Be an Everyday Hero: offer correct change.

It was once routine; today it rarely occurs to us to offer a cashier correct change. (Those who still do are the same ones who try to get the gas pump to stop on an even dollar amount. Yeah, we know who you are.) Even if we were to pay in cash instead of using a card, massive chain stores that amply fund their checkout drawers have eliminated change consideration, and the registers that spell out the exact amount for the cashier have practically atrophied our ability to calculate it. It’s the price of convenience, you might say.

When I make a purchase for $8.38, and I give the cashier a $20 bill, she punches register buttons expertly and $11.62 LEDs brightly on the screen. She then hands me $11.62 in cash (“Eleven and sixty-two”); I may or may not count it myself as I subtract 8.28 from 20.00 in my little head to make sure I come up with the same amount as Mr. LED.


In the days of yore, the cashier manually counted difference back to you from the purchase amount: “8.38, forty, fifty, nine, ten, and twenty.” She could count, I could count; we were all in agreement.

ii_franca.jpg This is more often than not the way it is still done in Italy (electronic registers notwithstanding). Somehow it’s assuring to me, the mutual importance of being able to count. But what is even more significant (and this is where your being the hero will come in) is having, or attempting to have, or apologizing for not having, change.

The closer you come to having the correct change for your purchase, the more your efforts will be (audibly, I might add) appreciated. Other than the look in your two-year-old’s eyes when they spot you after you’ve been away for an hour, it’s the easiest hero-status you’ll ever achieve.

When you purchase something for €8.38 and can pay with a €10 note instead of €50, you will instantly become a semi-hero. Have three cents (or centesimi), or even forty or fifty cents? You’re a mini-hero. And if you instead proffer the exact 38 cents, you have just been extraordinarily considerate and your efforts will be personally appreciated (listen for the relieved response of Grazie, Signora, molto gentile) and ecco! You’re a hero.

But wait…very often we have just come from the Bancomat with all its €50 notes, what are we supposed to do then? Apologize, of course. If you can manage a “mi dispiace” as you hand over a massive note for a small purchase (especially early in the day), you’ll show that you are not only aware of their circumstances, but that if you could, you would oblige. “Non si preoccupi,” will be her response. “Don’t worry.”

Your status has been elevated to Diplomat.

It’s the little things, even on a European vacation. Offering change when you have it is an effortless way to enrich your Italian tour in a very personal way.

A proposito:

For some delightful observations of life as a cashier (in France, no less) read Tribulations of a Cashier by Anna Sam. Hear or read the NPR interview with her here.

2 thoughts on “Be an Everyday Hero: offer correct change.

  1. LB

    Very true! Also, I like to confuse clerks by offering them one penny with a whole dollar amount in an effort to get all silver coins back!

  2. TN

    It’s funny though that apparently the ability to count steadily declines. In big chain stores often the cashier seems to be puzzled when I hand over coins in a way to minimize getting coins back. Often I just get blank stares, while I think to myself “just type it into your mashine, hon… wonder will happen!”, but sometimes they really are going to give it back to me as if I made a strange mistake.

    So, next time in Venice I for sure will be happy to become MrSuperCoinPayer!


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