Friday, September 5, 2008

Money matters

One of the odder things I noticed (or imagined) since arriving here in Buenos Aires was what appears to be a distinct shortage of coins. To the extent that cashiers will plead with you to check if you have 40 centavos, because they don't have the 60 centavos it would require to give you correct change. Or they just round the price down in your favor. In the subway, where the cost of a single trip is 90 centavos, things are so bleak that they have introduced a special card, whereby your 10 centavos change can be credited electronically. A far cry from the U.S., where every household has some kind of enormous penny jar. I asked one of the teachers yesterday, and confirmed that this is not a figment of my imagination. There is indeed a city-wide shortage of coins in Buenos Aires. Nobody can explain why. It just seems so ... odd.

Another currency-related note (vile pun intended) pertains to the 100 peso bill. Prominently featured is one of the country's former presidents, Julio Roca. Nothing particularly unusual there, one might think. Problem is, one of Roca's main contributions to the country's history was the extirpation of all of the indigenous populations (Argentina doesn't have issues with indigenous people because Roca just eliminated them all back in the 19th century). In response to criticism that portraying a mass-murderer on the country's most valuable banknote might be considered inappropriate, the government came up with the Orwellian response that the 100 peso note was the least circulated, and that Roca was thus less honored than - say - Bartolomeo Mitre (an infinitely more savory former president-scholar-writer), who appears on the lowly 2 peso note, which enjoys far greater circulation. Indeed.

Finally, I was amused to note (sorry!) on a currency exchange rate display earlier today that the pound sterling was denoted as the "libra Elizabeth".

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