My actual hands, and my actual change. As captured by my web cam, as I couldn't find my camera. Also, I think I need to moisturize.
This is probably not one of my weightier posts, but it just might make a difference on your next trip to the shuk or even the super. If you want to be Israeli, plan on having exact change.
This is not because vendors run out of change. This is because vendors (from cashiers to department stores) see themselves as professional authorities, and it is their job to make sure that you don't disturb the balance of agurot to shekels in their change drawers. So what if this inconveniences you, the customer. In Israel, the sales person is always right!
Here's an example: today I went to Eden, which is essentially the Israeli Whole Foods. My total purchases came out to something like 90.23, and I paid with a 100 shekel bill. The checkout girl took my money-- something she might not have done if I had tried to pay with a 200 shekel bill. Then I would have heard the classic question, ein lach kesef katan? Don't you have smaller money (i.e. smaller denominations of money)? It's sometimes actually difficult to get rid of a 200 shekel bill... don't even think of using it to buy a 14 shekel felofel serving!
Back in the US, this is where our transaction would have stopped. The checkout girl would have entered in the money I gave her into the cash register and dutifully returned to me a five-shekel coin, two two-shekel coins, one one-shekel coin, one half-shekel coin, and three ten-agurah coins. (There are technically 100 agurot to a shekel, but they abolished the one agurah coin a while ago, so the smallest denomination in our money is 10 agurot. This means that the price of my wasabi beans and organic pitot gets rounded to the nearest 10 agurot, which always makes me feel special when I get a three-agura discount.) And, ok, technically a checkout girl in the US would not give me my change in shekels, but you get my point. American checkout people believe the customer and the computer are always right, so they don't like to do any hard math of their own.
Instead, the checkout girl looked at my money, looked at the total, and asked me if I had 20 agurot. I fished in my purse, found 20 agurot, and received back one ten shekel coin.
This is a really small example, but I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me in Israel. I'm always getting asked if I have fifty agurot, kesef katan, or smaller bills. Israelis will stand at their cash registers for 10 minutes while you find and solicit exact change from your spouse in the next store rather than give you a lot of extra change.
By the way, if you really don't have exact change, just tell the checkout person that and act really apologetic. They will take pity on you and dip into their stores of change in dire emergencies. Unless you're trying to buy falofel with a 200-shekel bill... then you might starve. What do you think they are, in the business of accepting and returning money from customers? Oh. Well.... still. You'll starve.
Have you noticed the Israeli mania for exact change? Has anyone ever actually refused to take your money because you couldn't pay in kesef katan?