I always wanted to write a post while on an airplane. Unfortunately, my last laptop had an ‘extended battery life’ of exactly 17 minutes which made anything more than turning it on without plugging it in a definite impossibility.
But now, with my new laptop in hand, I’m prepared.
Actually, I am starting to write this while sitting in the airport in Fort Lauderdale. My flight back to Mexico, which leaves in about an hour, is only 1 hour and 15 minutes in duration and when I factor in the chunks of time at the beginning and end of the flight when I must keep my computer turned off, I don’t have much time to complete a post. So I need a head start…
This post is not going to be about flying though, nor about luggage or duty-free shopping. It’s not about the security screenings either (although I did just manage to go through security with a large bottle of contact lens solution, a pair of scissors and a flip-knife).
Anyway, this post is about…change.
And when I say change, I am of course referring to the difficulties we all face when we smile our widest smiles, speak in our kindest of voices and ask someone if they could provide change for a large monetary note. Yes, trying to get change in currencies around the world is indeed a matter that needs to be addressed.
Six days ago, when I was checking in for my flight to Florida at the Cancun airport, I spent an extra twenty minutes at the Jet Blue check-in counter simply because not a soul around was able to break a 200 peso (approximately $15 USD) note so that I could pay the departure tax upon leaving Mexico. Nobody could help me out. Jet Blue personnel didn’t have any change, nor did the dozens of staff at the airline counters of Mexicana, Aeromexico or American Airlines. Nor did the cashiers at two different souvenir kiosks in the terminal or the luggage porters outside who receive their wages in the form of small tips.
Finally, it was a woman dropping off her husband at the airport who was able to break the bill and save the day.
MAKING CHANGE AROUND THE WORLD
Of course, this was not the first time I’ve been in this situation. I can no longer count the number of instances when I’ve been in desperate need of change, yet nobody within 327 miles was able to provide it. It happens everywhere and I’ve come to expect it almost as much as one expects a stomach illness after eating street food in Mumbai.
Speaking of India, whenever I’m traveling over there I often think I’ll need to take a 19-hour train ride to the other side of the country just to break a 50 rupee note ($1) so that I can buy a mango. It’s as if providing change to a foreigner is an illegal activity that carries a twenty-year jail sentence for any local caught in the act.
I’ll never forget an afternoon I spent in Laos running around the town of Pakse trying to break a 20,000 kip note (approximately $2.50 USD) so that I could pay the bus fare to Champasak. The bus driver didn’t have any change and neither did any of the passengers. I even tried two banks in town, both of which claimed not to have any change as well. Needless to say, the bus left as scheduled and I wasn’t on it.
And while there is no doubt that such change issues seem to occur more frequently in the third-world, developed countries are by no means immune. Off the top of my head, I can remember having extreme change difficulties while trying to pay for a coffee in Norway, a room at a hostel in Brisbane and for a bicycle rental in Bariloche, Argentina – all of which led to a lengthy search mission for change that covered an area the size of Belize.
Even during this past week in the US when I went to purchase a pack of gum, the cashier didn’t have enough change to break my $10 bill. I unsuccessfully asked four other customers, one police officer, a biker on a Harley-Davidson and even a dog (I was willing to try anything) before finding someone who could break my note.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this plenty of times yourself, wandering around in circles asking and asking for help, with your cries being met with apologetic yet firm refusals. Eventually, you get your change, but not before throwing your hands in the air in complete bafflement while thinking…
IS IT REALLY POSSIBLE THAT NOBODY HAS ANY CHANGE?
I tend to suspect that most people do, in fact, have the ability to change a note, but simply choose not to do it instead. Perhaps it is fear or greed that leads them to shake their heads when asked, as they try to convince us that they walk around with empty pockets all day. ‘Maybe I’ll need it later, maybe I won’t be able to get change myself, maybe the money I receive in return will be counterfeit’. I don’t know what goes through every potential change-maker’s head, but whatever it is, it keeps them from saying ‘sure, no problem’ and opening their wallets in order to make the exchange.
When I think about it, this type of situation is similar to another form of change – the non-currency-related type. It is a fact that we can all make positive changes in our own lives, but when our life situations seem to demand that we take a few steps in a new direction, we often back away, shake our heads, shrug our shoulders and employ a long list of excuses. ‘I’m too busy, I’m too old, I’m too tired, this is just how life works, it won’t make a difference.’
Why do we do this when the ability to make change is right there in our pockets?
Life is constantly asking us to hand over a few measly, unorganized coins in exchange for a beautifully-designed, impressive bill, complete with a President’s or even Charles Darwin’s face on the front! But when we have the chance to accept this favorable exchange, we look life straight in the eyes and lie, saying ‘Sorry, I don’t have any change to give’.
What are we afraid of? Any ideas?