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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Boardwalk & Park Place

On our recent trip to Kenya, it reminded me of how so often foreign money can seem like Monopoly money.  Usually, it's more colorful than American greenbacks and the notes are sometime even different sizes.  So when it's your turn at the till, you fumble through your wallet exposing who knows how much cash and just hope that the cashier is being honest with you when you say 'is this right?' 

When I studied abroad in Mexico oh so many moons ago, I remember one of our first class trips to Patzcuaro, Michoacan.  We were just boarding the bus to take off for our first excursion of the day and the bus was surrounded by tons of little kids selling gum, peanuts and papitas (the most delicious and amazing potato chip ever made).  I wanted to buy some gum - the cute little colorful chicklet kind.  This was October and I had been in Mexico for about 2 months with oh, I dunno, like eight years of Spanish under my belt, so when I asked how much the gum was, I probably should have understood immediately that he was telling me something like five cents.  But no.  At that moment, I entered a Spanish comprehension void and just handed the kid a bill equal to like ten times the costs, asking "is this correct."  That look of bewilderment when those big brown eyes looked up at me to say 'Si' should have tipped me off!  But no.  I think I only figured it out months later!

With over one year in Tanzania under our belts, we're pretty savvy to the value of things and what each note is worth.  The largest note, 10,000 T. Shillings, is equal to about $7.  And since this is a cash economy, imagine how many 10,000 T. Shilling notes you have to have in your wallet just to get the basic errands done.  Never mind when its pay day for the staff and all the monthly bills are due!  Plus, the largest amount you can take out of the ATM at one time is 400,000 T. Shillings, equal to about $270.  Thankfully, you're not limited to how many withdrawals you can make in a day, but that just leads to people making multiple transactions at the ATM and the ATM's running out of money!

Kenya also uses the Shilling, but with one less zero on the end.  So 10,000 K. Shillings is more like $130, not $7.  You can imagine the kind of confusion this leads to when you're at the store and something only costs 1,500 K. Shillings.  Your Tanzanian brain thinks its a steal ($1) when in reality you've actually just dropped twenty bucks!

Millie has yet to learn the value of money.  To her its value is equivalent to fun times and to me, in her hands, it's equal to at least 20 minutes of distraction!


Looks like a lot, but probably wouldn't even cover one trip to grocery store!

What are your experiences with foreign money?  How long does it take for you to figure out how much you're actually spending?

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