Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making Change (Literally)

Even though $1 = Rs. 46, is using a $100 bill the same as using a Rs. 1000 note?

ATM's in India, at least in the amounts I withdraw, tend to only spit out notes in denominations of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000; notes that are worth approximately $11 and $22. I recognize this is a lot of money, and these notes are the Indian equivalent of Grant's and Benjamin's that ATM's in America don't even dispense (unless you're in a casino). Even so, in India it's always a good idea to have a stock of notes in small denominations. The reason? People don't like making change.

Last week at the grocery store I impressed even myself. I bought two small jars of peanut butter for the princely sum of Rs. 480. I only had a Rs. 1000 note so I handed it to the clerk. I noticed he had a nice large stack of Rs. 100's in the register. When he handed me the Rs. 500 and Rs. 20 notes as change, I said, "Can I get 100's instead?" At first, he responded, "No" and made a gesture to indicate that wasn't possible. I flashed him the kind of look by nodding my head to would side that said "seriously dude, I know you have smaller bills". Surprisingly, this non-verbal worked. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and pulled out five Rs. 100 notes. I was stunned. This never happens in India.

It's not always that easy. Even with smaller bills, it can be an issue. Yesterday, I purchased more goods than intended on two occasions when making even smaller purchases. I bought a liter of my favorite Himalayan (not surprisingly, a part of the Tata conglomerate) water for Rs. 25 and handed the clerk a Rs. 100. He only had Rs. 70 in change. Typically my solution involves waiting for them to find the change (they always have it, even if they pull it from their own wallet, which seems to be a common thing). This place, however, was not air conditioned, so time was of the essence. Yesterday rather than waiting to see from where the five rupees would magically appear, I just grabbed a second bottle second bottle and took my Rs. 50 in change. Lazy? Yup. But I'm going to need that bottle at some point. Later in the day, I bought a large bag of potato chips and Diet Coke. The cost? Rs. 45. I used a Rs. 50 note (the same note I received back from my water purchase) and this clerk looked for five rupees for about two seconds and then placed a small chocolate on the counter instead of my change.

On the bright side, I was able to give the chocolate to a member of my team as a small piece of impromptu recognition on a job well done. Something tells me if I had tried to give a Rs. 5 coin in the same situation, it may not have been so well received.

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