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!


Sew Pretty Dresses said...

THAT is almost a Seinfeld episode! Right!?! So funny! Oh but nobody really uses cash in the US anymore. I know that because for those few that do use it, it looks really odd to see them counting out their money. Most places take credit cards now so there is just not much use for bills or change. Of course the ice cream man is still cash only...

Pam said...

That's so funny...I never thought of it, but yes, it could totally be a Seinfeld type episode! Cards everywhere..and no checks used in Turkey at all..and not that much here except for loan payments or things like that...I think the ice cream man's policy is the way to go!