My quest to break the 50 Euro bill

To be honest, money makes much more sense to me in Europe than it does in America.  I think the 2 Euro coin is up there with sliced bread and the wheel.  Why don't we use the $2 bill more?  It's a great denomination.  Poor Jefferson.  He gets put on the least popular bill and then is the nemesis in the most popular musical on Broadway.  That guy can't catch a break.  

Euros in the EU break down into:
Bills:
50, 20, 10, 5
Coins:
2, 1, 50 cent, 20 cent, 10 cent, 5 cent, 2 cent, 1 cent

So as you can imagine, you can make a lot of different combinations with coins.
And as you can also imagine, the 50 Euro bill is not very popular.  And by not very popular, I mean it might as well be Monopoly money.  


When I was in Disneyland, I tried to make a purchase with a 50 Euro bill.  The guy looked at me as if I had just insulted his mother.  He refused to take it.  

In Lille the reaction is typically an audible sigh followed by, "Don't  you have anything else?"

So today in preparation for the Braderie tomorrow, (Europe's largest flea market where 2.5 million people will be coming to Lille to eat 500 tons of mussels and 30 tons of French fries) I wanted to get some cash.

Thanks to my wonderful (insert sarcastic tone here) travel MasterCard, I have yet to be able to use it to withdraw money.  So I have to use my debit card which means I have to pay a transaction fee every time I do.  (First thing I'm doing when I get back to the States is finding a new travel card.)  So when I withdraw, I take out large sums so that I don't have to do it very often.

Banks are different in France.  There is absolutely no human interaction.  If you want money, you have to do it through an ATM.  This means I don't get a say in how I want my money.  I withdrew 300 Euro and it came with four 50 Euro bills.  Ugh!

I'm pretty sure that the 8,000 vendors coming from around the world tomorrow are not going to be too interested in breaking a 50 so that I can buy a little antique for 70 cents.  I also knew that no place of business was going to accept four 50 Euros to exchange for smaller bills.

And then I came up with a plan.

I remembered that Auchan in the mall in Villeneuve D'ascq has registers where you can check yourself out.  I used to use up all my small coins there three years ago.  I decided to go there and buy 4 small items, one at a time, and use a 50 every time I did.

For a tradition that started in the 1100's, the Braderie has pretty bad timing.  It's the weekend before school starts.  So let's just say Auchan was super busy.  I didn't feel right making 4 transactions in a row with so many people waiting in line. 


I walked all over the store looking for a small priced item that I could fit in my purse.  I found a pouch of Minestrone soup for 89 cents.  I got in the long line to get to a register and waited.  As I crept closer to where the machines were, I had a fear that it wouldn't even take 50's.  When I had tried to refill my Metro card, it wouldn't take 50's and I had to pay with 3 precious 20's.  

Finally it was my turn, and I made my purchase.  I figure out how to pay with cash, and gave it my 50.  It sucked it up quickly and made a shredding sound.  I held my breath and crossed my fingers.  
Up on the screen was the number 49,11 in change  (They reverse their decimals and commas here.)  I did it!

I left the store, put the soup and the money in my purse.  Pulled out another 50 and went back inside.  This time I went to the second floor of Auchan.  I found a sympathy card to send to my bishop in NYC (who is French) because he just lost his mother.  I got in the line upstairs.

This line was much slower because only two registers accepted cash.  I finally made my purchase and got more change.  Went outside, put the card in my purse and the change in my wallet.

I still had two 50's that I needed to break.  What to do. What to do.  I decided to wander around the mall to see if there were any other stores that had something I wanted.  At the other end of the mall, was a huge book store, sort of like a Barnes and Noble.  


For some reason France sells tons of those pens that has 4 ink colors.  And for some unknown reason I'm a sucker for those.  Each one was 2,49.  I picked one up and grabbed a 50 from my wallet so that the cashier wouldn't see I had tons of change.  

I walked up to the counter and tried to put on my best "dumb American" look.  I said in English, "Can you accept this?"  I wanted her to think I was a a tourist here for the Braderie and had just gotten cash from an ATM (which is mostly true).  

She said she could.  She gave me my change with no eye-rolling or sighing.  

Three down, one to go!  

I didn't want to go back to the bookstore, because the lady would have thought I was crazy.  My best option seemed to be to go back to Auchan.  I picked up a packet of powdered Bechamel sauce for 69 cents.  I decided to get in the downstairs line because it had more registers and I think I had a better chance of not being recognized.  

I made my purchase and put my change back in my purse.  I had broken four 50 Euro bills, and I only had to spend about 7 Euro to do it!  

Now I just hope the vendors at the Braderie will take 20's.  

What Others Are Reading

The Christ Child: A Nativity Story - 8 Observations of What Is Different

"Skin of Blackness": Idioms, Curses, and Racism