Chèque ou Espèces? Cheque or Cash

French cheque book

It often takes a holiday in another country to throw into relief the quirks of the one you live in. We returned recently from 10 days in Sweden (hence the blogging hiatus), where things are a bit different from France. In France, you may well be asked if you want to pay by cheque or cash in a shop or restaurant. In many Swedish establishments, people will look at you as if you have just descended from Mars if you try to pay by either of those methods.

In Sweden, payment by credit/debit card or by mobile phone is ubiquitous. They haven’t used cheques for years. We even had lunch in a bakery-cum-café where they didn’t take cash at all.

Cheque it out

Of course, many places in France accept cards, but a lot of people choose to pay by the more old-fashioned methods. I can remember waiting in the supermarket checkout queue before they had cheque-printing machines while someone searched for a pen for five minutes, gave up and borrowed the checkout employee’s pen, laboriously wrote out the cheque and then the cheque stub, pocketed the pen by mistake and then fished around for another couple of minutes to retrieve it. Okay, I’m not the most patient person on the planet.

However, because of the increase in cheque fraud and bounced cheques, many places refuse to accept them now. At one time, cheques were accepted without question as bona fide. This was because going overdrawn is illegal and you got a black mark from la Banque de France if you did it. When we arrived in France, we handed over a cheque for our new car and then drove off. Nowadays, the garage would insist on cashing it first.

When filling in a cheque in France you have to put the name of the place where you are writing it. Despite my researches, I can’t find out why you need to do this. Can anyone enlighten me?

Money, money, money

[Appropriately, the subheading above is an Abba song.] What about cash? The first paper money was issued in 1795 in France. Nonetheless, some people distrusted a bit of paper and preferred to stick with coins, which had a more tangible and durable appearance.

Even now, French people often prefer to pay with cash rather than a card. Attempts to substitute an “electronic wallet”, known as Moneo, for cash were unsuccessful. The idea was that you could use the Moneo card to pay for small purchases, making it quicker and easier for both the customer and the retailer.

The downsides were that the retailer had to pay an annual fee and buy a Moneo payment machine. The user had to pay an initial fee for the card and then an annual fee and ensure the card was topped up. The cards were not PIN-protected, either, so if you lost one, someone else could benefit. Nowadays, most bank cards are adapted to the Moneo system, so you don’t need to have an additional card or pay an extra fee.

A word of warning if you visit France on holiday: many rural restaurants still don’t accept cards, so check beforehand and make sure you have plenty of cash. If not, you will learn a new French phrase, “Faire la vaisselle” (doing the washing-up)…

You might also like

Customer Service (?) in France
You Can Bank on Bureaucracy in France
Surviving in France: 10 Top Tips

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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14 Responses to Chèque ou Espèces? Cheque or Cash

  1. Loved your description of the person searching for pen etc… 🙂 I think I’ve been stuck behind someone like that a fair few times too!! It always seems to take them by surprise that they actually have to pay for their purchases, after they’ve slowly bagged them up – he he !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, it can be frustrating, especially if you are naturally impatient, like me! Customers’ behaviour at the supermarket checkout is probably a subject for another blog post – although it’s not confined to France, of course…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill Brown says:

    Apologies, Vanessa, if I’ve posted twice but this didn’t seem to appear! The only time I’ve used a cheque in the last few years is for a payment exceeding my monthly credit card limit – not that logical but the card just physically doesn’t work. I have to admit right from the off I’ve never filled in the place name and no-one gives a toss. Cash? Well, there’s plenty of black money still about!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jill Brown says:

    The only time I’ve used a cheque in the last few years is when the amount was higher than my monthly credit card limit – not logical really but the card physically just doesn’t work. Also, have to admit that I’ve never filled in the place name on a cheque as from the first one I wrote no-one ever gave a toss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I only use cheques when you can’t use anything else. I don’t think the banks check everything on a cheque that’s presented. An association I’m involved with once received a couple of cheques that weren’t signed. So another person in the team just put a squiggle where the signature should have been and it was accepted by the bank perfectly happily. Probably why cheque fraud is so easy.

      Like

  4. lostfrance says:

    Hi
    I believe that putting the place you wrote the cheque on it, is because it’s a mini contract and like all the contracts in France you sign, date and place yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you for this. I have always puzzled over why you had to put the place and hadn’t connected this with being like a contract. This seems a plausible reason.

      Like

  5. Osyth says:

    I was entirely perplexed by the proliferation of cheques when I arrived in Cantal. Here in Grenoble a little less so … in fairness it’s a pretty international city. But here’s the thing … I got used to it and it became my normal and when I then spent my year in New England I found the reliance on plastic odd. It’s as though I have back pedalled to my teens and I rather like it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I have to admit I have become more used to cheques, although I rarely use them myself – only when no other form of payment is possible. As I said to someone else, I guess we shouldn’t be too hasty to dismiss the slower pace of life here, of which using cheques is an example.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. heroicarules says:

    Have watched people shopping in local markets and paying by cheque at a stall, used to be quite normal. The cash desks at supermarkets now put the cheque through and it prints all the info and the person just signs which is so much speedier thank goodness. And contactless is catching on for small purchases, again very handy. France is such an endless paradox!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, thankfully they have cheque-printing tills in supermarkets now. In some ways, the French attitude to payment methods, certainly in the rural areas, reflects the slower lifestyle – something I suppose we shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to lose.

      Like

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