Friday, May 16, 2008

It's About Change

I'm doing my best to follow the U.S. presidential primaries from a distance. Not only is it the most important election in my voting lifetime, it is also so far the most exciting. While it's easy to keep track of the wins and losses, I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of the subtext. As my mother used to say, all notes and no music. But Barack Obama's mantra about change has definitely come through loud and clear.

I've been thinking a lot about change lately too although not the kind that's on Obama's mind. It's the French retailer's obsession with change of the monetary variety. I don't know whether cashiers don't want to be bothered making change or they are saving it for something special. Just what that might be, I have no idea. In a typical situation this morning, I offered a museum clerk a 20€ bill for a 7€ admission only for her to ask, "don't you have anything smaller?" Now let's get this straight, ATMs here dole out 20€ bills the same way American ATMs dole out $20 bills, in other words, constantly. If you have a 50€ bill, good luck to you because you can't break it for something like groceries or stamps. In a moment earlier this week when I felt that I had finally crossed the French-American cultural chasm, I actually apologized to the clerk before she started ringing up my items that all I had was a 50.

The change issue goes deeper. Several months ago, I stopped in at a market and bought a few items with the total coming to something like 3.30€. I handed the clerk a five and stood there with my change purse open, waiting for her to hand me back my small change. And can you believe it, she actually pulled my wallet towards here and started rooting around in the change compartment for exact change. I was so taken aback, I didn't say a thing. She found what she wanted and handed me back my 5€ bill.

So what's the deal? I haven't got a clue. Which do you suppose will happen first, the U.S. elects its first black president or a French cashier, when asked to make change, responds, "Yes, we can"?

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