I noticed a lot of storefronts in Rome that said "Change". I never did get around to finding out if they are there to really make change. Are they for foreign currency exchange or really euro for euro change. If so, do they charge a service charge. That would be helpful since the stores/restaurants don't like to give change very much.
Currency exchange for a big premium
Jerry - I'm glad you mentioned this. I noticed it in Paris too. I often asked to exchange bills for coins (in restaurants, in my hotel, etc.). I only had success twice - a nice waiter at a brasserie, who was really reluctant but did it; and from an old man who worked at a fruit stand. He was foreign (not from France) and I think that's the reason why he gave me change. Has anyone else experienced this? Why are people reluctant to do it?
In all of our years of travel I have never noticed this as problem. I do know that vendors do like it to be as close to the amount as possible but when I haven't had it they always seem to find the change. Either that or no sale. Our hotel at the end of the day would always give us change. The "change" signs you see are currency exchange so doubt if they would be eager to break a 20E note for you because there is nothing in it for them.
Yep. "Change" in that context means they will change dollars to euros for you. As for getting bills broken, we've never had any problem. Use big bills for paying for meals, and try to be judicious about what you use to pay for other things.
We were reluctant to use credit cards in restaurants, so we always paid cash. It was okay to round up a euro or 2, but the ATM's give 50's so getting small denominations was a hassle, especially when the toilette's do not take 50 euro bills.
I cannot remember having too many evening meals in Rome when the 50E note was not about right for paying cash.
Now that I think of it, I did have a change issue in Pisa. We ate at a small restaurant and wanted to pay for the meal with a 50,000 lira bill (this was a while ago!). I also asked the waiter to exchange another 50,000 bill for smaller denominations, so that I could pay back my friend for my portion of the bill. The waiter took the first 50 as payment but would not give me change for the second, so I asked for both bills back. My friends and I worked out a payment solution on our own but I thought it was strange that the waiter wouldn't give me change. At that time I thought it was because we were in a small town and what did small-town folk know about that kind of thing, but now I see that it's a whole cultural attitude.
I think hoarding coinage is a national pastime. I think it goes back to the good ole Lira days. I have learned to do it myself. You empty your change from your pocket into your day bag before you approach a merchant. If they see it, they will tell you they have no change. Bad news is I came home a few pounds heavier, the good news is that the coins make great souvenirs.
If you use a Bancomat -- Italian for ATM -- do not ask for round figures -- like 300 euros or so. Ask for 295 euros and you will at least get some change!
When I have tried to do 175 or such, it will often tell me it cannot, but usually they will at least carry 10s and you can do 190. Also, if you are buying train tickets use this to break your 50s. It will say "Il Resto Massimo" but often it is around 100 or 200 € so, so you can pay with a 50€ for a 5€ purchase and get change.
Breaking large bills and maintaining a good supply of smaller bills and change is definitely a travel skill. I take advantage of nearly every purchase over 20 Euro to break a 50, even look to break 20's. The only issue I have is that my brain does not think fast enough to use up small coins and give exact change if the price is told to me verbally, so I usually wind up with a pocket full of small coins. This was taken care of when I realized they were perfect for fountains, church donation boxes, or street performers.
The one thing that I always forget to take with me is some sort of coin purse thing to hold the coins that accumulate. I would love to get one of those rubbery flat-football shaped things that banks used to give out for free, but haven't seen one in ages.
You can find the old man change purses in real hardware stores, not big box stores, near the registers. They'll be in a bin near the cheap reading glasses, mini tool sets, and farmer's almanacs. If they're not there, check the key dept. (They make great gag gifts for men hitting certain birthdays. Foldable plastic rain bonnets are great for women. Now I've gone and blown my secret gag gifts.)
Different cultures - different tools! Living in Europe, in my pockets I carry a coin wallet and a money clip - that's it. I have one credit/debit card in a sleeve of my coin wallet as the tendency is to carry cash in Italy. Actually Rick Steves sells an excellent Lambskin Wallet, great for coin and one or two cards/US driver's license. I have a few of those wallets and other leather coin wallets I've picked up in my travels - but not in hardware stores? If I'm traveling away from home, I'll wear a money belt. Since the euro bills don't start until €5 (or the kroner in Denmark till 50 DKK) there's a tendency to get much more coin in Europe. In addtion to using a coin wallet, I also cary a messenger bag - great for a guidebook, camera, or just for stuff you pick up at the market. Here in Europe, many men wear similar bags. In CPH, because I'm on a bike, I'll often wear a small backpack - but never in Rome. So in the USA, coin wallets or a messenger bags might be called man purses , and a "real man" would never be caught dead wearing or using either one. Here, it's part of the culture and not just acceptable, but heavily practiced. Regarding change - In Italy, most local vendors want - and will wait for - exact change. Many times I've been in a grocery store, in a line of 10-12 people, while an elderly lady digs through her coins to find 21 cents! Often impatient cashiers will reach into tourist hands to pick out the appropriate change. In tourist locations, vendors tend to "make change" far more quickly. Not so much the norm in smaller "outside-of-the-tourist-area" stores.
I like Paul's advice. It's a skill. I'm always breaking big bills when I see an opportunity (normally by buying something small with a big bill at a place that will have change) and saving an assortment of smaller bills for when I need them (small establishments). Paul, however, forgot one major use for your coins - toilets. You want to have some coins available because almost all public toilets expect about a half Euro each (some just have a plate, others a coin-operated gate). Tourists are often led to believe they are supposed to pay more. Watch the locals to get an idea of the normal price.
On Brad's comment about paid public toilets: you do find these, especially around tourist sites or in train stations. My advice is to go to a cafè and buy a caffè. Then you pay about the same (around a euro), are allowed to use the restroom, and you get something out of it!
For a map - and list - of many of the free toilets in Rome, see this article!