One aspect of Buenos Aires that I most definitely will not miss is seeing signs everywhere that read: ¡No guardá las monedas! Or: ¡Colaboré con las monedas! And lastly: “No hay monedas!” These signs are everywhere. You go to the panadería across the street from your house and you will be asked for exact change. If you do not have exact change you more times than not will not be allowed to leave with food. But isn’t it better for the business to make the transaction and have a little bit of money in their pocket as opposed to turning you away, you ask? Apparently not in Argentina. Or when that is the case, for example, when you attempt to purchase a liter bottle of water and an boxed apple juice before class and your total comes to six pesos and fifty centavos you will, of course, be asked to supply the fifty centavos. Assuming that you don’t understand him, the attendent will commence to hold up monedas even after insisting that he has none to give you. And apparently if you still don’t have monedas to supply, well, lucky you, you just don’t get any change. So if you really want your purchase? You better cough up those monedas or forfeit fifty centavos, that is actually rightfully yours. When the aforementioned situation happens to you, you will be amazed at your ability to immediately commence arguing–pretty well, I might add–with the attendant in a language you’re still learning to grasp. When this yields no results and you’re more frustrated than one probably should be over less than twenty American cents you settle for a good curse in English since you know nothing insulting enough in Spanish and walk out the door with your overpaid-for purchase.
Photograph taken by Mateo.photo.
(I also remember reading somewhere once–I think it was in Eat, Pray, Love–that Americans are very reserved and cautious when it comes to anger and other emotions, because if you were really mad, you wouldn’t curse someone out in a language that isn’t your native one because it requires you to think about it. I never thought about this too much, but I think it means that I’m either reserved with my anger–or my Spanish is significantly improving. I think I’ll go with the former.)
Back to the topic at hand, Argentines like their monedas (coins) more than anything, and the only way you will ever be lucky enough to get monedas is the off-chance that you go to a restaurant where the menu isn’t priced in whole dollar amounts (good luck), you manage to scrounge up enough after purchasing subte rides (which, if not purchased in increments of 10 must also be paid with monedas), or you ride the bus 9 times in one day and happen to save all 9 of the ten cent centavos you receive in exchange for the one peso moneda you put in the machine. Or you’re lucky enough to get to the bank at some point during their five hours of daily operation between 10 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, as if you don’t have classes or a job or an internship to be at during the aforementioned hours. Technically they don’t close until 3:30 but, because they can, and because the building is usually packed full at this time, they will often lock their doors beforehand. Oh, and you’re only allowed five peso monedas per day.
Of course you can go to different banks and get five monedas from each, but unless you’re there as soon as the doors open, you’ll have to wait in line for a guaranteed at least 30 minutes. In fact, the other afternoon I was so desperate that I spent a good 45 minutes in line just to receive five monedas. The exchange would be roughly $1.67 USD. Let me repeat that: 45 minutes in line to receive $1.67 USD. That is what my time has become worth in Argentina, apparently. Except, wait, I didn’t actually even make any money! I only exchanged what I already had!
Since having monedas is the only way you are able to get on the bus, and given that I take the bus at least twice a day, but usually four to six times a day, you may be starting to understand my frustration. Coins aren’t prevalent like they are in the States, where if you drop a penny on the ground and don’t feel like picking it up–well, hey, it’s just a penny, right? No, here, you better bet that if you drop a moneda on the ground some grubby little hands will snatch it up before you’ve even noticed it fell out of your hand!
Then there will be times when you’re supposed to be meeting your friends at a bar for some celebration or another and it’s easily one o’clock in the morning. Realizing that you only have fifty centavos in your coin purse begins to put a serious damper on your plans. Feeling hopeless, but not willing to spend $15-20 pesos on a cab, you go into the maxikiosco next to your apartment and beg for monedas. You plead to no avail, until finally the woman behind the counter tells you that she’ll give you a moneda in exchange for that two peso bill. Wait, “¿Cómo?” Yes, the woman did indeed just tell you that in order to receive a one peso moneda you will have to pay her twice what it is worth.
I’ve since decided, that simply having “study abroad” on my resume will no longer suffice. No, I think I will be well justified in writing, underneath the ‘skills’ section, “Extremely proficient in negotiating near-impossible business exchanges in Spanish,” even though negotiating doesn’t necessarily mean you get the best deal. Hey, at least you got that moneda!
Side note: Argentines also like small bills (ie: $5 versus $50) and you can read a comical discussion of this finicky monetary observation between me and my best friend, Carleson, here. If you are interested in learning more about the shortage of monedas in Argentina a quick Google search turns up numberous amusing (albeit, I´m sure, true) theories including but not limited to: the mafia hoards them and then sells them on the blackmarket, the bus system takes them and sells them on the black market, and lastly, that the Chinese immigrants send them to China where they are broken down into scrap metal and sold at a higher cost.