Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where's the cambio?

I don't know why I ask because the answer's always the same. Here's a typical scenario:

Me: (expectantly) Tienes cambio? (Do you have change?)
Vendor: (programmed response) No tengo cambio. (I don't have change.)

Whenever I try to use a large bill, the standard response is, "No tengo cambio." And I'm not really talking about big bills like a $50USD or $100USD, I'm talking about bills that are worth less than $10. So here's what I've noticed: 100 or 200 peso bills ($7.50 and $15, respectively) are not gladly accepted, sometimes a 50 peso bills ($3.70) is frowned upon, and don't even try using a 500 peso bill ($37.80). 

Allow me to contextualize the dilemma so many of us face:
  • I went to the dentist (400 pesos), but when I tried to pay with a 500 peso bill (reasonable enough, right?), the secretary wouldn't take it.
  • A man steps on the bus (3 pesos) and tries to pay with a 50 peso bill. He was rejected at first, but when he had nothing else, the driver surprisingly came up with change.
  • I go to the market and buy a bag of clams (70 pesos). I pull out a 200 peso bill, and the man says to me, "I know you have something smaller. (Points to my wallet) Right there."
So, basically, in an effort to keep small change, people lie about not having any. Change is what everyone wants and needs--change for the bus, change for the market, change for the small shopkeepers. But what I have are large bills because that's what the ATM shoots out. In this country, the ATM should be spitting out coins like a slots machine! It's change we all want!! 

Anyway, I'm used to being lied to about change because I'm learning to see it as more of a survival methodology than a lie. Though, in all respects, a lie IS a lie. This is what I wondered today as I saw someone fall victim to "no tengo cambio": if I were a shopkeeper or bus driver, would I, too, engage in this game of lies? Would you?


  1. I lie about not having change all the time. It's usually when I'm using a $100 or $200 peso bill, and I'm at a place where I KNOW they have change. (Like Oxxo.) Of course the vendors always ask, "Don't you have something smaller?" And I just put on a sad face and say, "Oh no, I'm sorry, I don't."

    The dentist thing you experienced is weird, though. They really didn't have an extra 100 pesos lying around?

    By the way, urban legend has it that there's an ATM in Condesa that just shoots out 20s. I've also gone to one -- wish I could remember where it was, dammit -- that just gave me 50s.

  2. I need to learn that sad, lying face from you. :)

  3. This just happened to me today, in the Oxxo, I went in for 2 coffees and realized I just had a $500 bill, fortunately I was near a gas station and they did have change.
    I had never noticed before, but I gues it is because I debit charge EVERYTHING.

  4. We do the same thing! We usually don't have change because the kiddies take it to spend at the tiendita. But, on occasion, when the bill looks a bit suspicious, we will lie and say that we don't have any change.

  5. Whenever I go back to the States, I now have to forcefully remind myself NOT to worry about what bills I have in my wallet and if the cashier will be able to make change.

  6. When we have too many big bills we go to the cash marchine at Scotia Bank. They give mostly 100s and sometimes a 200. It is a real treat.

  7. Alice & Nancy--Doesn't it make you wonder why they even have $200 or $500 peso bills?

    Leslie L.--I guess lying in these situations isn't that different from when we tell bums, "I'm sorry, I don't have anything."

    Joy--True. I am so paranoid about what I'm carrying in my wallet that it's second nature.

  8. I find that I feel bad when I have a bill that is 200 or 500. Just yesterday all I had was a 200 and I was at the papeleria and just getting 2 things. When I told her Id come back later in the day with change she was determined to give me the change I needed. She was digging in her purse, under the counter, and somewhere in the back of the room. All day I just kept thinking, oh great now all she has in her entire store is a 200p bill. Seriously if there had been a couch she would have been checking the cushions. lol
    Well I got my change and should be good for a bit. ;)

  9. Im gonna send some people to this post. Its things like this that I forget to communicate to family and friends but that they would enjoy knowing.

  10. If you take out 950 from an HSBC ATM -- at least the one near my place -- it'll give you four 200s and three 50s. Best I've managed to do.