It’s all about the money, so why do I never have any change?

I hate 50euro notes. I can’t remember the last time I saw a £50 note (because there were problems with fraud and no-one accepted them, cash machines stopped giving them out). Simple. Everyone is happy. Not so in Italy. I receive 50euro notes with depressing regularity from the bancomats. I loathe them. It is a rare moment of joy when you receive a 20 or even more wonderful a 10 (I do stop and try to appreciate the small things in life as a rule).
   The 50s are a problem because shops in Italy NEVER have any change.
When shops require you to pay with the correct money, or as near as possible to the correct amount, 50 euro notes are frowned upon. If a purchase comes to 6.32euro, you will always be asked for the 32 cents. Ce l’ha spicci? (Do you have the change?) is a phrase you should know. I remember an Irish friend telling me that she used to throw away 1 and 2 cent coins as being almost worthless in Ireland. Here, I never have any change in my purse as it’s always already been demanded of me and dutifully handed over. I try to give the correct change or the 32p when I go back to England, only to be met with baffled thanks of cashiers confused at my fussiness.

   During the days of the lire, Italy was dubbed the country without currency and sweets were sometimes given out instead of small change. Alan Epstein in his wonderful book about life in Rome, As The Romans Do, describes this sufferance in all it’s excruciating glory. Simply buying a cinema ticket becomes a task of endurance. Trying to pay for the ticket with a 50,000 lire bill, he was told that as he was only the third sale of the afternoon it was out of the question that there would be change in the till. Try the bar he was told. But as he didn’t want to buy anything, if he tried simply to ask for a coffee and pay with a 50,000 note he would get the coffee but be told to come back and pay another day when he had change. Problem not solved.

   But the situation doesn’t seem to have improved with the advent of the euro. I once went into a shop in the afternoon and they literally had one 5 euro note in the till. The concept of a float seemingly non-existent. I have heard the excuse that the lack of change is due to a reluctance to make regular trips to the bank, which I can well understand due to long queues and unhelpful opening times.

   However, sometimes the change thing really gets you down. My Monday began with the realisation that I only had a 50euro note in my purse (all change had stupidly gone to the street magician and to pay a tip after dinner the night before) and now I needed a coffee. But to pay for an 80 cent coffee with a 50euro note is an unimaginable imposition, so I tried to get a 20 out at a cashpoint. The card was returned, but without any money. Fearing my card had been cloned, I spent the rest of the day worrying that all my money had gone and I would be forced to endure painful phone calls to the bank and a long wait for a new card. All for the sake of a coffee, when I already had money in my purse!! Worthless money that nobody wants! If someone can tell me why 50s are still dolled out by the banks, please let me know. The only saving grace is that if you buy something that comes to 6.03euros you never, ever have to pay the 3 cents.


  1. I had to pay $20 Hong Kong Dollars (£1.60) and only had a $500 HKD note (£40)…. They wanted correct change and it was one of the most excrutiating moments ever…. Started to get $900 or $400 out of the cash point, as any multiples of 500 would result in huge notes… I share your pain! Kari


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