I'm really enjoying reading Megnut's latest posts on her blog. She's just moved to France and doesn't have the language down just yet. I can relate with everything she's been writing lately...
The 20ï¿½ bill is the best bank note ever because you know it will cover whatever you've purchased even when you did not comprehend the total the cashier has just said to you. You simply hand it over with that meek smile that says, "I know how much that croissant and brioche costs and I perfectly understood what you said to me. It's just that this 20ï¿½ is simply the only thing I have."
Your smile most certainly does not say, "I am in a blind panic. My wallet is filled with ten pounds of strange change I cannot distinguish. In the hopes that this will cover the cost, I am handing you the largest bill in my wallet. If I had a 50ï¿½ note, I'd pass that to you instead, even though this bagette costs 70ï¿½.
Obviously I don't have these exact problems any more here in Spain, but when I first moved here I didn't know the language at all and had more than my share of similar moments. Ana would just look at me funny everytime I would whip out a 5,000 peseta bill (like 30 bucks) to pay for the smallest things because I wasn't sure what the total was. Eventually you get to the point where you learn to ask when you don't understand the price. AND THEN you get to the point where you become brave enough to ask twice or three times if you don't get it the first time, even if there's a huge line of people behind you looking at you like you're an idiot. Handing over big bills is the best way to get swindled.
It's nice to read Meg's blog and see how far I've come. I still have my good language days and my bad ones, but for the most part I've got a good handle on my environment now. It's nice.