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NinaSearching Feb 8th, 2011 09:26 AM

Berlin - cashiers withholding change? is this unusual?
Hi all --

I just returned from a great weekend trip to Berlin (I have never written a trip report, but in the last month I've been to both Berlin & Paris, so maybe I should) ...

In any case ... I've traveled in Germany before (Berlin, Frankfurt, Koln / Koblenz area, and road trip through Bavaria). In that time, I've never had an experience like the following, and was wondering if it sounds like a fluke or maybe some unwritten rule I've never been aware of.

On 5 separate occasions, when I handed over cash as payment, the cashier conspicuously avoided handing over the change. This happened a couple times at eateries (takeaway, so this was the cashier, not server), and I was a little annoyed but said nothing.

Once, however, it happened at a museum. Fee was 9.50. I handed clerk a 20, and he asked if I had .50. I did, so handed him 20.50. He then gave me back 10 even (not 11). When I corrected him, he said "oh, did you want that?" as he handed me the 1 euro coin.

On my final day, checking out of my hotel, the amount printed on my bill was 94 euro. I handed the front desk clerk 100 euro (2-50's). He said thank you, walked off, and made no gesture to return with my 6 euro change. When I got his attention again, he asked innocently, "did you need directions to the airport?" It was obvious he had no intention of giving me my 6 euro back.

Ordinarily, I don't make a big deal out of this kind of thing (I even tip when you "don't have to"), but 5 occurrence in 1 weekend make me think perhaps this is common custom and I just have been oblivious.

Can anyone shed light on this? Is it common practice for cashiers and front desk clerks to withhold your change after purchases? Was I rude for asking for it back?

chartley Feb 8th, 2011 10:10 AM

I remember reading once that if you said "Danke schon" when handing over money, a German would assume that you didn't want any change and were leaving a tip. I don't know if that is true, but it could be there is some cultural misunderstanding here.

Mainhattengirl Feb 8th, 2011 10:11 AM

No, you were fully correct to do so and they are completely wrong. I would write a note of complaint to the hotel mgr. or to any of the establishments that did this. If they do not send some sort of apology, then a bad review on Trip Advisor or a name and shame here on Fodors.

Michael Feb 8th, 2011 10:29 AM

The same thing happened to me in France; Limoges and La Roque-Gageac, to be precise. The waiter picks up the bill with the cash and says "C'est tout?". An affirmative means that he will keep the change; it was up to me to be aggressive and say "la monnaie, s.v.p."

Cowboy1968 Feb 8th, 2011 10:37 AM

Not common, nor should it be tolerated.
But, what chartley wrote is also true: If you said "Danke" / thank you while handing over the money it means "keep the change".
Nevertheless, the situations you described are so odd that the latter should not have been the case.
Maybe there had been a misunderstanding at the eateries - but it would be totally unusual to give or expect a tip in museums or at hotel desks. The only halfway sensible explanation would be that the museum cashier or hotel concierge had been pulling your leg.. Berliners have a bit of a rough humor ;)

Christina Feb 8th, 2011 01:53 PM

were you rude for asking for your change back? Are you serious? I don't know of any place on earth where it is rude to expect people to pay you what you are due just because you didn't have the exact change to pay the bill. If it were a few centimes, one might not care, but it still wouldn't be rude to ask for it. It is rude for any kind of person to jsut keep your money without asking.

lindy27 Feb 8th, 2011 02:36 PM

If would have been fine in each case to ask for your change back, and I assume you should have been given it in the first place.

I know with waiters when I pay I come up with what change I want back and tell them when I hand the money over, but we never experienced that with a hotel or museum.

logos999 Feb 8th, 2011 03:31 PM

Never happened to me in Germany. Of course, I only say "Danke" after I get the change. Otherwise, as mentioned, it would mean "keep the change". :D

treplow Feb 8th, 2011 04:20 PM

In Germany, where the tip (Trinkgeld/Service) is supposedly included in the bill, I always tell the cashier or service people how much money I want back, adding some change to the check. For ecample, if the bill is EUR10,50 and I hand the cashier (or server) a EUR20 bill, I might say: "Bitte geben Sie mir EUR8 zurueck". That approach is perfectly appropriate and leaves no doubt as to what I exopect.

Attnymom Feb 8th, 2011 04:51 PM

The same thing happened to me at an eatery by the train station in Munich. I just stood there with my hand out until the cashier finally re-opened the cash register and handed me my correct change. I assumed she was trying to scam me hoping I wouldn't notice (not likely) or I would be too timid to say something because I was obviously a tourist. I eventually received my correct change, but I was still annoyed.

Mainhattengirl Feb 8th, 2011 09:23 PM

Please do not confuse the words Service Charge and Tip. That line on your bill or on the menu that says Service charge is NOT a tip and the server does NOT get this. This money goes to the establishment and is used to pay for things like health insurance, vacation pay, things like that, for the employees. A tip is a tip and goes to the server, who may or may not be sharing with the kitchen, the bar staff, the dishwashers, etc. Some restaurants have servers share, others don't.

I have never heard of cashiers in stores, museums or hotels keeping the change. This is a scammy sort of way of doing business, and management should be informed of it.

nz101 Feb 8th, 2011 09:40 PM

I never came across this, but if so, I wouldn't have been happy either. Generally I tried to either have the correct amount or would give a bit extra and say 'keep the change' if I was in a restaurant for example. I never tipped at museums, trains, supermarkets, etc.

Thanks for 'danke schon' tip guys, I didn't realise this. I must have always said it when receiving my change.

lowcountrycarol Feb 9th, 2011 12:23 AM

I am reading this with interest about this experience in Germany. Our dear friends in Portugal have a small family run restaurant that quite a few Dutch, British and German tourists like for the authentic food and warm atmosphere.

Interestingly, our friends say that no matter how much the bill could be and excellent service given it is usually the German patrons that never leave a tip for the staff that works very hard.

Cowboy1968 Feb 9th, 2011 01:15 AM


It's fine to say "Danke schön" when you RECEIVE the change.
Just don't say it when handing over the money (unless you want them to keep the change).

A common way to tip is to announce the amount you want to pay (incl. the tip) to the waiter. For example, if the check is €11.50, many people will hand over a €20 bill and say "12, please" - so the waiter will give back €8 as change and keep 50c as tip.

Tipping in family-run restaurants -as NLcarol described- is a touchy issue.
In Germany, it would be considered very bad etiquette to tip the owner or owner's spouse in those small restaurants.
As some also employ one or two waitstaff, it gets complicated when you get served by non-family staff but the "boss" brings you the check.
Germans are unfamiliar with the habit of leaving change on the table. It is always part of a direct interaction with the waitstaff.
If you friends want the staff to get tips, they should let the waitstaff do the payment procedure at the table after they brought the check. It will be more probable that the patrons will give the change or part of it directly to the waiter at the table than leave something.

NinaSearching Feb 9th, 2011 01:42 AM

Thanks so much for your replies.

I have been living in Netherlands for the last 6 weeks, and have gotten accustomed for saying "Laat maar zitten" (let it sit) when I don't want change back. If you don't say that, or "de rest is voor u," they will give you the change even if it's just 2 cents.

I guess I didn't think about there being a different closing terminology for transactions in Germany. It is entirely possible (probable) that I said "danke." Although I still think it's kinda strange at the hotel, I get that it could be confusing.

Thanks again. This is really helpful.

TommieG Feb 9th, 2011 04:25 AM

The tip from treplow is a good one, indicate clearly how much you want to pay (e.g. 12 if the bill is 11,50), or how much you want back (e.g. 8 if the bill is 11,50 and you give 20).
This also works very well in the Netherlands, besides the good 'methods' mentioned by NinaSearching (Laat maar zitten and De rest is voor u). In the Netherlands it is also not strange or bad etiquette to leave some change on the table or on the bill itself if you hand it over.

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