By Ana Maria Hanssen
ARGENTINA: I went to buy some groceries today at a nearby store and they gave me bananas as change.
“How many do you want? You have 1 peso left.”
“Don’t you have any coins?” I asked.
“No, no coins,” said the Korean guy.
I needed some real money for the bus and couldn’t get any from buying food. I stopped at a nearby wine store. “Where can I get change?” I asked the clerk.
“Nowhere,” he answered.
(Source: Diario de la Republica)
A few minutes later an old woman was buying some bread and cheese and the clerk asked her for coins.
“I have some, but I can’t give them to you,” she said.
“Come on, it’s not like you’re going to die,” he replied.
“Oh yes,” she said. “It is like dying. I need to take the bus three times tomorrow and no coins means I can’t go anywhere.”
This search for change is a constant battle in Buenos Aires. How can it be possible, I keep asking in despair. Everyone is looking for coins, everyone is hoarding them like a treasure and every store in the city warns shoppers with large signs by the cashier: “NO CHANGE.”
While I hope that the signs with capital letters are not a premonition of some kind, the government says they don’t know what’s going on.
“It is incomprehensible that there is a shortage of coins. We just put on the market more than 28 million,” says a government official.
If so, that means there’s an average of 117 coins per inhabitant. So what’s happening then?
Some believe that precisely because of this perceived shortage, people are tending to hoard coins whenever they come across them.
Others are even capitalizing on this shortage by creating a new type of business: you ask for change for a bill of 50 pesos, for example, and they give you back 45 pesos in coins and small bills.
The 5 pesos difference is a sort of “change commission.” And 5 pesos plus 5 pesos eventually adds up to a lot of money. But the latest news is that now the city is suffering a shortage of 2 pesos notes as well.
I wonder if the opportunists are planning a new move. Are they thinking about keeping the change and leaving us with more bananas than 25-cent coins?
I hope they aren’t, because in a country with no change, something has to change!
Learn more about Ana MarÃa
Ana MarÃa Hanssen is a 30-year-old Colombian journalist and freelance writer currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
She is the author of “Holocausto en el silencio”, a book that details the 1985 siege of the Supreme Court palace in Bogota by the M-19 guerrillas – one of the most painful episodes in Colombian history.
As a result of the Army’s violent reaction to this equally violent act, more than one hundred people died — including the nation’s Supreme Justices — eleven still remain missing.
The book won the Colombian Literature Prize for best non-fiction book in 2006.
Ana MarÃa has worked for media in Los Angeles, California; MÃ©xico, Colombia and in her new home, Argentina.