Saturday, May 16, 2009

A fistful of dirhams

Money drives everything here; the Arab world has a long history of horse-trading--literally--and the spirit is still alive today.

Fortunately for a fresh-off-the-boat Westerner like me, the only everyday item you really haggle over anymore is cab fare. And even then you can always play the trump card of insisting the cab driver turn on his meter.

But such an abundance of everyday commerce can cause problems for someone who hasn't dealt with the currency before. Case in point: I go to the falafel shack for dinner last night and the total cost is 12 dirhams. I get a 10 out of my wallet and what I thought was a five. But no. It was a 50.

Fortunately the falafel guy was gracious, didn't mock me too much, and gently asked me if I had a five instead of a 50.

The issue is that the five and the 50 are roughly the same color and only have numbers I can read on one side. The 10 and the 20 are similar, too, especially in the dark. The 200 is the only bill I can recognize without pulling it partway out of my wallet, and that's because it is the only yellow bill.

The intelligible side.

The "I accidentally gave the guy 10 times too much" side.

My European friends assure me that only an idiot or an American (but I repeat myself, ha ha) wouldn't be able to tell the difference among different-sized bills. But are a few millimeters really enough to steer me between red and pink, 5 and 50, "keep the change" and "what a rube"? I say no. Take that to the bank.

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