I apologize for the huge gap between posts; I was trying to amass information to write a good, proper, informative post about my work here. Then I realized that perhaps people are actually interested in my daily life, so I will thus take some time to tell you a little anecdote about something in Abidjan that has been becoming increasingly more and more obnoxious: money.
The money here, like in all the other West African Francophone countries (excluding Guinea, but including Portuguese speaking Guinea-Bissau), is the Franc CFA. Stronger than the Ghanaian Cedi or the Nigerian Naira because it’s tied to the French franc and thus by default to the euro, 500 F CFA = $1 and about 600 F CFA = 1€. You can easily get a meal for 1 500 F CFA in a local restaurant, or pay exorbitant prices in an Italian restaurant for mousse au chocolat (didn’t buy, but it was 6 000 F CFA, $12!) Groceries, such as fresh produce that is local, are pretty cheap, whereas you will have to shell out a pretty penny for cheeses and other items imported from elsewhere. This goes for household goods, where a small reading lamp could cost you over $40.
But the prices are not the thing I wish to complain about. Instead, I would like an explanation for why NOBODY has change, ever. Two examples that occurred today and yesterday to really drive home my point:
- I went to the grocery store to buy some items to make soup. The total was 4 140 F CFA. The cashier said she didn’t have change for my 10 000 F CFA note, meaning she didn’t have coins (coins are: 5, 25, 50, 100, 200, 250, and 500 centimes; I thought it was a joke when someone actually gave me five centimes coins, as if I would ever find a use for those, plus everyone just rounds up to the nearest 100 centime anyway). I said, ok, well, I don’t have any coins either. She said I needed to buy something else to make it easier for her to make change. I said I didn’t want to buy something else, couldn’t she just give me 6 000 F CFA change? She said no, and proceeded to skip me in the line and put my stuff to the side. I stood there dumbfounded. This is a grocery store! How can you not have change? I understand the woman on the street selling bananas might not have change, which is why I tend to aim to have exact change when buying from them, but franchement, that’s ridiculous. I finally succumbed by buying an orange soda, which brought my total to 4 400 and she still jipped me by only giving me a 500 F CFA coin. Grrr…
- Got in a wora-wora (shared taxi) this morning to head to work. The price is 600 F CFA. I gave the driver a 1 000 F CFA note. He shook his head, sucked his teeth. I said I didn’t have change. He got out of the cab, came around, opened my door (it was pouring down rain, mind you) and proceeded to shout for someone who would take my place that had exact change. I was so annoyed; I wanted to just let him keep the freaking change if it would get me to work. But the thing was, he didn’t want to do that, and continued to try and find someone to replace me. Finally, he managed to find a 500 F CFA coin, and I had a 100 F CFA coin so we were able to make a deal.
People get really upset if you don’t have exact change, huff and puff like it’s the end of the world. Supposedly, “people keep their coins in a jar in their house,” which might explain the apparent lack of coins in circulation here. But then, if there aren’t enough coins in the country, then grocery stores should make prices nice whole round numbers, instead of 455 CFA, knowing that nobody has 50 centimes or 5 centimes. I mean, I understand not using a 10 000 CFA note to pay for something that costs 450 CFA, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the grocery store to have change for 1 000 CFA, right?
The funniest, but also most frustrating moment, is the stand-off: where the person stands there with your money looking at you and you looking at them, and neither of you have change, and neither of you have a solution to this problem. I think it could last for hours, but eventually someone shows up or is called over with change, or you make a compromise and buy something extra. Sometimes you even have to walk into the price negotiation establishing that you don’t have change, especially with taxis, because then they won’t even bother picking you up. Bah.