Shopping in Italy: Don’t Forget Your Spicci!

We have all been there. You are queuing at the supermarket to buy some milk for your breakfast and, when you finally get to the till, you look into your purse and you see that you only have a 50 euro note. The other customers behind you feel the tension and silence falls upon the supermarket. You slowly take the dreaded yellow bill out of your purse, doing your best to put on a face that shows that you are deeply sorry for the insulting act that you are about to make. The cashier cringes at the sight of the note and instinctively leans on the till to protect the precious contents. You may not have much Italian, but you have the feeling that the next words will be:

“Ma spicci non li ha??”

A simple no won’t be enough. Apart from looking sorry for the monetary insult that you are perpetrating, you need to go through a specific procedure to complete the apparently simple economic transaction. After you have tapped all your pockets, you may need to actually show your empty wallet and explain the social circumstances that have lead to your inability to buy milk with a suitable mean of exchange. Only then the cashier will process the transaction, handing over the spicci from the till as if they were the last crumbles of bread that were left to feed the famiglia.

When we had the lire I thought the lack of spicci was due to the configuration/conformation of the money itself, and was looking forward to the Euro eliminating this problem.

Alas, this was not to be! The problem continued with the Euro!

I’ve been to many other Euro countries, and I’ve never heard a cashier asking the customer to do the  job by providing small change. They take your money and give you the correct change without any to-ing and fro-ing involving the cashier peering into the clients purse/wallet and pointing to the coins needed to reach the sum required.

I could understand this if the cashiers were short of change, but most times a quick look in the till will show there is plenty of change.

Cashier bored because there are no customers.  Isolated on white.

Cashiers will tell you that this problem arises because the banks won’t give them small change.  This may be true to a certain extent, but I think it’s more a cultural phenomenon or tradition, with trainee cashiers being taught to always request SPICCI, even when they have a till full of it! For example, I was once the first customer in a large department store. The cashier refused my large note, in spite of having a till full of change, because “if I give you my change then I won’t have any later”. It would be useful to know at what time they start giving dispensing spicci and shape our shopping accordingly.

Whatever the causes, it’s best always to have plenty of small change handy before going shopping in order to avoid IRS (Irate Cashier Syndrome). Better still, pay by credit card or bankomat.

In spite of all this, given the general friendliness and quality of the products, shopping in Italy is usually a more pleasant and fruitful experience than anywhere else.

If only they had more spicci!

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