Currency part 1


India has taught me many lessons, and a big one is about money. Turns out, there's a shortage of coins in this country, so when you need one or two rupees of change, you'll frequently get a candy instead. One piece of candy equals one rupee. It happens at my favorite food stall, Sri Durga Bhavan, it happens at the bakery, it even happens at the supermarket. Everywhere there's a cash register, there's a container of candy right next to it. Interesting side note … you can't use candy to buy stuff at the super-market - it's one-way only.

When I'm in the US, I love the fact that I rarely have to deal with coins. My wallet doesn't even have a compartment for coins, only bills and cards. Coins go into my pocket. In Denmark, that's tricky, because coins are much more widely used, with denominations up to what corresponds roughly to $4. And they're heavy, too. So my system doesn't work so well there, and I will work really hard to get rid of coins when I buy something, doing math in my head to figure out how to minimize the total weight of the coins I will be carrying around after the transaction.

In India, coins are worth so little that most people don't care, hence the candy. But one funny thing I noticed about myself was that precisely because coins were scarce, I instinctually started to optimize transactions so I would get more of them. Crazy, but true. "Ooh, they're scarce, gotta have me some more of those!" 

500 rs edited

At the other end of the scale, something funny happens too. As a foreigner, my money comes from outside the country, through the bank ATMs, which means I mostly get 500 rupee notes. But whenever you show up with one of those in one of the regular shops, there's a big fuss. "It's too big, don't you have something smaller, what do we do now…" They'll ask you to wait while they send some guy to another shop and change it.

The other day, I was trying to pay 20 rupees for four shirts that had been ironed, and they wouldn't take the 500. The lady in the store across the street wouldn't either. But then the taylor thought he might be able to help me out. Turned out he only had four 100 rupee bills. So he told me to come back after half an hour to collect the fifth one. That was okay, he got my 500, I took his four 100s, was able to pay, and an hour later I came back and got the extra 100. Worked like a charm.

The thing is, most ordinary Indians who make a living driving a rickshaw, making chai, selling food, ironing shirts, sewing pants, selling coconuts, and so on, for other locals, they rarely have to deal with a 500 note, because they make their money the same way, from small transactions conducted with each other, and so they mostly never carry so much money at any one time. Think about it - lunch at my local place is just 15 rupees. Getting one shirt ironed is 5 rupees. A rickshaw ride within the area is 20-40 rupees. Why would they deal with a 500? They wouldn't, and they don't.


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