind of hoping some local botanist will ask to borrow a shirt to do research on this mysterious tropical flora.

I was able to manage the rest of my day with the 20 Euros I had in my wallet before the trip to the Bancomat but on the way home from the beach I knew I had to stop and buy a few groceries. The perfect spot was the IPERSIMPLY supermercato right on the highway in Acireale.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon and the IPERSIMPLY opens at 8:00 in the morning so I figured my last 50 Euro note would again be no problem at a big concern like this one. WRONG!

As you can see if you click on the picture above, the bill came to 24.48 Euros, I handed her the now offending 50 Euros and she went into a panic even though her machine will tell her exactly how much change to give me once she inputs how much money I gave her.

"Do you have anything smaller than a 50?" Nope, at least not enough to cover the bill.

She fumbles around in the cash drawer trying to come up with a solution. I know that all she needs is one 20 Euro note, one 5 Euro note, one 50 cent piece and one 2 cent piece and we can all go home and nobody gets hurt. This should not be hard to do this late in the business day.

"Do you have 48 cents?" No, all I have is 40 cents. "Give it to me."

I am not sure how that is going to help the situation but at this point I figure let's just go with her flow and see where our saga ends up.

She punches in that I gave her 50.40 Euros and her computerized teller says reports back smartly that she should give me 25.92 in change.

She proceeds to hand me one 20 Euro note, ten 50 cent pieces and five 20 cent pieces for a total of 26 Euros, 8 cents more than I had coming to me.

This practice of, I guess you would call it, long changing customers is also a rule in business. There is no one cent coin in the Euro world but there are the rare two and five cent coins. Merchants would rather give you back too much money that have to deal with these elusive coins.

I wonder at a supermercato like IPERSIMPLY, how much money do they give away each day due to this change phobia?

I LOVE this land mass!

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