Have you ever tried to buy a $2 bottle of water, let´s say, with a $100 bill (or 100 €, or whatever currency you use)? Chances are, you won´t be welcome. Most shops don´t like to change big bills — they might think it´s a fake, or they just want to keep some change in the till.
Now, in Argentina, if you try to buy a 3 pesos bottle of water with a 5 pesos bill, you will get the same kind of unhappy look as if you were handing out a $100 bill. There is just no change in Argentina.
There are coins: 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and the less common 1 peso. Then come the 2 pesos bill, the 5 pesos, 10 pesos etc. We have a lot of bills. Just no coins. It´s a vicious circle: shops don´t give change, so we don´t have any.
Everywhere there are signs: “¡no hay moneda, no insista!” (we do not have change, don´t insist). So instead of receiving, let´s say, 25 cents for change, you will get a bubble gum or a candy. Great. But we still don´t have change.
If, and if, the shop keeper is in a good mood, you may get your 25 cents back. But the coins won´t be in the till (which always looks empty). The shop keeper will either leave for a few seconds and go to the back of the shop, either bend to reach a safe below the till. Argentina is the only country I know where people seem to care more about coins than bills. I can imagine a robber coming in: “gimme the change, keep the fuckin´ bills!“.
It could be funny if sometimes, we didn´t really need change. For example, we wanted to take the bus in Buenos Aires. Now sure of how much it was (or where it was heading to for that matters), we hopped on, a couple of 2 pesos bills in hand. No such luck. The ride was 1,10 pesos, and only change was accepted. There are no bus tickets sold at the convenience store, for example, and you are supposed to drop your change in a machine, one coin at the time, the bus driver supervising (and driving through a red light at the same time, but nevermind). After 200 meters, we were kicked out of the bus, because we did not have enough coins. Ooops.
We went to buy a Coke in a store nearby, hoping to gather the 20 cents missing. I got candies. Great. I don´t think it would fit in the bus´coin machine… Nobody had change. We ended up walking.
How do locals do? Do they keep a jar of change at home, just for the bus? Why aren´t more coins made?
“Es un mal Argentino“, we were told. Ah.