Saturday, January 24, 2009

Monetary Policy in Buenos Aires

In Argentina, a coin is called a moneda. And they are critically important for the everyday commerce of normal people like you and me. Especially if you want to take the bus, since they are the only form of payment accepted. Since the subte closes at 10:30pm (which would be the equivalent of the subway closing at 8 pm in the states) the bus is often a requirement for getting home from dinner sometime after midnight.

But there is a moneda shortage… everywhere there are signs reminding you there are no monedas, that you should share monedas and that if you don’t have them you may not be able to buy things. I have my own moneda policy; if asked, I will give them up unless I know I need them.

It’s not even just monedas, frankly. The money thing here generally is filled with suspicion (as it is in Bolivia and Peru as well), most smaller shops refusing to change a 100 pesos note (about $28). If you are lucky to find someone to break your cien nota, they will scrutinize that thing more than the first boy their daughter brings home. That’s if they even have change at all. And I am not going to even get into the counterfeiting thing….

But yesterday, I saw the true insanity of the monetary policy of Buenos Aires.

After my Spanish class, I had about an hour until I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch and pool time. It was another sweltering day, nearly 90 by noon and I was down in the microcentro, meaning the temperature was probably closer to 100. I decided to relieve myself of the stickiness and ducked into a chainlike coffee shop to enjoy some AC, grab a cup of coffee and do my Spanish homework. I ordered a short macchiato at 5.25 pesos and pull a 100 pesos note out of my wallet. The woman behind the counter is already shaking her head. No, I cannot buy my coffee with a hundred. But I only have a hundred, I respond. She proceeds to ask her colleagues at the three other cash registers if they have any change.

You can guess the response – simultaneous head shaking, horizontally.

No. Ugh.

The insanity is that I saw the woman right in front of me pay with a 50-peso note and the counter was mobbed with at least a dozen people all clamoring to pay for their lunches. This is what I can never understand.

Then, she asks the manager. The manager looks me up and down and asks do you have 25 cents. Ah yes, monedas. With monedas you can get anything you want.

And with 25 centavos, I was able to get my 95 pesos and my coffee.

1 comment:

Tina said...

I know I've been living in Argentina too long when I look at that picture of the monedas you have included along with this post, make a lustful groan and start drooling.