(asked by David, from somewhere and currently in Paris… no, it’s not me, I don’t ask questions to myself)
Just discovered your blog and am enjoying very much your ability to put cultural differences into context. I’ve been in Paris two years with my family (wife and two teen-agers)and we’ve been having a great experience. I’ve tried to impress on my children that we are guests in France and so we must be respectful of cultural differences, even if we might find them puzzling. One that has puzzled me is why the French seem unwilling to make change. Nowhere else in Europe do I find clerks so put out when I present a 50 Euro bill (or even a 20) for a purchase. A friend of mine reported that a clerk in the post office refused to make change for his purchase when he presented a 50, despite the fact that he could see a drawer full of 20s just sitting there. So it’s not just the small businesses that take this approach. Any thoughts, or am I just having a run of bad luck?
First of all, thanks for the kind word.
Now, your answer:
I think we’re dealing with three phenomenons bundled up in the same act here.
-First, yes, there’s a more or less a cultural thing in the reluctance of some French small businesses to have more bills than they need in their cash register. I don’t really know where it comes from, except maybe in a general reluctance of carrying too much cash with them. Personally, I hate having more than €50 with me, and I never do, unless in rare circumstances, and I’m always surprised/shocked to see people -often foreigners- carrying several hundred Euros with them. And this is just part of cultural habits that vary from nation to nation. I don’t really know the origins at all.
But that’s not exactly your problem, right? (except maybe from the fact that you may be used to carrying lots of bills, and then pay with them).
-Second, small businesses, especially bakeries and similar places where you’ll rarely pay for more than just a few Euros don’t like it if you pay with big bills because you’ll screw with their cash register contents, as for obvious reason you’ll reduce the change they’ll have which can cause problems at some point during the day.
Also, as a general rule, it’s seen as courteous to give as close as possible to the amount you owe when you pay with cash in a store. I’m not saying that it’s rude to pay your baguette with a €20 bill, but it’s not exactly polite either. And as a matter of fact, I always excuse myself when I pay with a much larger sum than needed, even if the person I’m buying from has plenty of change and doesn’t care.
-The €50 bill issue.
The situation with the €50 bill is different. A couple of years ago, there has been an “invasion” of €50 bills in the Eurozone and yeah, businesses became very reluctant to take them. Lots of businesses even had special markers they’d use on the bill to see if it was a true one or not. Sometimes a store, where people buy more or less expensive things and that had good chances to give that bill back to another customer before the end of the day wouldn’t be too picky with them. But I can easily see a place like the Post Office, being a place where people usually don’t spend a lot of money and -on top of it- that is a public business refusing to accept any €50 bill, especially if they don’t have the magic marker with them.
I hope that’s answering your question.