Useful Tips for Italy/Milan part 1: When to use cash or credit/debit cards

I’m going to start a new tag theme.  Useful tips for those of you visiting Italy/coming to live in Italy.

For this first one, I give you the places where it is OK to use cash and those places where you are better using a credit/debit card.

Cash:  Garages (especially if you are using an Italian credit/debit card); Restaurants (especially if you get a discount); bars.

Credit/Debit cards: ALL supermarkets; most shops;

So, having given this information there must be a reason why.  And there is.  First though, I give you my experience from last night.

I needed to do some shopping.  Spese, here.  Things for the house.  I needed milk, washing powder, coke and some other bits and pieces.  I use Carrefour, just round the corner from my flat.  It’s only a small supermarket but it has most things.  Occasionally, for some other things, I must use a different supermarket.

I come, of course, from the UK.  We may all be European but each country does have a slightly (or completely) different mindset.  And there are many differences – most so subtle that you really don’t notice for a while.

I had to find a basket.  They are always ‘short’ of them.  People, queue up to wait for someone to empty their basket at the till so that they can have one.  Last night, it was busy.  I went in search of a basket.  I started round the supermarket.  Being an inner-city supermarket the aisles are narrow. And there are people who have their basket on one side of the aisle whilst they are on the other contemplating something …… for ages ….. effectively blocking the aisle. Grrrr.

I get my stuff. I start to queue. The queues are long – there are only three tills out of 6 open but, since this is a small store, they don’t have enough people to cover all six. I am patient.

I reach the conveyor belt. I have been waiting for about 20 minutes. It has been raining all day. It is still raining. The woman before me takes her umbrella from the bottom of the basket and places it on the conveyor belt. The umbrella is soaking wet. She picks up the umbrella. The conveyor belt is now soaking wet. I wait in my patient way, seething with anger at the thoughtlessness of Italians. She realises, as I am not putting my shopping on the conveyor belt, that there must be a reason and seems to suddenly realise that her actions and stupidity are the reason. She asks the cashier for some paper to dry the belt. She dries it. In the meantime, the woman two people in front of me is paying for her shopping. There seems to be a problem with her card. She asks if it is OK to leave her bagged shopping there for a moment. the cashier says ‘yes’.

I unload my shopping.

The person in front of me says she’s going to pay cash. The cashier starts putting her stuff through. The cashier then says to the queue that she can only accept cash. I explain that I am paying by card. I ask if I can’t pay for the shopping over at the control desk. The cashier explains that it won’t be possible because it’s not her till that’s the problem – it’s the bank card system that’s down.

I lose it at this point. I say, in my best English – ‘Oh great!’ and walk out, leaving my shopping on the conveyor belt.

In my wallet I have more than enough cash to pay the bill but I no longer use cash at the supermarkets. I refuse to use cash. I will use credit cards or debit cards but NEVER cash.

So why?

Supermarket scams:

1) Sometimes you will pay for the plastic carrier bags. Sometimes you will pay a couple of cents, sometimes 10 cents, sometimes (depending on the operator), nothing at all. This is in the same supermarket, for the same bag but with different operators. It is one of the reasons I rarely go to Unes now.

2) As I have mentioned in posts before, if you offer cash, they will invariably ask you for the small change part. If you don’t give it to them you are likely to find that the change they give you does NOT include the odd 1, 2 or 5 cents that you should have. Either they don’t have those small coins or they can’t be bothered to count them out, I’m never really sure which. And yes, these are major supermarket chains I’m talking about. To be honest, this, I believe, stems from the time when the Lira was the currency and the coins were about the same value as buttons. Italians think of the lower value coins in the same way. We in the UK would never think like this and nor would a shop offer us less than the exact amount of change.

Therefore, ALWAYS use debit cards (bancomat here) or credit cards (carta) to pay at the supermarket.

Shops: Can do the same as the supermarkets above in terms of small change. Pay by plastic, if you can.

Garages: Petrol/Diesel here is about the same price as the UK. I’m not sure this applies if you are using a UK (or foreign) debit/credit card but it certainly applies if you are using an Italian one. There is an extra charge made, by the bank, if you buy fuel by plastic. Always, therefore, use cash. Also, if you use cash, if you have, say, filled your tank with €50.03 worth of fuel (as I inadvertently did this morning), they will accept €50.

Bars: Except if you are going for a night out, use cash. Coffee costs less than €1. If we go for breakfast at our local bar, two cappuccinos plus two brioches (croissants to you) cost us about 5 Euro. And they will always give you the correct change down to the last cent.

Restaurants: If you know the restaurant or are getting a discount (or expect to get one) pay by cash. If you pay by card you will not get a discount or, if you have already been given one, they won’t be so happy with you. Depends, I suppose, if you want to go back there ;-)

If I think of any other places where you should use one or the other, I will update this post.

I hope it helps.

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