Last night at dinner, I handed the waiter a 50 mark note (25 euros) to pay for a dinner that cost 15 marks, but the waiter said he had no change.  None.  He had to go to one of his colleagues to get together the proper change to give me.  That a waiter was completely unable to make any change for his customers should seem surprising, but it isn’t.  In our travels in Europe we’ve noticed a difficulty for anyone to make change.

Earlier yesterday, when I paid for our room in Sarajevo, and gave 250 marks for a bill of over 240 marks, our hostess struggled to make change and had to give me some of it in euros (I’ve read that mixing currencies can be a tactic to cheat tourists out of the correct change, but that wasn’t the case here).  In Zabljak, a woman in line ahead of us at the largest store in town (okay, it was still just a mini mart but it was the largest) was refused when she attempted to buy batteries with a €20 note.

Twice in two days in Grenada last year, in two different stores, I used a €2 coin to pay for a Coke that cost more than €1.  In both cases the clerks looked at the coin, asked if I had something smaller, and when I said I didn’t, they took the coin to a nearby store to break the coin into something smaller so they could make change for me.  For those of you who are math-challenged, the change was less than one euro both days.

What makes it even more difficult is this odd habit of banks to give very large notes.  In most places in America, banks dispense $20 bills, but in Europe the most commonly dispensed bill is a €50 note. We’ve noticed that the less things cost in a community, the larger the bills the bank will dispense.  In Zabljak, for instance, where things cost about 40% what they do in Ireland, the bank gave out €100 notes.  Figuring out how to break these large bills is a challenge in a place where right next door to the bankomat was a pharmacy where I bought a box of ibuprofen for €.82 with a €5 note (the smallest bill in euros) and was asked for something smaller. The pharmacist seemed quite disgusted that I couldn’t produce something more appropriate.