Equator Gringos

September 29, 2007

Some People Never Change

Filed under: Ecuador, expat, money, South America — lstollin @ 5:24 pm

imgp3380-resized.JPGIn Latin American countries, people rarely have any change. Sometimes vendors are just pretending, out of habit or out of a scarcity mentality. Sometimes — perhaps more often — they really don’t have change. Ironically, the ATMs give out twenties, tens, even fives and ones. This surprising and welcome fact alone may be keeping the economy from grinding to a changeless standstill.

Wednesday night on the way home from school I decided to buy roses at a little kiosk, red ones for Joy. I’d already picked out a bunch when I realized all I had was a $20 bill. The lady assured me she could change it (a mild surprise); then came back a minute later after having gone to the flower booth next door, now imploring me to surrender my hidden stash of change. I reiterated: I had none, ni un centavo. So she disappeared next door again, reappeared, and then walked past me to stand by the sidewalk looking out over the busy street. After a while, I realized she was waiting for her colleague, whom she’d sent across the busy street and down the road to the big supermarket – looking for change. Impatiently, I considered my options. “Forget it, take your roses back — this is ridiculous!” was on the tip of my tongue.  Until I realized, that is, that she had my money, and I was stuck. About 10 minutes later she finally came back carrying a few bills and a fistful of coins, which were painstakingly counted from fetcher to seller, then again by seller, and finally to me. All that trouble for a $1.50 purchase.  The roses are pretty, though; Joy was happy, and all’s well that ends well.

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