Wednesday, December 5, 2007

quiz time! test your DRC money knowledge!

do you have what it takes to pay the bills in kinshasa?
think you can outsmart savvy street vendor?
find out now!

below is a picture of some money. the bills on the left are congolian francs (3 50 franc bills) and on the right, a new edition US $20. try to guess which one is more valuable. don't bother looking it up, $1 is 500 CF.

well you are wrong, it's the currency on the left, the 20 is useless. why? because dollar bills here must be PERFECT. sure, they'll give you a used 5er in change, but to accept a bill it has to be clean and new enough to wipe your ass with. AND have a series number newer than 2002, you old dollar bill carryers.
i took out money from the bank before i left and have some crispy 50s, but one of them has a microscopic tear in the upper left. i tried to buy a CD: no good. one of my $100 has a deep wrinkle and fold on the edge, and they wouldn't take it for my fancy dinner. seriously!
on the other hand, congolian francs as you can clearly see look like they've spent 50 years at the bottom of the river. they stink like dirty socks! they're covered in nassty. you can't tell what the number is in the top left. they've been taped, retaped, sometimes two different bills taped together, half upside down. or maybe missing almost a third. gilles the extremely germ-wary - more than an american soccer mom with her disenfectant wipes - says "don't touch it! wash your hands! you could get tetanus from that!"
i had thought i had read somewhere that in DRC, dollars are actually preferred to local currency, but still they only want bills in denominations of 20 or more. everything pretty much costs less than $5 so i feel like a total tool paying with a Ben Franklin for a $1 dollar sprite -but they love it. and then they give me back the small change that they don't like, so at the end of the day you end up with huge wads of useless singles. when you're lucky you'll get congolian francs and since there are no denominations larger than 500 ($1) everything requires a huge wad. no wonder why all the guys selling stuff in the streets have knuckles of cash!
people who live here talk about paying rent with a pillow case stuffed with money.
the cashier at my hotel gave me a black paper rag that resembled 200 francs that was just about to rip in half. i said, are you sure this is still good? flapping the little hanging chad. she says "when it rips, bring it back and i will staple it."

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