Full disclosure. I prefer to use a card for everything. I love collecting cash back and travel reward points. Credit card hacking has saved us thousands of dollars and we pay the balance in full every month avoiding interest. My Dad always said to carry cash in case of emergency, but I rarely have anything more than a $10 on me when I’m stateside.
But life in Italy is different. Did I mention that? Really, it’s pretty much all of Europe. They just don’t use cards. They whip out cash Euros for everything–toilet access, espresso, lunch, clothes, train fare, parking fees. They seem to never be without cold hard cash.
Even more than Euro bills, they use coins.
It’s been an adjustment to say the least. It took me a solid month to amass the mandatory pile of Euro coin it takes for daily life. I had to buy an old lady coin purse! And 20€ in coins is heavy in a purse.
1.5€ for gelato. 2€ for a Coke Zero. .5€ for bathroom access. 3.5€ for prosecco (but hey free chips). 4€ for formaggio or proscuitto. This is every single day you have to be prepared with coins.
Why? Because they often won’t take a bill. True story. The total is 4€. I hand them a 5€ bill. They ask for monete, denaro, saldo. Anything but the bill. Heaven forbid if you try to spend a 20€ on even 15€. They expect exact change!
After they ask for coins, if none are forthcoming, they stare to wait you out in case you really do have some stashed in the bottom of your bag or lingering in a jacket pocket. The eyes start to roll now. And they sigh.
You have to be really firm. 90% of the time they finally take the bill and return change with more huffing and puffing than a disgruntled teenager. Sometimes they refuse and you have to walk out.
I vote with my wallet. If I ever walk out once because they don’t take my cash I will never shop again at that store.
So far I have found this to be true at all types of businesses. Grocery store, produce market, restaurant or bar, cafe, clothes store, home decor shop, gift shop. Italians hate making change.
And may the earth stop rotating if you pull out a credit card. We always check now in advance to make sure a restaurant accepts credit cards. Some very big, nice places still don’t offer credit card machine access. It drives me crazy to leave all those Chase 3X dining points on the table!
It was no better in Germany or Austria. Paulaner in downtown Stuttgart refused to take a credit card. The bäckerei wanted exact change. The market needed exact change. The Greek restaurant in Oberammergau refused to take a credit card and Jerry had to hike to the ATM because we were 5€ short after an afternoon of shopping. Even McDonalds staff asked me when I tried to use a 5€ bill to pay for a 1€ hot apple pie (btw so much better over here).
This is the financial culture of Europe. I get it. I’m not going to effect change on any massive scale. While it’s not my jam, it’s not as if I’m going to quit spending money. I’ve got my coin purse. I can even pretty much figure out which coins are which without having to pull them out just from the indentations on the side. I have €20 in coin on me at all times. I have Euro bills. I’ll be even happier after USAA replaces my hacked debit card. I’m adjusting just fine.
But I will still try to spend the bills and always ask for credit when possible. Afterall, I can stare, eye roll and huff with the best of them.