If you’ve ever wondered what links banks, Band-aids, coins and gum, you’ve come to the right place.
As with living anywhere that’s not ‘home’, there are always some adjustments in the day to day that need to be made. One that I’ve needed is to be prepared with small change. It seems that no matter where you want to spend money in Saudi, you’d better be prepared with exact change – or close to it. This might be a little easier if ATMs dispensed smaller bills, but they don’t.
Coming back from the airport a couple of weeks ago at 2am, I only had a large bill on me and needed to take a taxi home. It’s not like I could just break the bill inside the airport either because NOBODY has change. After we left the airport, I mentioned to the driver that he would need to have change (I’d already anticipated a changeless driver). “No problem,” he says, “We’ll just go back to the airport and I’ll get some from my friend.” So, we circled the whole airport (pretty much the same layout as all major airports) and started out again. It was a pre-arranged fare, so it didn’t cost me anything extra for the pre-dawn sight-seeing tour of the airport road and his friend DID had some change!
At first I thought that not having change must be hurting businesses because there was the time I couldn’t buy anything because the shop had no change. The total was 37 and I gave a 50. In this case, sale lost. Another time I found myself adding stuff on until I spent the whole bill. I guess it’s just a matter of how much you want some of what you wanted to buy in the first place. Maybe the whole thing is a wash for the store, but they don’t have to drag their asses to the bank for small bills all the time. I also learned that saying, “Hey, you’re the store, not me” gets you absolutely nowhere.
There’s only one coin that ever gets used here – and it’s only if people happen to have one. At shops, you basically round up to the nearest whole to pay and get back a pack of gum or a cupcake in place of a coin. (I prefer the gum because the cupcakes are the pre-packaged deals with a shelf life of just under forever.) Apparently some shops don’t limit themselves to food. On my way back from the dentist last night, I stopped off for some ice cream thinking it would be easier to catch whatever fell out of my numbed mouth than other food. Anyway, my total was 11.50 and I gave the shopkeeper 12. He gave me the bag and threw in a pack of gum to cover the 50 coin change. Standard transaction. Then he presumably says to his colleague something to the effect of, “Hey give me one of those Band-aids.” He promptly put the Band-aid in the bag and I was on my way.
So, as I’m walking out of the store, I begin to wonder why he thought I needed a Band-aid since it’s the first time it was ever part of my change. I begin to make sure I’m not drooling blood after the dentist visit. No blood on my hand after I wiped around my mouth. Of course, Band-aids don’t work inside the mouth anyway, so I figured I must be bleeding from someplace else and promptly started checking the rest of me. Nothing. I suppose this will remain a mystery.
So banks don’t like to give small change from their ATMs, taxis don’t have any change at all, stores hoard whatever change they might have and I’m left with a jar of gum and a Band-aid.
A day in the life of Mark of Arabia.