Thursday, January 11, 2007

Another Reason to Like Oakland

This is the kind of thing that never used to happen to me in New England: I was at the photo counter at Walgreens, picking up a couple of pictures I’d had printed. When I paid, the woman at the register gave me a handful of change, including what I’m sure she thought was a quarter. But it wasn’t a quarter. I caught a glimpse of a dull silver edge as she handed it to me, and thought it was a Canadian coin. It turned out to be something more exotic: One Nicaraguan Cordoba.

Technically I’ve been had, because this coin isn’t worth a quarter—it’s worth just over five cents at current conversion rates. But I just love it when I get foreign coins in my change. It happens fairly often here. Sometimes I think it might be a part of a scam—I’ve gotten so many Indian coins at laundromats that I think people may be purposely passing them in a sort of a low-level counterfeiting operation. (They’re the same size as quarters, but only worth a few cents.) But I don’t really care. I like coins so much that I’m more than willing to take a small loss. Once or twice I’ve gotten a Filipino coin in change, and once I found an English penny. One time I found what I thought was a dime on the ground near my apartment, but it turned out to be a coin from Iran. (All the writing looked like Arabic and it took me the better part of a morning on the Internet to figure out which country it came from—sorry boss!)

It’s not completely fair to say things like this never happened in New England. I did used to find foreign coins a lot. They just weren’t as exotic. Canadian coins were very common, partly because I lived closer to the Canadian border then, but also because I think the exchange rate was closer to parity then and shopkeepers didn’t bother making a distinction. (Or maybe they thought a child wouldn’t notice? They had no idea who they were up against.) Coins from Bermuda were not unusual, either, especially pennies and nickels, which looked very much like their American counterparts. But that was about it. My friend Toby and I would be beside ourselves if we got a penny with a San Francisco mint mark, so coinage from Central America was something we didn’t even think to look for.

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