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Friday, August 12, 2005 

The National Obsession With Change

The Bane of My Existence

Greek retail businesses are obsessed with change. Unfortunately, the change they're obsessed with is not the transformation variety. It's monetary. Wherever you go, whatever you buy, at whatever amount, cashiers will narrow their eyes and ask the dreaded questions "mipos exeis psila?" (do you have the exact change?). If you say "no", their reaction ranges from a simple sigh to visible anger. Now, I can understand their frustration if it's a small store and you bought a package of gum for 0.60€ and pay with a 50€ bill but even if you pay with a euro coin, they still demand exact change.

One time, I took a taxi from Syntagma Square to my house and the fare was 3.50€ and I paid with a 10€ bill. It was 3pm and you'd think he would have had the change for me. But no, he assumed that giving me 5€ in change was an acceptable solution while he pocketed the 1.50€ tip. I used to let the 50 cents go from time to time but this time I was fed up. I told the driver to go to every corner store until he could find me MY exact change or he would take me to the police station to file a complaint. I got my change and I barely had both legs out of the car before he sped off.

The most recent experience was on Thursday at 4pm in a corner store on Kallithea. I bought 11.50€ worth of items and paid with a 20€ bill. The owner of the store berated me for not having exact change and told me to go "break" the bill at another store. Try to find another store open at 4pm in Athens during the summer mass vacation exodus. I told her as much and tried to explain to her that it is not my fault that she doesn't keep her cash till stocked with an appropriate amount of change like we do at our stores every day. Then she mocked me and said "So you're telling me you don't mind when customers don't have change? You actually smile?" I said, "Yes, I do...the only time I don't smile is when the customer refuses to pay."

As a customer, I am daily subjected to the rudeness and downright hostility of cashiers because of my inability to always produce 96 cents in change. As a business owner suffering the present state of the Greek economy, I have vowed never to get upset with a client for wanting to pay ... even if he pays 1.80€ charge with a 50€ bill. I instead, ask him/her politely if they have a smaller denomination on them so as to prevent their pockets being stuffed with 24 2€ euro coins. If they don't have the change, then I give them the coins. They get upset but maybe next time they'll remember to try to pay with a smaller denomination.

Interesting attitude where you provide them their livelyhood and they get upset about a slight inconvenience of keeping exact change. Its almost like they are doing you a favor for selling to you. Hilarious.

This is my first post on your blog. I really love reading it. Your post about the gypsies using megaphones to sell stuff. That brings back so many memories. I've always found it amusing that they would sell karekles and karpouzi from the same Datsun.

Welcome to my blog Ball! I'm really glad you enjoy reading it .. even more so that you comment. :-)

You'll hate me, but I always try to make exact change, or as close to it as I can. I used to do that in America too, which seems to piss people off there. =p

The main reason I do it is because damn, Euro coins can add up, and I have a tiny purse, so I go to great lengths to spend all those damn coins.
Like they couldn't have made the 1 and 2 bills instead of coins?

Of course, I am unapologetic if I don't have anything smaller. So far I haven't been called out on it, but I always try to make sure I break big bills in places that can handle it (like grocery stores) so I have smaller bills for smaller purchases.

Still, it irks me that stores don't keep the correct change. Is it because they don't do enough business or is it because they pack every few cents away in the bank like squirrels?

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