Sep 21, 2010

Making change in a store: China vs. Norway

In China:

Cashiers in China are change hoarders. It doesn't matter if they're working at KFC, Wal-Mart, or a local convenience store. At least once per day in Beijing — not exaggerating here — I will be asked by a cashier if I have exact change, or close to exact change. Transactions in China are much more cash-based than in the US, where we tend to use credit cards a lot more, which may explain the focus on conserving change.

You'd think that in such an environment, the store manager would delegate someone to run over to the local bank in the morning, and get bundles of ones, fives, tens, and some other assorted change. In China, there really are no large bills. The largest note is 100 yuan, or about $15. I'd have no problem being asked for smaller bills if, for example, I were trying to buy a pack of gum with a $100 bill.

One positive about this change hoarding mentality is that it's incredibly easy to get rid of all your loose change. At one point I had amassed probably 10 pounds of Chinese coins. And there's no Coinstar to be found! "What to do?", I thought.

So I got some Scotch tape and taped my various coins together so they were in little bundles of 1 yuan, 5 yuan, or 10 yuan, depending on the denomination of the coin. I took them with me in my little fanny pack to the local market, and boy, you would not believe the positive reaction I got. Every single merchant I bought vegetables and meat from wanted my coin collection. Some of them even traded me paper bills for the coins. I thought it would take me a month to get rid of all those annoying coins, but I dumped them all in about 20 minutes.

I can't imagine the look of disgust the cashier at Safeway would give me if I tried to pawn off a few rolls of pennies and nickles on her.

In Norway:

My experience has been that Norwegian cashiers get confused if you try to help them save their change. They have no interest in giving you the most efficient amount of change, they just want to give you your change and go to their smørbrød break.

Example: My total at the local RIMI grocery store came to 236 kroner. So I pull out:
  • one 200 kroner note
  • two 20 kroner coins
  • six 1 kroner coins
To put it simply, my bill was 236, and I gave 246. The result is that the clerk only needs to give me one 10 kroner coin back as change. A cashier in Beijing would love me for being so considerate.

The Norwegian cashier, upon taking my various kroners, blanked out completely for about five seconds. She just stared in bewilderment at the pile of money I handed her, and then, a look of realization. "Ohhh", she said, finally (or something like that in Norsk), and fished out my 10 kroner coin.


Anonymous Filip said...

hi, great blog, i'm going to beijing in 3 weeks to start a new life;) i'm sure i'll read it all before i leave. is the january 2005 the first entry? no introduction? cheers

4:02 AM  
Anonymous Filip said...

I'm on april 2007 now, I'm suprised that most of the comments are from chineese people. there were some books written by foreigners living in poland, quite same style as your blog about funny observations. did you think of publishing your blog as a book in chineese? I'm sure it would be a bestseller, and that billion of potencial readers seems to be tempting:)

4:29 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Yes, January 2005 is the first entry. No other introductions unfortunately.

Glad to see someone enjoyed the postings!

7:43 PM  

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