Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Value of Change

Do we have this thing in the US where we are afraid, or embarrassed to pay for something with change? Do shop keepers not want to give change? I can't remember ever having any issue with using change. I know it may seem a little juvenile; like a child taking in his piggy bank to pay for something with all the change he saved, but why not? It all spends the same, no?

This came to my mind a few days ago as I was in Starbuck's - yep, tons of those here - and rather than give them a large bill to break I decided to lighten my load and give them all of my change. They were most appreciative, my shoulders were happy for the lighter bag. However, since living in Turkey, now every time I go to pay in change, I think about it. There were several occasions where we would be shopping in Istanbul and I would have exact change, but my husband would discourage me from giving it. "Not here. Use the bills." He is not conscious in this way by any means, and one of those like me who could not really give a rat's ass what others think but yet, he paused. Hmmm. I could never quite figure out why that is. It's had me thinking for many years now. I'm not loosing sleep, but obviously it has stuck with me as an odd cultural nuance.

I assumed it was because maybe culturally change has a certain connotation to it in some cultures that someone who uses change doesn't have enough money to pay for something? No one has ever suggested this, but this is just my personal logic - which who knows where that could lead. But really, think about it. Change - requested by beggars, you drop it on the street to the musician, you throw it haphazardly around the house, loose it, find it in the couch, the car and who knows where else. Its treated as almost worthless. So the only thing I could come up with is that over time this has kind of stuck, and in some places change is not considered acceptable. Which is just odd because banks still count it as equal last time I checked.

And in Turkey, their change is heavy. I think they have updated this a bit, but my wallet would really swell. It was bad enough the currency was worth so little for such a long time you always had a big wad of cash anyway. And funny, in Turkish the literal translation was "iron money" or demir para as its called. It sure felt like iron in my wallet it was so heavy.

Revisiting this subject again, I asked my husband what he thought about it. I am informed it is because the people who work in the shops are not service oriented. They will get annoyed because they have to count the change. Gosh, that makes me wish I had the equivalent of thousands of pennies for those times! Looking at it from that perspective, I can see that. A lot of places are not always that service oriented. Give too much change and you'll get that look - ya, you know the one. A smirk. And then that will only lead to confrontation. They don't want the change, but yet give them a large bill and ironically they won't have change! They are hoarding it! A beautiful nuance of the city that can cause serious street life confrontation. And at least one time in your day you will see some shop keeper running around trying to gather up change and mysteriously no one ever has any!

In taxis in Istanbul, they always wanted change. Small bills, or the "iron money" would do. I would get a few smirks for giving the "iron money", but I didn't care about those because I knew they would use it. When I lived there, at least once a day I was having to use my new found city assertiveness with a taxi driver to get him to give up his change. It would drive me insane because after "discussing" the fact I had no change, he would then pull out a huge wad of change!

I understand they don't want to get stuck without it and have to drive around and look for it, but my money is genuine! So just as I developed a sarcastic answer for women who would blatantly ask "Did you gain weight?" I had one for the pushy change mongers- "You don't have change?". Open my wallet and say well, "I can give you 50, 50, or 100?". It sounds mean, but its street survival. If they ask politely, then I wouldn't do it, but ask with an attitude, I'll give more. And when its not in your native tongue, that's not really you speaking anyway. Its not the soul speaking, so look out.

As a result of these many confrontations, I found myself always apologizing when giving my money to the taxi driver for not having change?!!! Why is that my fault? Or a faulty thing to begin with? This is the cultural norm! Everyone is sorry! Again, street survival to avoid the confrontation to come. In Istanbul if you know you don't have change before you get into the taxi, its an appreciated norm that you should tell the driver where you are going and the smallest bill that you have - in case he doesn't have change! It will avoid that small confrontation, or that Allah Allah with a tsk, which is kind of the Western equivalent of maybe saying "Jesus Christ", but with slightly less severity?

When I first moved to Dubai, the taxi drivers here thought I was nuts because I was always apologizing for not having change. They were all so kind about it. "Oh, its ok." And with a smile. So I assume this phenomenon doesn't exist in India and Pakistan where most of the drivers in Dubai are from? Furthermore, a lot of the service sector employees here are from the Far East - largely the Philippines. Give them change and they are more than happy to count it. Give them a large bill and they don't have change, they are more than happy to go find it. Gotta love that service! However, I must admit I do miss laughing inside at the whole irony of people giving change more value than its actual worth!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Which way to pass

Always in Dubai when walking in a crowded place I have to laugh. You know when you come up to someone and you get stuck - should you go right, left, right...here it seems a little more complex. I notice this because we have various cultures who live together from different sides of the street. For example if I approach an Indian and I move to my left, they will mirror me and move to their right. My theory is this is because they drive on the opposite side of the road, thus pass people on the right rather than the left. Its not a huge deal, and we don't spend hours there but its one of those funny, useless social observations of mine. Fortunately, people don't seem to have any issues with driving on the proper side of the road here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Alcohol and Prediction Contests

Well, again...consistency with my inconsistency to blog!

This week, Dubai announced that restaurants who cook with alcohol would no longer be allowed to do so. This is a Shariah law country, and that means no alcohol. Fine. I am all for abiding by the rules of the country where I live, no matter how strict that may be. The ironic thing about this rule is that those places who cook with alcohol are licensed to serve alcohol. Every place I have known to cook anything with alcohol has it clearly marked on their menus - alcohol, pork, vegetarian, etc. Cool reminder of the many cultures that live here. However, this new reinforcement of an apparently already established law is just baffling.

Ironically, the government came out two days later and said there was a misunderstanding. Restaurants can cook with alcohol, it just needs to be clearly marked on their menu. Hmmm...someone had a misunderstanding....

As I sit here and write this, in the dark..as it was earth hour. It was nice and we didn't bother to turn the lights back on. I could hear the massive amounts of cash going up in smoke in the firework display at the Dubai World Cup - the biggest pay out of all horse races. It went on forever.

Thinking of those poor horses, I was reminded that there is no gambling here..its not Sharia, or its un-Islamic to gamble. However, it is okay to have "Prediction Contests". Yes, you can take your "bet" at who you think will win in a prediction contest. When you arrive at the race, you purchase tickets. For each race, you then write down which horse you think will come in first, second or third place. You then put it in a box with all the other "predictions". Of all of those who guessed correctly, they are then put into a box and a drawing is held. The ticket that is picked is the winner...now if this is not some warped form of gambling, then I don't know what is! I guess it must have made someone's conscious feel better.