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Travel Tales: Trying to change currency in Paris

When I visited Paris for the first time, I didn’t exchange my money into euros before I went because I had a feeling I’d get a better price in Paris itself, seeing as it is the domestic hub of the euro, and there’d be plenty of banks able and willing to take my U.S. dollars.

We made it to BNP Paribas, which is a well-known multi-national bank in Paris to exchange our cash.


It was about 11:45 a.m. before I received my first customer service culture shock in Paris, while waiting in line at the bank, behind about 3 people.

The cashier behind the glass, suddenly raps on it and says in French to a man in front of us, to turn and tell us that after him, the bank will be closed for the day.

Keep in mind that we had been standing in line for about 15 minutes already, we didn’t just arrive off the street.

We were confused of course because instead of just telling us directly when we entered: Hey the line is closed, please come back tomorrow, she proceeds to confuse everyone in line by trying to get the guy in front of us to tell us the dirty deed.

I guess she thought since we looked more like tourists, the guy in front may have had a better chance explaining to us in English than she would, what the new deal was with her line closing.

The guy had no idea how to explain to us in English that we would not be served (how awkward!), but luckily he realized BF was a Parisian and understood everything without needing translation.

Or maybe this was a new style of French “politeness” (read: passive-aggressiveness towards foreign tourists).

When we enquired as to why she would close the line she said: It’s because it’s getting close to my lunch time.


When we left, BF just shook his head and said: Welcome to Paris. This is why I left this godforsaken country.


I asked if it was a normal thing to just dismiss customers, and he said it wasn’t unheard of, because employees (not the managers) in France are quite strict on their hours and making sure they squeeze every minute out of their deserved holidays and lunch breaks even if it means to the ruin of the business!

I just couldn’t believe that she would arbitrarily cut the line in front of us, especially seeing as we had been waiting patiently for our turn.

They absolutely WILL NOT stay even a minute later than they have to, which I guess is the difference I see between North Americans who work and for the most part, are willing to do what it takes to help out (although sometimes to the detriment of their health and their salaries).

For me, the most mind-boggling part is that the currency exchange counter would be closed right after lunch!

Can you believe it?

A bank, an entity is well-known all across North America to be open at least until 5 p.m. (sometimes later, depending on how friendly your bank is), would close in the afternoon and you wouldn’t be able to conduct any currency exchanges at all.

For me, I had a brief deja vu of having experienced similar French-style “hospitality” in stores particularly in Quebec, where they will pretty much not understand what the meaning of business and selling is.

They’ll make you wait at the counter with your items while they chat to their colleagues instead of rushing over to take your money and cash you out right away.

Luckily for us, BF being from Paris, he remembered a small currency exchange booth with the best prices in town just around the corner of BNP Paribas, and we went over there to change our money without muss and without fuss.

We even got a better rate than at the bank, and from then on, we never frequented BNP Paribas or any other money changer again except this particular one in Paris.


  • Corianne

    I always withdraw from ATMs. I do bring some euros in banknotes, the amount depending on where you’re going, to exchange in case of an emergency or if my cards don’t work. Have never needed to exchange them yet. That’s a plus, having the euro as a currency. I think you’ll be able to exchange it pretty much anywhere in the world.

  • SarahN

    Oh my – when was this? I only ask cause… I don’t travel with cash and exchange it. I withdraw it from an ATM. It just makes more sense, even if it’s not saving me $s and Cs. Any cash lost is lost, but the bank is responsible for your money in the bank, up to a point. So, yeah, I don’t ever pre or post exchange for money when I’m travelling to a developed economy – which extends to SE Asia, and New Caledonia.

  • cantaloupe

    Here in Abu Dhabi, since it is currently Ramadan, everything is closed most of the time. It is always a gamble trying to figure out if it’s worth it to go out and try to go somewhere specific, because there’s a good chance it’ll be closed. My bank is open from 9am to 2pm, (i.e. less hours than the ones I am required to be at work) but not on Fridays. The liquor store is open from 10am to 5pm, but not on Saturday, and only from 2pm to 5pm on Fridays. All the corner groceries are probably closed right now (it’s 1pm) because it is Friday midday prayer and everyone closes shop to go to mosque and pray. We have a specific list of restaurants that are willing to open during the daytime for this month. Most other places deem it a waste of money, since most of the population is currently fasting.

    It’s fascinating. And thankfully only for a month, heh. Although the bank always has shitty hours. I have to do all my banking on Saturday, the one day a week the bank is open for hours other than the ones I’m at work for. And I often have to wait a ridiculous amount of time. Money changers are more plentiful and more reasonable with their hours though.

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