Life

Cashing in

Posted on February 28, 2013

A few mornings ago, while pulling out my wallet to pay for a cappuccino, I came to the dismaying realization that I had absolutely no money left.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. In reality, there was a little wad of several fifty-Euro bills tucked between my Visa card and my bank card, the Visa having laid nearly dormant since my arrival in Rome and the bank card useless except as a means to withdraw still more fifty-Euro bills from the ATM. The problem was that any attempt to use one of those bills to buy something costing less than, say, forty Euros in total had proved to be an exercise in frustration and rejection rather than an effective commercial activity, effectively rendering the bills themselves almost worthless.

I’m not quite sure what it is that makes Italian shopkeepers react so negatively towards large bills. It’s almost as though they’re scared of reaching into a specific section of their cash registers, or worried that accepting a fifty-Euro bill now means possibly not having enough small change to give to someone else at some unspecified point later in the day. Try sliding a fifty across the counter to pay for your lunchtime panino, and you’ll find it handed right back to you along with a not-so-apologetic claim of “non è possibile!” and a request for more exact change.

And so I’ve begun to adapt: I hoard small change, which will be doled out in exchange for cornetti and bus tickets and endless shots of espresso. The twenty-Euro bills are strategically used in a way that’ll maximize the number of highly-versitile five- and ten-Euro bills returned as change, and – because very few things in day-to-day life here cost anywhere close to an amount justifying a larger bill – the fifties are continually pushed to the back of the wallet, where they’ll languish, unused, until one day…

…I reached into my wallet to pay for the cappuccino and realized that there was no more change left, no more small bills to use up. Even scrabbling around at the bottom of the purse, a dark wasteland which at times can yield truly amazing amounts of cash, barely resulted in enough coins to cover a caffè. It was inevitable – the next purchase was going to have to break a fifty.

This was where the strategic planning always came into play.

I could not hand over the fifty in the forno, where the formerly sour-faced cashier and I have formed a sort of tentative friendly bond based on the way she always laughs at how I buy the exact same thing every morning then always pay for it with a one-Euro coin; she slides the ten cents of change towards me before I’ve even had the chance to dig my wallet out of my purse – and sometimes, before I’ve even had a chance to place my order.

I couldn’t use the bill at the bar, because, well, I like their coffee and their cheerful morning banter too much to throw a wrench – or an over-valued piece of paper – into their cash register. Besides, if there’s one thing you don’t mess with, it’s the place that produces your morning dose of caffeine.

Also off-limits were the market (where any amount larger than ten Euros sets off a chain reaction of one vendor walking over to another to try to hunt down the correct change) and the grocery store (where, as far as I can tell, the only hiring criteria they rigorously adhere to is perpetual grumpiness).

In the end, as I have before, I used the fifty-Euro bill to buy a ball of mozzarella di bufala costing all of €4.50 in the tiny little cheese shop just off Campo de’ Fiori. Because at that cheese shop, there’s a lovely little old man who sits behind the cash register, carefully counting out change all day long with a big smile plastered on his face while his family handles the cheese selection and slicing activities. I suspect that he might not remember quite everything, otherwise he might not be so quick to hand me a stack of ten-Euro bills in exchange for my fifty. But whatever the reason, he’s always still smiling while the cash drawer slides shut, and I’m smiling as I saunter out of the store with my newfound purchasing power, and all is once again right in the universe – well, at least until the next trip to the ATM.

Share this post: Pinterest Facebook Twitter

Leave a comment

Recently Written

Food  |  Travel

Ovindoli: The great outdoors (and cool temperatures) at Rome’s doorstep

We had come to Ovindoli to escape. It was the beginning of August, and as is tradition, Rome was beginning to empty itself steadily, disgorging its residents in the annual exodus towards other, more appealing holiday destinations while sweaty tourists flowed in to take their place. A heatwave named Lucifer (Italians like to name their heatwaves) was also set to descend on the country, pushing temperatures up beyond the 40ºC mark and well beyond the possibility of tolerance. ...

Food  |  Travel

Sun, sea, and extremely spicy sausage: Venturing into Calabria

I had never heard of San Nicola Arcella when I agreed to spend nine days there. Neither, apparently, had anyone else. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I saw a lot of blank faces whenever I mentioned where I would be travelling. Friends, the barista preparing my morning cappuccino, even a guy who grew up in the same region – nobody seemed to know about this place. I quickly came to the conclusion that it would turn out to be either one...

Life

Rome’s coast: Beach, or outdoor living room?

This is what you probably don’t associate with a relaxing day at the beach: Forty-five minutes in the car, windows down, hot air streaming in. Traffic; a long, slow snarl that snakes towards the coast, tangling up hopelessly at every on-ramp and poorly-placed stoplight. And a painful hunt for an acceptable parking space; a space where you might have a chance of actually extracting the car at...

Food  |  Life

An abundance of time and apricots

It’s late June, and summer has long since arrived and settled in for the long haul here in Rome. When I initially sat down to write this post, just over a week ago, I started to write that we were at the point in the season where everything still felt exceedingly new and pleasant: The sun on my back as I walked down the...

Travel

The particular beauty of Naples, an incomplete list

I crave Naples the way I occasionally crave a very specific type of food: Intensely, completely, and then – in exactly the same way as when I allow myself to indulge in inadvisably large quantities of something like sushi or Indian food – not at all for a relatively significant length of time, until one day I wake up again and think: You know what I need? I need a pizza, eaten in the city where it was invented, and I need a dose of that in-your-face, brazen chaos that only Naples can properly deliver. I’d been...

Life  |  Travel

Wandering Rome: Trastevere’s hidden corner

A couple of weekends ago, after waking up unusually late to find a heavy grey sky outside the bedroom window and a lunch appointment lurking just over an hour away, I pulled on a wooly sweater-dress (my winter uniform for any situation in which I want to be both cozy and reasonably pulled-together), grabbed my camera, and tucked an umbrella into my bag before heading out the...

View more posts
Show me posts about...