…It Makes the World Go ‘Round

Funny tidbit from the other day…

Since it’s taken me a few days to get a regular employee parking pass at work, I had to pay with a meter for the first week or so. This meant that I needed lots of change, and I was told that one place I could exchange bills for coins was the post office.

La Poste is a bank in addition to a postal service, so it’s a nice one-stop shop for those errands that demand to be done during business hours. Anyway, after the woman behind the desk gave me a long and complicated explanation (mostly because it was in French) of the several obscure documents I would need before I would be permitted to open a Swiss bank account, I asked if it would be possible to exchange some bills for cash. At least, that is what I meant to ask her.

I had completely forgotten the word for ‘cash.’ Argent, yes…that means money. Billets, yes, that means bills. What about cash? Coins? Small metal Swiss francs? My somewhat rattled brain offered up the only word I could think of: centième. I was pretty sure I had heard that word in discussions of money before, and it sounded like ‘cents,’ so that’s probably close enough, right?

Sort of. It does indeed mean cents, but literally and specifically, as in ‘one one-hundredth of a bill.’

Since my only cash transaction thus far had been at an ATM machine, all I had were a few 100 CHF bills rolled up for emergencies. I handed the woman one of these and politely asked her to change it for centième. You should have seen that poor lady’s face. Fortunately, she must have decided that I clearly had no idea what I was doing and that it was time to take matters into her own hands.

Shaking her head she gave me one 50 CHF bill, and counted out 10 five-franc coins on top of it, pushing them toward me with a look that said, “I don’t know exactly what you need or why, but this should suffice.” And indeed it did…I gave her a grateful smile and a merci and fled, trying not to make eye contact with the long line that had formed behind me.

Upon returning home, I took to Google Translate to figure out what I should have said. Any guesses?

Monnaie. Yep, that’s right. The French word for change is just one vowel sound away from the English word ‘money.’ Pièces would have worked, too…as in, ‘pieces of money.’ So close, yet so far!

The upside is, I will never forget those words again. Maybe my French language acquisition would be more efficient if I could create a slightly embarrassing experience for each vocabulary word? I will have to investigate this. It should’t be too difficult.


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