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They Fought The Law, And The Law Won

, , , , | Right | November 19, 2021

I have a tendency to come across the most random trivia without any intention to seek it out. I often just let this information rot, partly because my long-term memory is usually garbage, but also because I’m not expecting it to be of any use to me.

I step into a gas station intending to pay for my fuel, and I overhear this conversation between a customer and the cashier. The customer is holding a high-denomination bill; the display on the till is in the single-digits, and there’s a pack of cigarettes on the counter.

Customer: “What do you mean, you won’t accept it?”

Cashier: “I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough change for that.”

Customer: “You have to take it! It’s legal tender!”

“Legal tender” is one of those random trivia points I’ve read about, and recently enough that it hasn’t vanished into the recesses of my memory, so I decide to intervene.

Me: “Actually, no, he doesn’t.”

Customer: “What the h*** are you talking about?”

Me: “Strictly speaking, ‘legal tender’ means that it must be accepted for debts owed, like, if you were at [Restaurant], where you pay after you eat, they have to accept it because you owe them for the meal you’re digesting. If they refuse, they risk having the whole bill legally cancelled.”

I beckon to the cigarettes on the counter.

Me: “However, you don’t owe him, or [Gas Station], anything until he gives you the product, so he can refuse to accept your bill. Strictly speaking, he can refuse to accept any bill, and demand that you pay with, I don’t know… bottle caps. And if you really want your product from him, you’ll have to do as he says.”

Customer: “But—”

Me: “Further, once you give him your bill, he owes you the correct change, and that is a debt that you must accept legal tender for, no matter which legal tender he chooses, and if you refuse to accept what he offers you, the debt is invalid. So, if you’re going to insist that he accept your massive overpayment, he is within his rights to give you a giant mountain of coins which you must accept.”

The other customer pulls out a smaller bill — why did he even try to pay with a larger bill if he had smaller ones? — and pays for his cigarettes, quickly leaving.

Me: “Gas on [pump], please.”

Cashier: “Looks like [pump] is still going. Was that true about legal tender?”

Me: “It is in the US, not a hundred percent sure about things here, but would you risk it?”

Cashier: *Laughs* “Not after that!”

She Fought The Law, And The Law Won
He Fought The Law, And The Law Won

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What is the absolute most stupid thing you’ve heard a customer say?

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