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Pardon Me, Do You Have Three Little Ducks?

I was in line at the checkout. When my groceries had been rung up, they came to 33 crowns. I searched my pocket for three crowns in change, but there wasn't enough. Uh oh! Only 2 crowns and 50 hellers. So I had to give the lady at the register 50 crowns.

I handed over the 50 crowns. She looked at them suspisciously.

"Nemáte tři kačky?" (Don't you have three little ducks?) Did she just ask me if I had three little ducks? No question about it, but she could only be asking about change. (I didn't see any ducks anywhere in the shop).

"Nemám. Mám jenom dvě pade." (No. I only have two and a half [fifty hellers].) This answer was the right one, though she wasn't very pleased. If you haven't shopped in the Czech Republic before, then you might not know that shops often ask you for exact change. It's usually not that they don't have change for you, but they just don't want to make the effort of counting it out. (Sometimes they don't have enough change, but this store wasn't that small.) My idea is that it's all money, right? And if you're the shopkeeper then you make change for the money that the customer pays you. But here, the idea is that it's the customer's job to make exact change. And when you don't, sometimes you get dirty looks. Sometimes, unless you're in a really big store (like at malls), they even make a big show about how difficult it is to find change. Talk about guilt trips!

I had to wait a few seconds for the lady to decide how she was going to give me change. She slowly got out a 10-crown piece, then counted out seven one-crown coins. "I have to give it to you this way," she said with an expressionless look while dumping the coins into my hand.

Then I went home and had breakfast. I also looked up kačka and found out that it is a diminutive form of the word for duck, but it also colloquially refers to crowns. Well, Americans call their dollars "bucks." Czechs who have traveled in the US have even asked me why this is. Next time I get that question, I'll ask them why they call theirs "ducks."

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Blogger Dana said . . .

Oh my god, yes!! This exact change obsession drives me crazy! I'm almost afraid to walk into a store if I don't have any small bills on me.

I may be naive, but I always think that these poor cash register people really don't have change to spare and that they're always low. It is not uncommon to see a register lady slowly and meticulously pick exact change from a customer's outstretched hand filled with all the change the customer had in her wallet. There's some real desperation in that.    

1:09 PM, December 12, 2006

Blogger tuckova said . . .

When I worked in a shop, I sometimes reminded people to go for exact change (or close) because I didn't think they'd want the pocketful of small change I'd otherwise give them.

I think the kačka is from Korun česky but I could be wrong about that.    

3:10 PM, December 12, 2006

Blogger Karla said . . .

Bucks, ducks... at least ducks are more species-specific than bucks.

I always want to get rid of the smaller coins, so I try to be exact if there's no one behind me in line.    

11:55 PM, December 12, 2006

Blogger Karla said . . .

I see Blogger Beta is becoming draconian. It doesn't care that I was already logged in on my own blog, it wanted me to log in again here using my Google account. Very annoying.    

11:56 PM, December 12, 2006

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

That's pretty much how Blogger in Beta has always been.

I guess that I probably should've given the lady more benefit of the doubt, but it was early morning and I was hungry and really just wanted to buy my things. But you're right, Dana, that there is much more than just laziness to this.

I also used to work in a job that had a retail part (most of the amounts were even so there was little change involved). But I figured that if people gave me some weird amount and were grumpy when they got change, then that was their problem. I mean, when I'm in a shop and can pay with exact change, I really do. It's those moments when you have big bills, though, that are difficult. Like when you really just want yogurt, but the ATM just gave a 2000-crown bill. In my experience, you might as well just not even try. They're just going to tell you that it's hopeless. It's kind of an irony--you have more money than you normally spend in one shopping trip, but you're afraid to go into the shop because you know they can't change it. Strange.

(But then, sometiems it's like paying for something that costs 75 cents with a 100-dollar bill. You might get a strange look for that in the US, too.)    

12:43 AM, December 13, 2006

Blogger Karla said . . .

All I can say is that this and other blogs have been on Blogger Beta for months and I'm only now having to sign in separately. That's even though it says I can also use my Blogger account. Just another irritating thing about Blogger Beta to add to the extra screens one has to navigate to leave comments...    

10:32 PM, December 13, 2006

Blogger amy7252 said . . .

That exact change thing is all over Europe. Colin and I think it goes back to a need to exercise what little power you have in your job. Let's face it, being a checker in a grocery store isn't exactly a powerful, respect-wielding job, so the most you can do to feel a sense of power is to belittle customers for not having exact change.

And yea, you'd probably get a weird look in the US for buying a candy bar with a $100 bill, but at least you don't feel the need to prove your integrity by showing someone the contents of your wallet!!    

3:25 AM, December 16, 2006

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