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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Pardon me, can you change a $100 bill?

This is something that's been interesting me about French Polynesia for some time.

We get our local currency, as we have everywhere else we've been, at the ATM. We usually get 30,000 francs at a time, which given the current exchange rate is about $350 USD. Strangely, we have always been given three 10000 franc notes. The equivalent in the States would be three $100 bills. Can you imagine this happening in the States - how do you buy $20 worth of gas when the convenience store/gas station won't accept $50 bills much less $100 bills?

We initially waited in line at the bank to break the large bills into something more manageable. After all, we have been used to Latin America where it's common to go into a store (a real store, not some home/shop selling a few items), select $3.50 USD worth of stuff, present a $5 bill and be told: "No Cambio" (no change). You find yourself thinking "No change? How can you have a business and not have ANY change?"

The lines in the banks are long though, so more often we found ourselves cautiously pulling a 10000 franc note out of our wallets when it came time to pay to see if we could foist the large bills off on some unsuspecting shop owner. Initially we'd only do this if we had more than 3000 francs worth of goods. But after a while we'd pay with a 10000 franc note no matter how small our bill was.

Strangely, here in French Polynesia, it really isn't a problem. Go to the local grocery to get a couple baguettes and some butter (about 400 francs), slap a 10000 franc note on the counter, and voila, you get your change without even a blink. Have lunch at a local roach coach (about 1500 francs), pay with a 10000 franc note, and again you get your change without so much as a comment.

Between this most gracious attitude to large bills and the presence of leaf blowers it's clear that the Marquesas are part of the First World (TM).