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I won’t comment on the current foibles of a few amorous souls in Paris, although I’ve had a number of discussions with friends about it, both here in France and in the United States. It seems that not only do Americans and French have different views about the behavior of their public officials, mostly regarding what’s tolerated and acceptable to publish and discuss, versus what isn’t. After watching a presidential press conference where there was a spirited pledge to save a whole bunch of money via methods that have yet to be revealed (kind of like the upcoming discussion about the pesky task of coming up with a seating chart when it hasn’t been revealed who the guest of honor is planning to bring as his paramour), the rest of are spending our time pondering those who act with their unique version of plain ol’ common sense.

Not only do the French and Americans have different relationships politically, socially…and intimately with each another (being from San Francisco, admittedly, my views are a bit more skewed than others), there is also a difference in our relationship to money. The difference is easily observed at the cash register; when it’s time to pay in the United States, as the cashier is ringing up your stuff, you plan ahead and get your money ready so you can pay up when the time comes promptly, and be on your way. In France, when it’s time to pay, you stand and wait until the cashier gives you the total that’s due. And then, and only then, do you painstakingly extract your wallet from your pocket, and start the process of le règlement.

I assume that most adults have been buying things all their lives. But it seems like a shock to those who are told that the price of a head of lettuce will cost them 95 centimes. And it takes a moment to let it fully sink in. Then, and only then, each centime is counted out with more scrutiny than that which is bestowed upon our remarkably fearless leaders. Including someone who doesn’t fear slipping out the back door and zipping through their fancy-schmancy neighborhood of Paris strapped to the back a scooter in the dark of the night.


(But for those who wish to be a little more prudent, a local car rental outfit offered that perhaps éviter, or ditching, le scooter and switching to a car with tinted windows might yield a little more privacy.)

It might be hard to tell at this point, but we don’t have an official king in France anymore. However I myself recently felt like the king of my quartier because somehow I found myself with a huge pocketful of change. Since cashiers treat customers with exact change like royalty, they were happy to stand there and wait while I rifled though my pockets (only after I waited the appropriate amount of time to do so – of course), playing a few rounds of suggestive pocket-pool in the check-out line trying to dig out those tiny centimes buried in the lint at the bottom of the pocket of my euro jeans, which are kind of skimpy in the “excess room” department. And I can’t blame them for being happy to wait – heck, I’d rather watch someone else (rather than me) work, too. Or watch a semi-scandalous show on the other side of the conveyor belt, while a guy fishes around in his trousers for something.


One thing you learn in France is that everything has value – correct information, exceptions to rules, access to facilities, gentilesse, and not just coins. And is a sort of the ‘informal currency’ around town. When I was doling out the coinage, I realized that I was currying all sorts of favors that I could stockpile and use in the future with the cashiers in my neighborhood. The downside of this “currency” is that when you leave your neighborhood (or have used up all your coin karma), you have to go back to paying for things that you think should be free. But I’ve learned to get with the program and now, 30 centimes seems like a pretty good deal compared to the Carrousel de Louvre shopping center and the Printemps department store, that charge €1,50 when nature calls.

I’m also banking on getting some karma for the time I’m spending trying to return something, a process which started in 2013 and had become part of my daily ritual as we move into 2014. When I moved to France way-back-when, I picked up a book called “At Home in Paris: Your guide to living in the Capital.” It’s full of hard-won currency information, like how to deal with the dry cleaners, what to do in case of a medical emergency, explaining what all those wine classifications mean, and how to cope with utility companies (like mine, that just sent me a 5-figure bill which was an estimate for the month that was 40x higher than normal, because, well..I don’t know why), since all of those things can be foreign to foreigners.

And in case you assume that a store will take a return or exchange, on page 309, there is a specific section on “Returns” which says “Know that it is very difficult to return items, once purchased…You will sometimes be able to return an item for a credit in the same amount at the store, but cash or credit-card refunds are extremely rare.”

I don’t know how you say this in French, but “No sh*t, Sherlock.”

bike gears

When someone else, lesser known than our scooter-driving leader, passed through the streets of Paris under the cover of darkness, they stole not my heart, but my bike. So I bought another one, which turned out to be defective. I earn that particular information the old-fashioned way: when I was changing gears in the Place de la République, the chain suddenly locked up in the gears, causing me to take a nasty tumble as cars (and those pesky men on scooters) zipped by me, coming precariously close – which I think they do on purpose to cyclists and pedestrians just to give us a good scare. In a rare act of contrition, the company admitted the bike was défectueux and offered to refund my money.

Although my French other-half was initially startled to hear that a company would refund money, the jubilation wore off as the two months of paperwork, telephone calls, and for some reason, multiple verifications of my date of birth, continued with no clear date of resolution on the horizon. Am not sure what the multiple verifications of my birth date has to do with issuing a refund, but I can only hope that I will get that karmic payoff and they’re planning an amazing birthday present when my next birth date rolls around, as an un excuse for the derangement.

no money back

What was funny was that after months of paperwork, phone calls, and emails, last Thursday I received a refus de rembursement message that said, unfortunately, that they were unable to issue a reimbursement. Exasperated, I called them up and the customer service rep calmly said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We already processed your reimbursement. We just send those out automatically to anyone who asks for a refund.”

So today I’m out and about, without a pocketful of change, but with a new bike, not really paying any more attention to the stories in the news about who is doing what, and where, and riding what – to visit who, or whom. (Sorry, I’m so busy trying to wrap up the paperwork for my refund that I don’t have time to check which is grammatically correct.) I have lunch plans with a friend, then going to do some food shopping, and finally, make curry for dinner. I hope, making my rounds today in the city that I won’t have to curry any more favors as I think my karmic statements are – enfin – finally in balance. But If I need more and have to pay for them, when that time comes, I’ll do so. Just so long as it doesn’t require exact change.


    • Le Grumeau

    At some point they expect you to give up so that they won’t have to refund you, that’s how it works in France….

    • Meg

    David, that trick with energy estimates is not confined to France. I recently paid my quarterly bill here in the UK, which was based on an actual meter reading. It was less than ONE SEVENTH the previous quarter’s estimated bill. As in the estimate of what I would consume Aug/Sep/Oct was £760 and the bill for the coldest months less than £100. Do you think they exaggerated a bit??

    • Meg

    Oh, and your story about the bike made me laugh out loud – so French “we send that to everyone”! :)

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      When I called, I said that wouldn’t it be normal to estimate based on past usage, as in, the previous month or last year during the same period – which seemed to be the logical thing to do. But I guess they want to shock you into taking action. (It worked!) It was funny the response, and the nice woman on the phone that told me that just waved it away when she said to disregard that notice. I guess old habits die hard..

    • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    ‘We just send those out automatically to anyone who asks for a refund’, sounds like what they do here, but we blame it on being a third world country!
    And we have to pay ‘estimated gains’… yes, they make us pay beforehand for what they think we’ll make next year working…

    • Katy

    Heh, oh how well I remember as a small child stopping at motorway services and needing to find change, just hours after arriving in the country, to be able to pee! Still, the paid for loos were generally nice and clean and well stocked (although the motorway services no longer seem to give a damn)

    As for the estimated bills, as someone that works in IT in this sort of thing, it sounds like someone loaded up a new rates table somewhere with a decimal point in the wrong place…

    • Alec Lobrano

    Reading this post in Madrid, which I’m visiting for work from my home in Paris, I had several good chuckles.

    1) The 1.50 Euro charge to use the toilets in Printemps flies in the face of all normal studies of consumer behavior, i.e., dept. stores normally want to make you happy and eager to spend more time in their store so that you might buy more. Using the free toilets at the wonderful El Corte Ingles department store yesterday, I was pleased that they were free and was also surprised to be given a sample of cologne while leaving the premises.

    2) Arriving in the city with computer bag and roller suitcase, I ended up bumping into several people on the sidewalk as I attempted to get out of their way at the same time they were trying to get out of my way, because they could see that I was heavily laden. The second time this happened, someone glanced at the airline tag on my bag as said to her companion, “Oh, lui è francese,” as though this explained everything.

    3) The cashier at my local Monoprix always says the same thing when I arrive in front of her with my credit card and courtesy card already in my hand. “Mais comme vous etes toujours si efficace!”

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve gone without bread because I only had a €20 and didn’t want to déranger the clerks there. The upside, however, is that I am their favorite customer and get treated like a king (also because I’m nice to them and always try to crack a joke when I go.) Some bakeries are now going to change machines.

      Those paid bathrooms are a sham. It’s not like they make the bathrooms easy to find in the department store (you have to go up to the 7th floor, or something that like. And even there, they’re pretty well-hidden.) So even though they are making money off people paying to use them, you’re right that in the long-run, I think their strategy stinks. The whole idea of a department store is that you can spend a long time in there browsing, and yes, buying something.

    • Peter

    Keep them coming please…..I love your articles and sence of humor, which you must have to invoke quite often being an expat. You made me laugh out loud.

    • phanmo

    It might be different in Paris, but here in Nantes the bigger (and newer) department stores seem to have figured out that if you make the experience enjoyable, people will spend more. Washrooms are free and usually easy to find. I’ve even started to see free coffee in some stores (Nespresso capsule style so it’s not too bad).
    What I find amazing is that the smaller city centre shops complain about losing business to the bigger stores, but still insist on closing between noon and 2pm and locking up at around 6pm. If you want to encourage customers, perhaps you shouldn’t close during the only times that most people are available.

    • Gene

    Love this article! It’s like a real life version of Catch 22, with all logic contorted beyond recognition. Good stuff, David!

    • Lisa @bitesforbabies

    I can’t remember if they did this in France (I lived in Nice over 15 years ago!) but in Italy its so frustrating at check-out BECAUSE people take their sweet ole’ time (but that’s the North American in me speaking). Also, they ALWAYS ask if you exact change…so you have to go fish in your wallet again while they literally stare at you AND get annoyed when you don’t have the exact change!!!!

    • Gill Catterall

    I have been living in France for 11 years. At the local bakery a few years ago, the lady baker of a certain age, gave me a euro too much change. I gave her the coin and she looked so aghast that I thought I’d done something wrong, but she said that in all her years as a baker that was the first time anyone had done that. Until she retired, I was her BFF.

    In the department store of Galeries Lafayette in Montauban, I suddenly needed to use the WC. I asked a sales assistant for directions and she there wasn’t one. I had to go outside and find a bar and I’ve never been back.

    • phanmo

    Another pet peeve…
    That fact that they accept personal cheques in the supermarket 10-items-or-less express lane. Nobody ever has their chequebook or a pen ready, and they’re always astonished when they are told they need to show a piece of id. A few friends have worked as supermarket cashiers and they hate cheques too.
    It’s usually faster to go to a regular checkout lane behind the person doing their weekly shopping for a family of 8.

    I tend to pay for everything with my Carte Bancaire, it doesn’t cost anything to use and it usually takes less than 30 seconds.

    • Kelli

    Your post brought back the (cough, cough) memories of more than one occasion of my father trying to find a dime for the loo for his crossed-legs daughter!!! He never seemed to have coin when a girl really needed it….

    Of all the things I have learned in life – the truest saying I believe is “What comes around – goes around”. Congrats on your new bike – evidently your karma is good – and you must be living right as we say here “in the South” (USA). Thanks for a clever read this morning.

    • Sarahb1313

    Trying to desperately locate a toilet in a Antibes was a joke- finally found it and it was closed… resorted to sitting down in a cafe and eating just so I could use their facilities!! Then later that day the same thing happened again in Grasse- public toilet closed and locked. In NYC growing up we would just run into a pizza shop, order a soda, use the restroom and continue on. So I guess not much different.

    • CoffeeGrounded

    You’ve been away too long, sweetie. America is resembling France more and more. Our new American slogan: “Customer Service? What’s that? Press one for English. Two for Spanish. Wait while your call is being answered. Your approximate hold time is between 37 to 40 minutes.” Sixty minutes later you hear this: “Click”. And then a dial tone.

    We have no customer service anymore. We have no cash back, just store credit. Oh, but we do have Target and Neiman Marcus and several other, yet identified entities that are scrambling to find a way to explain how our debit and credit card information has been compromised.

    Stay in your new homeland, honey. At least you can ride off into the city with a pocket full of change. America is busy trying to find out what to do next.

    Maybe Congress is awake now. … Oh, who am I kidding?

    Stay safe, sweetie.

    • Anna

    Whenever I read these posts I feel somewhat relieved that I don’t live in France anymore. How refreshing to have my groceries bagged for me at the checkout in Toronto, instead of the usual indifference while I rush to pack up everything and get my change ready!

    • evie

    Infuriating-stateside-standing in line at Costco with 10 people in your line and the lady /man/person in front of you does not load their stuff onto the belt until it is “their time” and the cashier asks for their card and then inevitably there is some sort of of delay-getting out the checkbook, changing out an item, a tax free purchase. You name it always in my line!!! It must be the bee to honey concept-no matter what line I get in. I tell myself to practice patience etc.

    • Ron Fox

    There are free toilets in the Louvre proper; I have never understood why people not only pay, but line up to use the toilets in the Carrousel du Louvre.

    • Laurie

    Re: Printemps – not only does the use of the bathroom cost 1.5 euros but some of the vendeurs/vendeuses have no idea where they are, or they give the wrong floor. The store is a maze and definitely not worth the trouble. Even Le Bon Marché, which is uneven in terms of service, has free bathrooms.

    As many have said but it is worth repeating, thanks for the laughs stemming from a city that often causes tears.

    • Dee Dee

    On my first trip to Paris, I thought that it was the control freak NYer in me that made me pre-plan how to pay for something in the small shops near my apartment. I’d count it all out in my head first, then again before I left the apartment, then once more in my head while I filled my tiny little basket. I didn’t want to hold up lines or inspire annoyance and each time, when I thought I’d gotten it all right well before it was time to pay, I’d go up to the cashier, whisper ‘bon jour’ and proceed to pay even before the items had been bagged (by me). Never, ever, did I get a smile, but I feel like deep down, they were just as appreciative of my having done all that counting as my third grade math teacher. Come to think of it…

    • Jessica

    I hope you have a bike-helmet now!

    From all of this exact change thing, I take it that using visa etc., is frowned upon?

    • Ruth

    Last April, in Paris, I bought two scarves from the lady vendor who has a kiosk outside the BHV on Rue Rivoli. Several weeks later, I saw another scarf there that I liked. She REMEMBERED me, and said that the last time she had overcharged me by 2 euros and so she deducted the two euros from my purchase. I was back in Paris just before Christmas 2013, saw her at the kiosk, she STILL remembered me! I bought two more scarves, even though she said I would have a discount if I bought three. The next week, I went back for a third scarf (yes, sigh, I like them)……and she offered me the discount I had passed up before. I do not know her name, but she is one of my favorite memories of Paris.

    • Sherry

    As I stood in line at the supermarche watching change being pulled out of pockets and purses, and counted out to the penny, it never dawned on me that this was the norm. I just thought I had been unlucky enough to stand in the inconsiderate line. I’m still uncomfortable enough with the money to fumble around and not wanting to hold people up, I always wind up with a wallet full of small change. Now I know that the cashiers will like me better if I count out exact change, people behind me be damned. This is very freeing, I’ve gotta say.
    The toilets at BHV and Galeries Lafayette are free. When I’m in the Marais, I always pop into the Musee Carnavalet (free), use the toilet and look at the art. It’s a win win.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Jessica: Using credit cards is a-ok, but most places require you to spend €15 (although that’s changing – however a French friend was livid when a local butcher shop wouldn’t take his card for a purchase that was something like €14,65.) And yes, I wear a helmet, although it’s kind of a pain to carry around when I get to my destination.

    Laurie: I just avoid going in there on principle. If Le Bon Marché can provide them, and Galeries Lafayette and BHV, I don’t know why Printemps does it.

    CoffeeGrounded: On a recent trip to the US, I had a great experience on Day 1 when I activated my T-Mobile sim card. They were super helpful and got it working right away. The good thing in the states is that even if you get put on hold, you’re not paying 34 cents a minute to call customer service, as you usually do in France. I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes, which racks a bit of a bill, even if I’m calling because of something that’s their fault.

    Ruth: Some vendors can be super nice and it’s good to patronize (and repatronize, as in your case) them over and over ~

    SarahB1313: They are often closed or broken. I was recently on the train to Normandy and all the bathroom doors were locked. When I asked a conductor, they said, “It’s because they’re all broken.” Fortunately I was only going on an hour-long trip, but was concerned about those taking longer journeys!

    Gill: I was once at a restaurant and the bill didn’t include the wine, so I told the waitress. She was flabbergasted, and said that no one ever pointed our a mistake on the bill to her. So she gave us the wine for free : )

      • CoffeeGrounded

      Oh my goodness, I’d never make it in Paris if they charged me to call them. No, nada, I’d lose all my sense and sensibility!

      I love how each bit of the world has it’s idyosyncrasies…all of us are united in our efforts to accept those things that get our shorts in a ruffle.

    • PicklesBrother

    Thank you so much for turning your annoyance into joy, smiles and laughter of commiseration. Very enjoyable. Would love to hear more of you on “The Splendid Table” when you and they can arrange. Thanks Again!

    • flavia

    I am half french, half brazilian (currently living in Rio de Janeiro) and I am always in awe of your perspective of the french and their way of life. And that is because it is so acurate and so well translated to your readers. I have been following you for many many years now and I have to admit that, although I started reading you for your recipes and food insights, nowadays it is stories like today’s that make me smile the most. Hope you don’t mind this bit of french sincerity!

    • Linda

    Thanks David.. I love reading your posts… always entertaining… I enjoy them immensely!

    • Scott_D

    When we were in Paris in 2011 I surely noticed how obsessed the cashiers were with coins. Although asked many times I still stumble a bit when they ask for “monnaie” with my mind first thinking “but I gave you money.” Plus there’s the three second delay in my brain translating.

    At the catacombs we observed a non-French speaking couple in front of us completely exasperate the cashier. When it was our turn I handed her some bills and her request for coins took my brain that translation delay. When it clicked, I immediately said “Ah, oui, oui, oui,” laughing at myself out loud, and dug out my coin purse. That one Euro coin changed her whole demeanor as if I had given her a bouquet of flowers.

    • Andy Capelluto

    ♡ – your writing & humour ~ u inspire me to blog … again …

    • Cheryl in Lyon

    It’s funny, but Lyon seems SO different! I have found that the one place (at least down here) where they NEVER fuss about the size of your money (like if you go to the ATM and they don’t give you a choice and you ONLY have a 50) is the pharmacy. Every time I apologize when that happens, they are like, “no problem!”

    I wonder if they are so slow to get out the cash because no one seems to use cash anymore?

    There are many free toilets around the city, too, that are self cleaning. :-)

    @Ruth- that long-term remembering by vendors is at the same time really impressive and slightly creepy!

    • Merisi in Vienna

    When in Rome, do as the Romans do! ;-)

    I love observing Viennese paying cash at the register. They are really good at mental arithmetic, both the customers and the cashiers. The fastest thinkers in my experience are the cashiers at the Hofer chain, fascinating to observe and experience.

    Rather endearing the cashiers who help elderly customers pay the bill with cash: the cashier takes the coins out of the customer’s wallet, counting them out loudly while doing so.

    I do miss having my groceries packed by the cashier, though (even into the now often visible reusable shopping bags).

    • Parisbreakfast

    That bit of business of suddenly remembering they have to pay at the cashier had me floored in the supermarché. One woman even did not have her bank card. I think she was going to run home and get it and leave us all standing there waiting. On the other hand having a ready supply of small change can make your day.
    At La Poste I recieved a large box of oversized home made caramels. I offered them to the workers and they were shaking my hand like I’d just had a baby! I thought of you with your cookies…

    • Michelle

    My sister has a little coin purse that keeps all the euros separate. The shopkeepers in Torino love when she pulls that out and is able to give exact change.

    Toilets- I remember there used to be a website that had a map of all the free toilets in NYC. My personal favorite was the Barnes and Noble in Astor Place!

    • Jeanne

    David, an absolute masterpiece. You have outdone yourself. Especially the first part about our scooter riding Lothario. Quelle class!! Will be sending this out to friends in France, the UK, and the States. Enjoy your articles and photos immensely.

    • Kim Minichiello

    David…I had a good laugh and a flood of memories from living in Paris shopping at my local Monoprix and Ed. The stores were like obstacle courses because they always either mopped or waited until the busiest time of day to stock the shelves. Invariably what I needed was behind a fortress of boxes stacked taller than I am. After dodging all the people who can’t make up their mind what to buy, finally arriving at the queue to check out, which could take FOREVER, for the reasons you noted here. Not to mention, listening to the rustling of the annoying plastic packaging that seems everything is wrapped in there. You are an absolute basket case by the time it’s your turn! The stink eye you get from the clerk for one reason or another is always the icing on the cake, even after I have taken the time, like everyone else to count out the right change and bagged my own groceries! Sometimes shopping especially if there was an exchange involved, (don’t even think of a refund), was like gearing up for battle! So friends that say, so…but you lived in Paris, yes, it was wonderful but has it’s moments like every place does.

    • Ruth

    David, would you tell me more about this T-Mobile prepaid SIM card? Will it go into any smart phone? Changing to “International” on my Verizon-provider IPhone was one of the big hassles I did not want to deal with for my trip last December. But I missed the map app, especially as I saw everyone in Paris using it, just as I saw and started to do myself in NYC.

    yes, it was nice to be remembered. What’s the business slogan?—“Make a relationship, not a sale”.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      The T-Mobile pre-paid plan is great and you can use your own phone if it’s unblocked. (Virgin Mobile in the US offers something similar, but you have to buy one of their phones.) They send you a free SIM card that you put in your phone (I have an iPhone but imagine it’s the same with other phones?) and there are different pay-as-you-go plans for monthly service with no contract. At present, they are $30-$70 (the high end being unlimited calls and internet) and as you mentioned, it’s great to have access to maps and so forth when traveling. Once I got the SIM card in the US, I just popped it in and they talked me through the simple procedure on the phone, and I was ready in minutes.

    • suedoise

    There is no such thing as a free bathroom at the big department stores. There is always a woman there keeping it nice and dandy who expects an euro at least for her toiling away. There is a small plate put so you cannot miss it.
    The thing is to find the nearest luxury hotel where you ask for the bar and nearby you will always find comfortable men´s and ladies´ rooms.
    I have always wondered why there is no book on the Paris loos and the quality of them beginning with the depressing fact that there are always too few for the ladies as you always have to stand in line, hard cheese when in extremis. .
    I dread the Opera buildings for this reason:.Theatres and museums are nightmares too. Cinemas especially the more recent ones are usually quite OK and free.

    • Oonagh

    I am still scarred by the time I had to take my child to use the free public bathroom in a Leclerc supermarket in the Lot et Garonne. It was honestly worse than anything I’ve ever seen in rural India. Come to think of it, the free public toilets at the Agen rugby club ground were just as bad. Yuck.
    After those experiences, I would happily pay Euro 1.50 for a clean bathroom!

    • Sangita

    I just love your posts, the humor and your witty style. Reading your posts after I put the kids to bed is how I relax. You have such a gift for writing.

    • Mathilda

    Paperwork and telephone calls to get things done (foreigner) would think normal to get… So true, so discouraging! Anyhow if you achieved getting reimbursed, it means that you became more French than most of us (as for me I still struggle most of the time), not sure it is good news, but congrats ;) !

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Oonagh: The condition of rest rooms – even in “nice” restaurants – often do leave something to be desired, that’s for sure.

    suedoise: The times I’ve used the rest rooms at BHV and Le Grand Épicerie, they were free and there is no attendant. I don’t know if they’ve changed that. Near the Opéra is a lovely public restroom located underground – you have to look for the sign – which was built by Porcher and features beautiful art nouveau detailing. (No pictures!) There is an attendant, aka Madame Pipi, who has achieved a bit of cult status.

    Mathilda: Yes, the French have a difficult time keeping up with all the paperwork, too! But I’ve learned about dossiers, and how to get results when you call – although it can be a challenge. With international businesses coming in, I think some places are a little better at returns, but last time I returned something at BHV I had to go to three different windows to process the return, and get reimbursed : )

    • Angela

    That’s so funny, I was just recently thinking about how people aren’t ready with their purses when it’s time to pay at the checkout and like you I wondered why they don’t get their money out sooner instead of fishing around looking for money with everyone waiting… ne comprend pas ça!

    • elaine

    David, I really enjoyed reading this slice of Paris living and buying.
    Here in the US,
    Who knows how long Target et al knew about their customers’ credit card information being stolen before they made the public aware. I read somewhere that a blogger made the information public before Target acknowledged it.My husband and I have decided that we will no longer “swipe” our credit cards at the local stores. We will pay cash. A novel idea, I know, but we are going to try it out and see what happens.

    • Anne

    When I lived in Paris I remember once going to my local Franprix and handing the cashier a 5 euro note to pay for my groceries. She asked me if I could give her exact change and happily waited while I dug out 95 centimes in coins. I’m pretty sure it would have been easier for her to give me change for a 5.

    • Susan

    I remember when I was finally old enough to go by bus, places far enough away from home that it was prudent to have money set aside to use for a phone call. On my first foray, my Mother handed me $.30 in dimes, wrapped in aluminum foil and made me tuck it into the bottom of my (new addition) purse with instructions that I wasn’t to use it to buy candy or bus fare or for any other purpose than to make an emergency phone call should I need help. To this day, I keep a stash of extra money, coins and bills, just in case…
    You mentioned your utility bill estimate. In the SF Bay area, PG&E has been installing new computerized meters on homes. You pick the date and they read the meter electronically and send you the bill either by mail or email. They’ll even debit your bank account if you trust them! The metering device has created quite the stir here as people still aren’t sure it’s not going to create some sort of health issue. …and this from people who use cordless home or cell phones! Strange is everywhere.

    • n

    I love you, David, said in the voice of ye olde “I love you, Kate” Moss commercial. I do, I love you, David. Thanks for the always illuminating posts. :)

    • Sandy

    Greetings David and all, speaking from the U.S. I recall as a child having to pay to use the toilets at the dime store, this was in the 1960s and I think it cost a dime, SS Kresgee or some such, maybe Hudsons stores. It wasn’t entirely singular. And when the large malls began to develop in the area, they too had pay toilets. But, interestingly I recall that there was always one that was supposed to be free, sort of a in need consideration. So the homeland did use this strategy even though they now have abandoned it.

    Thanks for the fun reads, David. I enjoy them a good deal.

    • Terry Covington

    So funny! I had just finished reading the BBC article you link to when I thought, I should check out David’s column. Serendipity! I love your recipes, your travel writing, AND your humor, so always enjoy it when you write things like this.

    • Christopher Udall

    Wow, you have terrible luck with bikes. Is that seriously a thing in France that you won’t get refunded for stuff? Didn’t know that…

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Susan and Sandy: Ha! I remember those contraptions on the doors of restroom stalls that took dimes. In Europe, bars would give you (or you could buy) a jeton, a token, to use the restroom in a café. (I think they were free if you were a guest, but don’t remember that far back…)

    Yes, I heard in San Francisco they have “smart” meters, but – being San Francisco – some are worried about whatever waves are going through the air to send their meter reading. And yes, I too wonder if those people have WiFi in their homes, cell phones, etc..I’ve seen notices that they may have them here shortly, too.

    Christopher: It can be hard to get a refund on things, even if they are broken or defective. Refunds are not automatically issued and it can be a challenge to deal with those things.

    Anne: I always think it’d be easier, too. When I am elsewhere and I had someone a 20-bill, I instinctively apologize. (And they are always confused about why I am apologizing!) Someone once told me that banks here charge places for change, which is why they try to hold onto it, and cultivate it, but don’t know if that’s true or not.

    • ron shapley(NYC)

    Dave………….Don’t you miss living in America ? Life is so much easier here..

    • Vi

    I just went through the painstaking process of moving to Paris, and as always…yes. Just yes. When the going gets too tough I end up going pastry shopping.

    • Maureen Kennedy

    You need to connect w The Haggler from the NYT for lunch sometime.

    I’ve been intrigued by the advent of the toilet-for-pay routine here in SF–my mother was always clear that the dime for the toilet growing up in DC was a segregationist holdover–“we can’t have a “whites only” toilet but we can make sure no negroes will use ours.” Eventually, all those dime eating machines disappeared. But now I’m seeing them back again, and I can’t let go of that old memory.

    • T

    I thought pay toilets had to be removed from men’s rooms and women’s rooms in the US because they discriminated against women. Women always had to pay while men could pee for free.

    • Josh

    David- i regards to the bicycle – chains that jump off the front derailleur usually means that the front derailleur (or the mechanism that pushes the chain from ring to ring) is out of adjustment. This can often be remedied by adjusting a ‘limit screw’. Its something bike mechanic can do easily. You could also have a bent chain ring, but that is less likely.

    Of course if you had a mechanic look at the bike and say it was defective…then forget what i say. But even then parts like the chain or cables often need to be replaced as part of regular maintenance and do not necessarily mean that the thing is broken

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      They had a mechanic look at it and he said it was, indeed, defective. The company apparently had to recall 4000 bikes (!) in France from the company that were defective. Hope no one else got hurt!

    • Max

    Friend of mine has just left France after living there for ten years. Leaving is not that easy either, the paperwork you have to take to the ‘authorities’ which is then lost (obviously) and they reproduce and take again…. and its not their fault, it’s yours! The system is a very different one over there…. nice place for a holiday tho.

    • Bruce Bethany

    I recall that many years ago in Philadelphia people would wait 20 minutes for a bus,
    and only after it arrived would they frantically search for money. Same thing at a Monoprix in Nice. Women are by far the worst culprits. It’s in their DNA. As for toilets,
    I don’t mind paying a few centimes for relief when a person who cleans and tidies up works there. Besides, who wants SDFs, Roma and their kids hogging the facilities.
    Another French quirk: They will confront a parking meter for the 6 thousandth time to gape at it like it was the first time. Did they come from outer space? I dunno. Another gripe is that when you ask about a product in a shop the clerk will say, I don’t have it. End of story. They never suggest an alternative. In restos they bark C’ést complet!
    but rarely offer a table that’s turning shortly.

    • Leslie Bonner

    Excellent reading, informative and amusing at the same time. I have preordered your new book and looking forward to receiving it – the pics just whetted my appetite. I got more than my monies worth in “Ready for Dessert” just for the Racines cake.

    • Anne

    Before my last visit to France, Paris to be precise, I heard and read a great deal about how important it was to have exact change. I did indeed try my best to do so, but inevitably ended up one day with a bill that I could not use to purchase metro tickets. Perhaps it was the slightly frightened looking 4-year old clinging to my leg, or the fact that I offered to purchase something first (which was declined) but an understanding shop keeper made change for me very graciously and with *gasp* a polite smile. My whole visit to Paris that time was wonderful and to have a French stereotype proven wrong (at least for that moment) was just the puddin’!

    • AJPeabody

    Ah, the paid toilet. I took my receipt from the Toilettes de Versailles and had it ornately framed on a blue, white and red matting (archival). It hangs in the bathroom as a souvenir.

    • Marie

    Non David, tous les français n’ont pas le même point de vue sur le comportement de leurs hommes politiques, je vous assure….
    Bonne journée


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