Coins and uncommunicativeness

4 Oct

My British coins from left to right: £1, 20 p, 10 p, 5 p, 2 p, 1 p (penny). Why is the 2 pence so large?

One of the things that takes some getting used to about Great Britain is their heavily coin-based monetary system. In the US, coins are considered chump change–I used quarters for laundry and that was about it. You don’t even need coins for parking meters or tolls anymore in Chicago. In the US my coins usually sat in my wallet untouched until I put them in a container at home and turned them into bills once I had enough. But here, you could pay for a £10 taxi ride with a £20 note and receive all coins in return. That’s because their smallest bill is £5 and they rely on the £1 coin heavily. So what feels like chump change in my wallet might actually be a substantial amount of money (at least enough to buy some toothpaste and shower gel, as I learned today). The coins are heavy though and weigh my wallet down, so Stephen and I have a never-ending goal of getting rid of coins. I’m still in that mindset that using all coins to pay for something is like getting it for free because coins don’t count as real money. That will probably change soon.

I’ve encountered another problem about living here–the uncommunicativeness (check out that word!) of Tesco cashiers. The other night was a prime example. I went to buy dinner and a few other things. My total came to £4.58. (Let me stop here and harp on another problem I have–I am not yet able to identify the coins except for the £1 coin which is a bit thicker. So in order to pay by coins, I have to dig them out of my wallet one by one and read what they say. That takes some time.) So in order to save time whilst checking out the other day (Brits are big on the word “whilst”), I simply handed the cashier a handful of coins. He gave me a look like, “Seriously? What are you, American?” but didn’t say anything. He counted the coins, then looked at me, again with no words. I figured I was short so I handed him a few more coins. Eventually I had to ask “How much more?” “Three pence,” he told me once prompted. I was happy to give away three pence because pennies here are just like pennies in the US–virtually useless.

I went back to Tesco today and had a different but equally uncommunicative cashier. My total was £7something for a substantial amount of food. I had used up most of my coins at Boots (similar to Walgreens) earlier, so I had to use bills. I decided to break my £50 note for no other reason than it was a little too big for my wallet and was bothering me. (God bless the USA for making all their bills the same wallet-friendly size!) The cashier finished ringing me up so I got out my money. I stood there for what seemed like longer than it probably was, just holding my £50 in the air. “Do they not break 50s here?” I wondered. Finally the cashier muttered something about a club card (I should probably get one of those, but am afraid my request will be met with another blank stare) and took my money, holding it up to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. Then I was on my way, with all my groceries packed tightly in my panda tote bag. I can see why grocery delivery serveries are so popular here–no interacting with cashiers!

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