56 – 51 Days… Where did all the change go?

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56 – 51 Days Remaining

Recently I was in a South American supermarket, a Bolivian supermarket in the city of Sucre to be more precise, waiting for my change. You’re probably thinking this seems normal enough and incredibly straight forward. You wait a millisecond for your change, the man/woman behind the till hands it over and BOOM you’re out the door with your shopping. Well, this is not the case in South America. As I was waiting patiently for my 3 Bolivianos change (that’s pretty much zero pence by the way) the man/woman behind the till started looking at me strangely and I thought uhoh here we go again.

Boy ¿Tienes diez Bolivianos?

Do you have 10 Bolivianos?

Boy No.


Boy ¿Tienes cinco Bolivianos?

Do you have 5 Bolvianos?

Boy No, pardon.

No, sorry.

Boy ¿Tienes uno Boliviano?

Do you have 1 Boliviano?

BoyNo, pardon.

No, sorry (showing the man/woman behind the till my empty purse).

Now I should’ve just left, 3 Bolivianos is barely any money but I’m used to waiting around for change so I wait. Plus I need these little coins for the next man/woman who won’t take my notes (more on that later).

The man/woman behind the till realised that I couldn’t hand over any more coins. The man/woman behind the till also realised that they couldn’t give me 3 Bolivianos SO what did the man/woman do??? They reached into the large bag of penny sweets next to the till and gave me 3 penny sweets for change!!! I thought that the bag of penny sweets were there for pleasure but no, they were there for change. I walked behind all the tills and saw that each man/woman behind every till had a bag of penny sweets and they were serving their customers with penny sweets as change. Mental.

I’ve had problems getting change throughout South America. No-one has ever got change or so they say. Everyone does have change eventually, they just hide it at first because it’s too precious.

A common problem I’ve had is when I want to pay for something using a “big” note.

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In English pounds the note is never really big, it’s always less than  10 pounds but in South America that is huge. For example in Bolivia the 100 Bolivianos note is roughly 10 pounds. I would often pay for something that was around 5 pounds with the “big” 10 pound note and shopkeepers would never take it!

Boy ¿Darte cinco Bolivianos? ¿Eres loca?

Give you 5 pounds change?? Are you crazy?!

As this has been common practice throughout South America, from Colombia to Ecuador and onto Peru and Bolivia I’ve now become really nervous whenever I have to hand over a “big” note because I know how much hassle it can cause. I slowly pull the “big” note out of my purse with my trembling hand, carefully watching the shopkeeper, waiting for their reaction….

Boy Oooooh no tengo cambio senorita!

Oooooh I don’t have change Miss!

Devil Whatever! I was at the back of a five person queue and I just saw everyone buy things AND hand over coins. Come on it’s only 5 pounds worth of change, you must have it. PLEASE give me my change. (This is what I wish I could shout in Spanish. Instead I just stand there quietly wondering what to do thinking oooh I really want my shopping).

At this stage in the change game in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru the shopkeeper would first ask every one else in the shop for change. If no one else can help them they will take my “big” note and go to another shop to change it. They would always be much more likely to get a note changed than a little foreign tourist would. If they can’t get the note changed they will do their own shopping with my “big” note and come back with change from that (they REALLY want your business). You could be standing there for 5 minutes while they go on their change mission or you could be waiting for a good half an hour. At the end of the day somehow they will come back with change because they do want your business.

The story is different in Bolivia with the lazy Bolivians. If you don’t have the exact money, or near enough close to the exact total that’s it you don’t get to shop. If you’ve only got a “big” note they won’t take it and they won’t go looking for the change either. You have to put every thing you want to buy back on the shelf and walk away until you, the customer can come back with the exact money. I was a little shocked by this attitude because Bolivia is a really poor country and its people don’t have a lot so I never expected them to turn down business for the sake of handing over some change.

There is one other funny thing that happens when you show the shopkeeper your “big” note.

You show them your “big” note, they shake their head,

Boy No cambio

No change, they say.

You say to them,

Girl Tengo viente soles o tengo  diez soles. ´¿Cual quieres?

I have 20 Peruvian Soles or I have 10 Peruvian soles. Which do you want?.

By posing this question I’m setting a challenge.

I’ve either got this “big” note which is more than the price of my shopping OR I’ve got this little note which is less than the price of my shopping. Which one would you rather? The “big” note? (Then you have to give me change). Or the “small” note?  (Then you get less money but you don’t have to give me any change).

There will be a few moments of silence, no-one knows what will happen then BOOM the shopkeeper takes the “small” note just so they don’t have to give change. (I also think they do this because they’ve overpriced the products for the tourists anyway, so really they’re not getting less, they’re probably getting the proper price).

So beware people, when travelling South America get the correct change or you’re in for a battle!


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Check out my previous blog called Yoga Yawn. It’s all about how yoga helps you go to sleep.

Or have a look at the TravellingFletcher YouTube page. I’ve been adding more travelling videos to this channel.

Also take a look at the new travelling map I´ve added to the section My Travels…South America created by WildYellowBelly Photography. It shows the route I´ve taken so far from Venezuela to Argentina.

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