Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hay Sueltos? (Got Change?)

$20 bills can be a liability in these parts. I can’t tell how much is undercapitalized enterprises and how much is just “the way it’s done” but having small denominations on hand is a chronic struggle. Sacagawea dollar coins are the best, easy to handle, big enough to get something done, small enough to avoid a crisis.

For a $6 bus fare I gave the helper a twenty. He rustled around in his pockets, shook his head and asked if I had any change. “No, but I can wait a while,” I replied, since we had a two hour ride to collect small bills. About an hour later I saw (my) twenty-dollar bill go out the window to pay a $2 road toll. The lady in the booth rolled her eyes and starting handing over the change. I got mine soon thereafter.

On another bus trip, I watched one of the food vendors hassling his colleague for change for a dollar, for a customer who’d bought 50 cents of cookies. Took a while but the 50-cent pieces finally got handed over.

I remember in the US frantically digging in my pockets to come up with change to avoid getting 85 cents back in coins. Here, the stores take it the other way. I fronted a $20 for a $16.25 grocery bill, and the checker wanted to know if I had $1.25 on hand. I remember this feeling from college days. Squirreling away quarters to have enough to do laundry when the time came.

Today I waited about 5 minutes beside a bucket of strawberries on the sidewalk. These were some really nice berries. The women eating from a bag of them nearby was waiting for her change. After a notable wait, the fellow came trotting back around the corner with 8 quarters of change for her, just in time for me to pay him $2, exactly.

A famer might start the day in the market with no change on hand. A bakery might have some quarters and 10 ones in the drawer by midafternoon. I ended up with a $3 internet bill, and only a $20 in my pocket. The attendant slipped out the side door and down the street to get change. When the same thing happened the next week, I offered to go for the change myself, to the Banco del Austro 8 doors down. The guard stopped me on the way in, “Whaddya want?” (in Spanish but you get the message)
“I need to get some change.”
“For a HUNDRED.”
“No, just for a twenty.”
“Oh, OK, go on in.”
Am I to understand that even the banks are short around here? KD

1 comment:

John B. said...

When I was in Cuba about 10 years ago, one of the amenities the hotel provided was they would change my 20/50/100 bills. No ATM, no credit card. So in the morning we would get all ones for change before we struck out into Havana.

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