Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Coins - but not in the fountain; modern Romans and money

Cultural differences over change? You bet! First we noticed many Italians (just Romans?) don't like to put change into your hand.... like dutiful Americans, we held out our hands, only to have money dropped on the counter. When we got back to the US, we had to learn to hold out our hands again.
The shops even have a small tray for you to put your money in and the cashiers to drop your change - and your "scontrino" (receipt).

On the other hand (ahem), Italian shopkeepers will reach into your hand, or your coin purse, to get the correct change, if they see you fumbling a bit. At first, we thought it was just us foreigners; they thought we didn't get the monetary system or understand them. But, no, they do it to everyone. More than once we've watched a waiter or shop person reach inside a person's coin purse (which he or she held open for him) to pick out the correct change.

Then there's just the mania (as we see it) for change. If you give a cashier anything that requires even a little bit of change, they ask you if you have coins to make it a coin of a larger denomination. For example, for a Euro 3.3 item, if you give them Euro 4, they'll ask you for the 30 cents. Or, if you don't have that, do you have 50 cents? Anything to pare down the change.

At major museums, there are signs for correct change. So, tourists at Castel Sant'Angelo are supposed to have the Euro 6 exactly? How can this be? How can they not have enough change? This is a far cry from US shops that have "we need 5s and 1s" or "we don't take anything over $20) - that's nothing compared to the Italian coin mania.

We thought maybe this coin obsession dated to the Italian conversion from Lire to Euros in 2000 - were there not enough coins to go around? But a long-time English bookstore owner told us the Italians ran out of small lire coins in the 1980s and were giving a piece of candy instead of some lire in change. She told us she saved up enough candy from the "change" her regular coffee bar had given her to pay for a cup of coffee with the candy, and the bar owners (who may have been taking advantage of the apparently coin shortage) were clearly ticked off at this.

Anyone with better explanations for these cultural differences - we'd be happy to hear them.

In the meantime, another money fact to bear in mind is a study that showed older Italians are better at math conversions than the rest of us - it appears because they had to convert all those ridiculously large amounts of lire into amounts that made sense to them. Since the lira disappeared in 2000, we assume the Italians will gradually lose this edge. Of course, 9 years later, there are still signs in shops (especially meat stalls in markets) showing prices in Euros AND lire. Some things, even if they're ridiculous (like pricing in lire) die hard.


1 comment:

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

re: the change thing, the store owners don't go to the banks as often as we do in the States to get change.

The best story I read was in American Expat David Lebovitz's book when he went to his French bank to pay a 134 euro bill with 135 euros and was told the bank didn't have change. He thought that was completely normal.