The Price of the Peso OR How to make a Dollar Outta 15 cent

October 5, 2009

in South Africa,Stories

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found when trying to get settled in a new country (based on two experiences now) is trying to understand the value of the local currency. I was reminded this morning when Mark and I went out for a cup of coffee. We ordered a couple of pots of Rooibos tea (which I was amazed to see has now been introduced at Starbucks in America! Weird reverse culture shock moment to see Rooibos tea in America and say, “What are you doing here?”) Anyway, I wanted honey with my tea and so requested it. The waitress made an apologetic face, and said it would be 6 Rand. Because I’m not exactly aware of the value of currency yet, and was thinking something like, “50 cents” in my head, I said, “Sure that’s fine.”

Of course, as it happens, after she was halfway across the restaurant, the conversion actually sunk in and I realised what I’d just done and looked at Mark and said, “That’s like a dollar!” And I was totally offended to be paying (basically) a whole dollar for a tiny bit of honey to go with my tea. I wanted to go back and say “Nevermind, nevermind, I’m not paying a dollar for honey! I’ll have sugar!” Mark said, “That’s okay, we’re still learning” and told me not to worry about it. Shocking!

I think the really difficult thing, is not just learning to convert the currency you’re working in to an amount you understand. The challenge is actually learning the value of the currency you’re working in. Although 7.5 Rand = 1 USD in terms of currency conversation today, I think I can buy more with 7.5 rand in South Africa than I can with 1 dollar in the US. And of course certain items are going to be more expensive in one country, for example if they’re manufactured there, than they will be in another. We were looking at camping chairs for our balcony today. Is 120 Rand a good price for a camping/tailgating chair? I think $16 would be a great price for one, but around here it sounds like I should be able to find one for even less.

Buying food is an even greater challenge. Walking into the Pick n Pay is such a daunting prospect that I almost dread making a shopping list and preparing for the journey. The cheap and tasty meals I used to do in Edinburgh are suddenly not the cheap and tasty options here. I grapple with these types of dilemmas at the moment: Why is spicy cooked sausage so stinking expensive, suddenly?  How will I do my cheap and cheerful stir fry without it? The other day I spent ages staring into the butter section looking at choice after choice and examining prices and sizes. Asher was tired of being in the grocery cart, and my brain was fried. Finally, a very healthy-sized Mama came along and stared into the case for a moment before choosing her butter, and I thought, “Well she looks like she knows what she’s doing” so I chose the same one and was on my way!

So the adventure continues, even when it’s just an adventure to the grocery store to figure out what’s for dinner. If you have any tips on the value of the South African Rand for me, they are most welcome. :)

xCC

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