I love noticing the little things that are different than in the USA and Canada as we travel around the world. I found a number of things that you can do with coins that you either can’t do in the USA or Canada or can no longer do with coins.
The USA is one of the few countries in the world that has somewhat limited usage of coins for money. For example, the largest coin commonly used in the USA is the quarter, worth 25 cents. (Wait, wait, before you start arguing that there is the dollar coin in the USA, it hasn’t been minted since 2011 and about the only place you see them used regularly is in casinos.)
The paper Euro starts at a 5 Euro note. Below that, everything is coins. They come in denominations of 2€, 1€, 0.5€, 0.2€, 0.1€, 0.05€, 0.02€ and 0.01€. I definitely find myself carrying more coins in my pocket in Europe than I do in the USA.
I am not sure if it is because of greater acceptance of coins, or just custom, but I have noticed that there are many things in Spain that coins are used for that either don’t exist in the USA or aren’t used regularly.
For my first example, this is something that used to be available in the USA, but is now very rare – cigarette machines. Cigarette machines used to be all over in the USA, but their use has been heavily restricted. They can only exist in locations where individuals under 18 years of age are not allowed to enter. I can’t remember the last time I have seen a cigarette machine in the States.
In Spain, most restaurants and bars have a cigarette machine. They have a sign on or near it that says that you must be 18 in order to purchase cigarettes, but I am not sure how they enforce that rule.
Speaking of vending machines, there are plenty of the typical vending machines that sell soda, snacks, etc. here as well. One thing that is different than in the USA and Canada is that often time these are stand-alone vending machines are built into a nook in a wall on the street. Most of the time in the USA or Canada you see vending machines as part of another business – hockey rink, corner of the mall, hotel lobby, etc. In Spain, they are usually just set up by themselves with no tie to an adjoining business.
The thing that I noticed is that many machines sell items that you don’t typically see sold in vending machines in the USA and Canada. For example, next to the machine that you can get a Coke and bag of chips is a machine that you can get smoking materials such as rolling papers, filters, pipes for smoking tobacco (or other things) and super strong breath mints to mask the smell of tobacco (or other things). Right next to that machine is usually a machine where you can purchase condoms, lubricants and other adult related paraphernalia. I don’t think I have ever seen that in the USA or Canada.
In the City Park in Barcelona we came across this coin operated toilet. For 0.50€ you can have a clean restroom in the middle of the park. The claim is that the restroom is sanitized after each use. I spent 0.50€ just to see what it looked like. Stainless steel inside. Very clean. Air hand dryer. And a timer. Apparently you get 15 minutes to do your business. There is a countdown clock on the wall. Not sure what happens if you try and overstay your 15 minutes.
Many of the churches and cathedrals in Spain will take your coins as well. I am not Catholic, so maybe this is common in Catholic churches in the USA and Canada, but I have never seen them before. In Catholic churches you can light a candle called a votive candle, or prayer candle. Usually there is a small fee for the candle. In many of the churches we have seen in Spain, there are no longer real, wax candles. Instead, there are banks of electric candles. You drop a coin in the slot and a number of candles light according to how much money you put in. I tried a couple, it looks like you get one light for every 0.10€. Not sure how long the “candle” stays lit. I am also not sure why things have moved to electric candles. Is it to reduce fire hazards? Reduce cleaning and maintenance that wax candles require? Anyway, this might be common in the USA as well, but not being Catholic I have only been in a Catholic church a few times in the past 20 years in the USA and don’t recall seeing the electric candles.
In virtually every grocery store of any size I have seen in Spain there are small lockers at the entrance of the store. You are not allowed to bring a backpack, large purse or bag, or bag of goods purchased in another store into a grocery store. You need a 1€ coin to use these. Insert the coin, close the door, turn the key and remove it. When you come back later to retrieve your bag, you get your coin back. In addition to the cubicles, many stores have coin operated chains where you can chain up your personal grocery buggy or bicycle.
So there you go! A few uses of coins that you don’t see every day in the USA or Canada.