It’s All About the…Rocas?
“Tenés algo más chiquito?” This is a phrase that I hear daily in the grand capital of Buenos Aires. This is the question that, inevitably, cashiers in the tiny kioscos on the corner, the large supermarket chains and everywhere in between will ask you when you hand them the ubiquitous 100 peso bill. What they are asking is if you have a smaller denomination. “Do you have anything smaller?” This is a fair question to hear in the U.S. if you hand someone a one hundred-dollar bill. The thing is, a 100 peso bill is, in reality, closer in value to a 20 dollar bill (about $22.76 at the current exchange rate).
Apparently in Argentina there is a rampant lack of change. Most of the time, if you stand your ground, they will, begrudgingly, make change for you. That is, after they have held the bill up to the light to check its authenticity and given you a hard glance. The funny part, as if it were part of some large joke being played on the Argentinians by god and the banks, is that most of the atms give out nothing BUT 100 peso bills. All this fun culminates when you go out to dinner with a group of your friends, the check comes, and everyone promptly pulls out their 100 peso notes. What follows it usually at least 15 fun-filled minutes of trying to figure out who owes what and how in the hell you are going to work this mess out.
Monedas (coins) are in short supply as well. The collectivos (city buses) accept only coins, and many people hoard their monedas for this purpose. Sometimes, when a cashier at your local kiosco or supermercado owes you some small change (usually less than two pesos) and they can’t, or don’t want to, give it to you, they will try to convince you to take a piece on candy or some other small item instead. Personally, I find this little quirk to be quite charming.
Dealing in pesos is an interesting thing for someone who is used to the U.S. dollar. First of all, you are constantly making calculations in your head to try and decide how much you are really paying for something. Luckily the conversion is, for the most part, simple enough. Secondly, the money looks so completely different. It is so colorful in comparison to the U.S. Dollar that, at times, it can feel like you are playing with Monopoly money. While this sounds entertaining, it’s always important to keep in mind that this real money you are spending and to resist the urge to buy Boardwalk. Remember, in Argentina there is no community chest.