Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making the change

I am feeling a little bitchy today.

I am usually on edge when my stash of small bills starts to dwindle. When I realized today that I was on my last $10 peso bill, and only have $100 peso notes left in my stock-pile, I had to start scheming.

You never want to be without small bills in this town. Paying for something with a $100 peso bill for anything that costs less than $50 pesos is a humbling experience. It seems that vendors would rather turn down your business than make change for your $100. Even a $50 peso note will get you a look if you are buying something for less than $20 pesos.

As petty as this seems, it gets stressful when you want to buy a banana licuado for $6 pesos at the kiosco on the corner or asparagus for $5 at the produce stand and realize you only have a $50 note. I am to the point now that I don’t even bother to try. Some vendors will begrudgingly make the change after a lengthy hem-and-haw session, but the shame I feel later for taking their small bills is so not worth it. (Damn that Catholic guilt.)

Nothing is worse than wanting to go to a milonga and realizing you only have a $100 peso bill. I once was forced to wait at the door of a milonga for 15 minutes waiting for them to make change for my $100. I felt like a naughty child caught lying to the teacher and forced to stand in the corner with a dunce cap on. Twice I have had to ask for change from fellow tangueros to avoid this situation. Now, I just don’t go out if I don’t have change, it’s not worth the stress.

To put this into perspective, a $100 Argentine peso note is roughly equivalent to $25 U.S. Most milongas cost $20 pesos (about $5 U.S.). Can you imagine getting the third degree from any cashier in the U.S. for trying to make a $4 purchase with a $20 bill? 

When my small bill stash starts to dwindle, I usually head to the big chain grocery store in my neighborhood, Carrefour. Their cashiers have never given me trouble with making change, although I usually break a $100 by making at least a $20 purchase. Today, however, I had lots of provisions to purchase so I brought two $100 peso bills just in case my purchase was over $100.

When the total came to $103, my heart sank. Add to the situation that I stupidly forgot to leave the one $10 bill I had at home and absentmindedly pulled it out with my big bills when I went to pay. Seeing the smaller bill, the cashier handed back one of my $100s and asked me to provide the smaller bill. Crap.

“No.” I said, “Necesito el cambio.”  (I need the change.)

She stared at me. “How dare you!” She said to me with her eyes, “You can’t expect me to give you $97 pesos in change!” I stared back, held my ground. I can be a stubborn bitch when I have to be, and I wasn’t about walk out the door with fewer small bills than I came in with.

She finally sighed, rolled her eyes and called a manager over to bring more small bills. They both made sure it took a few minutes and whispered to each other as I stood waiting. The man in line behind me groaned. He was probably a tourist because Argentines are used to this crap.

4 comments:

  1. wow! Who knew something so small could be sooo different in another country!

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  2. Yeah, there are many quirky things like this here. I need to find time to explain clothes and food shopping--those are frustrating adventures too.

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  3. Any of the banks will change a $100 note for smaller ones. They'll exchange notes for monedas too. I found most would do $10 at a time, a couple would do $20.

    Any time I passed a bank I'd peer in and if the queue for the cashiers was short enough I'd go in and get some change. A couple of minutes spent in the bank saves a lot of fibbing and stress...

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  4. Thanks for the advice, Mark. I should try the banks again. I gave up on them in about week two when I lost my ATM card and found the queues to be no less than 30 minutes whenever I went. Will have to be more diligent about peeking in from time to time. A new game for me--find a bank with no queue. :)

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