The look on her face changes exactly as expected. It’s all pleasant glad-to-be-of-service-sir smiles as she announces that the fruit juice and can of Red Bull will cost 35 dirhams.
Then she clocks the 500 dirham note that my hand is pulling from my wallet. Suddenly, she becomes flustered, her eyes narrow and the smile unthinkingly disappears. Her voice catches and she asks: “Er, have you got anything smaller, sir?”
I’m prepared for this. “I really sorry, but I’m afraid I haven’t.” And thus the delicate dance of the awkwardly large bank note begins. It’s something of a paso doble, two people standing off against each other, hoping the other will back down.
I know that I’m lying. I’ve probably got about 80 dirhams in smaller notes sloshing around in my wallet. But I also know that I’ve got to break down the 500 dirham note I got out of the airport cash machine somewhere. Better sooner than later; otherwise I might get trapped with it when someone genuinely hasn’t got change for it.
She’s making far bigger deal of it than she perhaps ought to as well. She knows that there is enough change in the till. And, if there isn’t, then she can switch a few notes around with the neighbouring till in order to provide enough change. But she doesn’t want to run too low on the small denomination notes, just in case she gets to a point when she genuinely hasn’t got enough.
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Neither party is driven by necessity here, but both are playing the long game. It’s not an essential battle to win, but it is a useful one. A crushing defeat is counterproductive – she doesn’t want me to spend ages going to a bank and coming back with smaller notes; I don’t want her to spend ages trying to negotiate with people in neighbouring shops in order to scrape together 465 dirhams – but a minor victory would be ever so handy.
I draw first blood. She takes the note and opens her till. She stares at it, then looks back at me as if to say “Are you absolutely sure, you awkward bastard?” I very nearly give way and reach for the clutch of fives and tens in my pocket. But I hold firm.
“I’m sorry,” I lie again, doubling the nagging guilt. “That’s all I’ve got.”
She doesn’t say a thing as her head goes down to the till drawer again. She lifts the drawer to unveil the stash of 100 dirham notes kept under it. She slides four of them up the side of the till until she has a better grip, then makes up the other 65 from the not insubstantial pile of smaller notes that were in the till in the first place.
She counts out my change like a Monopoly player in the game’s death throes; one who’s just landed on a hotel on Vine Street, a turn after landing on the hotel on Bow Street. I pull my best attempt at a “I really am sorry to do this to you” face and she hands over the money.
This time, I am the better dancer.