Faux Pas Friday: Cheapskate at the Checkout

I grew up with a single mom who clipped coupons religiously. When the Sunday paper arrived, out came the scissors. Scouring for sales meant we sometimes ended up with strange foodstuffs in the cupboard, items we bought only for the discount. I dutifully absorbed these lessons. To this day, I don’t like shopping, but I love a sale.

Tender Leaf Tea Coupon, Front

Financial prudence has made my marginally-employed existence here possible. Paris is expensive; being a cheapskate serves a bohemian writer well.

Pinching pennies does mean I lack social graces at times, however, as I often turn down invitations if I think it will cost too much (though truth be told my hermit tendencies are as strong as my cheapskate ones).

I’ve been wondering lately if this really is the way. I’m in my mid-30s and I still approach life like a starving student? Should I buck up and spend more? Prioritize differently?

For the moment I’ve decided that in daily matters I’m fine with sticking to my cheapskate routine, but that I’ll make concessions as I go.

I was at Biocoop (the organic store! costs more!) this week picking up some dessert for dinner with a friend in the evening (at home – cheaper!)

My eyes lit up when I saw the word “promotion” on the chocolate mousse. Not only was chocolate mousse exactly what I wanted, but it was on sale. Score!

I readied my coins (the French love exact change), but the higher, standard price appeared when the cashier rang it up.

I dig into my purse for some extra coins, then say as I hand them over, “It’s not a big deal, but I thought that was on sale.”

Instead of being annoyed, the cashier smiles and studies the receipt.

The woman behind me is not smiling, however. She’s throwing daggers with her eyes. “35 cents?” she asks, not even pretending to mask her disdain.

I nod, a little embarrassed.

She reaches her hand out, jiggling some coins impatiently at me.

I shake my head no.

“You’re right,” the cashier is saying. “Let me just figure out how to change it.”

The woman behind me groans in disgust and jiggles her hand at me again. “Just take it. I don’t care.”

My French fails again, as shame starts to creep into me. It’s not just about the dang 35 cents, lady! I don’t want your money!

Here’s the thing: it’s pretty much accepted fact that the French like to complain. (My French dinner companion later that night called it a “national sport”).

I’ve stood in line behind people complaining at many places – the post office, the bank, pharmacies, the tax office. Complaining in motion (on metros, buses, even airplanes!) and on still land. The rule for me then is, wait patiently. But when it’s my turn, I get to deal with my affairs, too. And I wasn’t even complaining! I was just telling the truth!

Scene of the chocolate mousse scandal

Scene of the chocolate mousse scandal

I’m moved to a separate cash register to sort out the chocolate mousse affair. It is starting to seem like too much hullabaloo for 35 cents, but I’m relieved I’m no longer holding anyone else up. I tell a new cashier (a manager?) that they really don’t have to trouble themselves, it’s fine. She says nonsense. It was their fault. (Another admission of error? A banner day!)

The manager tries ringing up the desserts again and a third price appears. It’s neither the regular, nor the sale price, but some random number now.

“What’s going on?” she asks.

As long as she stays in good spirits, I’m happy to stay and see this thing through. But the woman before me – though I’m no longer blocking her way! – shoots me one last dirty glance as she leaves.

Hey, I’m pointing out products that are priced wantonly in this store! A public service!

The chocolate mousse finally rings up at the right price and the manager reimburses me the 35 cents. I think she’s kind of laughing at me, but it’s a kind laugh. “Enjoy your dessert, Madame.”

While somewhat embarrassed by the incident, I decide to focus on that – the enjoyment. The smiling cashiers, not the woman trying to make me feel small. And the chocolate mousse that tastes delicious, one sinful spoonful after another. Maybe heaven does have a price.


15 Responses to “Faux Pas Friday: Cheapskate at the Checkout”

  1. 1 Edna December 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

    I grew up learning how to be frugal as well, so I would have done the same thing! It’s the principle of those 35 cents 🙂


  2. 3 aureliad December 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I, too, grew up in a fiscally challenged household, and still grapple with “poverty mentality,” as a friend aptly describes it. It can be so crippling sometimes! But c’mon–I’ve stood in line behind many a Parisian at the Carrefour or Monoprix or yes, BioCoop, as they counted out centimes for what seems like H-O-U-R-S. And you know what? You just stand there and wait because that’s what you do here. So those impatient types with their jingling palms full of pennies and dramatic sighs can learn to be patient, just as we’ve had to do to survive France. Humph!


    • 4 paris (im)perfect December 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Exactly, Aurelia! I’ve stood behind so many people counting out centimes. We get to do it, too!

      Also, maybe we could start a club for cheapskates in Paris. That way we wouldn’t feel so socially crippled. We’d look for the inexpensive or free outings and know everyone in the group understands watching the wallet! 🙂


  3. 5 L December 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Good for you for standing your ground with that rude person behind you! And yay for nice employees.


  4. 7 academoiselle December 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Wow. I’m impressed by the level of customer service you got!

    I usually find myself way more irritated with the cashiers than any other customer. Doesn’t it seem like there’s always that one cashier at Monoprix who’s too busy checking his or her smartphone to attend to the massive queue? Ugh!

    I also think this is a reverse faux pas — as in, that grumpy lady made the faux pas, not you. Everyone knows that all shoppers have the inalienable right to count change interminably. Liberty, equality, fraternity, duh.


    • 8 paris (im)perfect December 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      I was impressed and delighted by the customer service, too! I totally agree – Monoprix cashiers seem to be the worst!

      I like the reverse faux pas idea, too. Definitely grumpy lady in the wrong here. Liberty to count centimes for all!


  5. 9 Franck December 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I spend and spare each cent of Euro as it was the last one on earth so I understand your way of life.
    A tip leadind to another one, excellent expo about John Matos’ work aka Crash, the pope of street art from NY!!! 4, rue martel, 75010, galerie Wallworks until the 28th. Colorfull and funny. Refreshing!!!


  6. 11 Amy Kortuem December 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    All those victories AND chocolate at the end. A big day in Paris for you!


  7. 13 Jennyphoria December 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Hey, if they still get to pay by check, and take their damn time doing it, you can expect to pay the right amount for your mousse! I’m sorry that the woman behind you was all scowly and made you feel uncomfortable, but I think the real surprise in this story was how nice the people working there were. Reason enough to go back. Well, that and chocolate mousse.


  1. 1 The Paris Blog: Paris, France Expat Tips & Resources »Blog Archive » Those Impatient Parisians Trackback on January 4, 2013 at 7:08 am

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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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