Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Exact Change Only...Or Else

Paris is one of those cities that has an aura. It's not so much how you feel when you're here, so much as you feeling how the city feels. Depending on the where and the when, this could be the threatening overpowering aggression of the string men of Montmartre, the snappy, yet business-like moods of the sales clerks at BHV, or perhaps the crazy, cashiers at Monoprix. The supermarket, you might ask? The story is amusing.
Today, I went to make some last minute purchases. I always have a lot of change. Somehow, between travelling between the UK and here, it happens. I don't get rid of it, because I usually am in too much of a hurry to dig out my change purse. Then it happens, I have so many coins, that when I go through security, they hand-search my bag because all of the coins lumped together make the screeners nervous.
Today I went to pay for my purchases, and since there was no one behind me, I pulled out my change purse to give exact change. That's when the craziness began. I handed the cashier a fifty cents piece and she asked if I had anything smaller (by smaller, she meant the 5s,2s, and, 1s). I looked through my change purse. She looked at my change purse. I then got one of the biggest "Oh la las!"ever. This was followed by a more motherly (considering you would never say this to anyone but a child) "Tiens" (lit. trans. as "here you are," but in this case means something slightly different, we'll say "here") She then proceeded to take my change purse and dump it out on her till. I was embarrassed. I was shocked.
She began to exclaim her good fortune. Apparently she needed the extra change. Then she began to count. First, she managed to locate a two pence piece and remind me it wasn't French. Then, she counted out what I owed.
By this time, an older grandmother had appeared behind me in the queue. She wasn't impatient (I wish), but rather, seemed highly amused by the incident. Once the cashier had counted out what I owed, she proceeded to count out the rest of my change. It was so much that she offered me a twenty euro note for it.
That's right, I was carrying over forty euros in change.
She sent me on my way, telling me how thankful I should be to have a lighter coin purse. I was so dazed and confused, it wasn't until I got home that I realised that she had literally (à la David Sedaris) raped me of my change.
You see, there was a time when I had to pay for laundry with coins (Munich) and go to bakeries where small change was necessary. I needed it then. I enjoyed it as well, never having to pull out a wallet when I had enough small change to pay for a duty free perfume or bottle of cognac (although more often I just used it to buy a sandwich at the airport).
There was something humiliating about leaving the store with half the weight of my purse gone, stripped down to just two coins (three if you count the UK reject).
She was friendly enough about it, but who does that?
The answer is, that in this city anything is possible.
There are girls that carry around 4o euros in change, and cashiers that are more than willing to sit there and help said girl empty her change purse.
Both end up amused.
Bienvenue à Paris!

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