16 April 2010


My back hurts. Thanks a helluva lot, Swiss currency.

The smallest Swiss denomination of paper money is the 10-franc note. Below that, it's all shrapnel, and the 5-franc coin is the size of a flying saucer. This means you're often carrying around about 10 kilos of coinage in your pocket until that poor pocket bursts, sending cold centimes and francs down your leg, clattering to the street, making you lots of new friends who need coins for their parking meters.

Two days ago in the grocery store I paid for my veggies and wine with what, to a dumb American (moi), looked like $2.50 in quarters. Happily, it was six 2-franc coins. (Real value about 11 bucks American.) It was fun to pretend I'd just gotten two bottles of good French and Swiss wine plus fresh fennel root for $2.50.

But my sore back and frayed pocket still ask: why all the weighty coinage?

Here's my theory (listen up Barak "Stimulus-Smarty" Obama): CH is a prosperous country for many complex reasons, and one reason is clearly that they know how to make people want to spend their money as soon as they get it. How? Load down their pockets with heavy metal. Soon, if they don't spend it, they'll tip over as they're leaving the boulangerie with their change, and be stuck there like a pinned bug until they buy another baguette.

Take heed Mr. President.


  1. I have jars of unspent coins because I can't wait to get rid of them when I get home, and then I always forget to take them with me the next day. The thing is, the Swiss don't even blink when you hand over a 100 CHF note for a 10 CHF purchase. I tried the same thing (In Euro) over the border in France and the cashier was not at all pleased.

  2. Yeah, I've stopped apologizing for giving cashiers CHF100 notes after getting puzzled looks. But then, last week, a waiter scowled when all I had was CHF 100 for a 4-franc glass of wine. But I think he was determined to scowl at me for any reason. So I left him a half-franc tip. We'll see what happens next week.

  3. You're too generous! In my books, a waiter who scowl at you doesn't deserve a tip at all! Especially given the fact that, in CH, the waiter's tips are already included in the bill. Maybe that's why so many waiters in CH are not exactly "client oriented"...