Calculating

IMG_3263 All my life I was crap at mental arithmetic. In school I was petrified into freeze frame behaviour when the teacher pointed in my direction and snapped, ‘6 times 7?’. I was also a terrible liar…

This evening me and C. make our little trek up Luis Maria Campos to buy a few delights to eat. One of us treads this path every day, but today we go together. As we walk we talk about two things: what we are going to buy and where we are going to buy it.

He wants oranges like the ones he found on Thursday: huge, springing with juice and sweet, sweet, sweet. Those we will find again in the more distant ‘minimercado chino’ (which for brevity I will call MMc2), where there is a convenient greengrocer in the entrance: we will walk two blocks further than the first available ‘minimercado chino’ (MMc1) where there is also a convenient greengrocer in the entrance. We will also visit the deli at the back (of MMc2) because it sells something that I can truly recognise as being ‘bacon’, and I have converted C. to bacon and eggs for breakfast. Once we arrive we see that strawberries are only $6.99 a kilo and look amazing. We buy them too.

He wants tomatoes, but I know they are riper this week in MMc1 so we will stop on the way back. We’ll buy our Pepsi there because I tell Carlos that 1.5L is only $3.60, rather than $5.50 in the ‘panadería’ where we will buy our baguettes. We choose that ‘panadería’ over the one exactly opposite because the bread is tastier. We miss out the greengrocer nearest to the apartment completely because the strawberries are $8.50 a kilo: maybe everything costs more there today.

As we walk home with our bags of goodies we talk about three things: my newly discovered stunning encyclopedic knowledge of the prices of everything, our delight at scoring four huge oranges, half a kilo of strawberries and two perfect pears for $8.20 (these days we are surprised if any combination of three fruits comes to less than$10pesos), and how brilliantly we managed to lie our way to getting our hands on several pesos worth of ‘monedas’.

Carlos says, ‘Look at you!’ in that gorgeous warm way the Argentines do, ‘Mira vos!’ which means all sorts of things, but in this case it means, ‘Wow. Look how you’ve changed. You never used to know any of that stuff!’

And as usual he is right, and probably more right than he realises. In my past life I would drive down to an aircraft hanger sized Tesco once a week, debit card in hand and buy everything under one roof. I would stroll around every aisle grabbing anything I fancied. I never looked at the prices. I never paid with cash. I did notice that most of the fruit and veg I bought was travelling from the other side of the world, and didn’t taste that great, so I started buying ‘organic’ (although most of that came from the other side of the world too) and spending even more money. Life for lots of reasons was different then. For a start I didn’t have to worry about exchange rates turning against me, or inflation you can see on a daily basis. I never had to walk home carrying shopping. I had a freezer. And a purse full of coins was a total nuisance most of the time.

To live in cash is the biggest financial reality check ever. I see everything I spend (including all my apartment expenses and utility bills) pass through my wallet, for the first time in my life since I stopped getting pocket money. When I am trying to make this week’s ATM withdrawal last, I learn to be canny about what I buy where. The joy of that process is that I also discover who sells the juiciest, the rosiest, the sweetest. Everything I choose tastes better than anything in hypermarket-land, and as Carlos tells me with pride, ‘It mostly all comes from Argentina you know.’

And now, I long for a purse full of coins. If me and C. don’t have ‘monedas’ then we can’t take the bus or do our laundry in the apartment block machines. Every morning we check to make sure he has the coins to get to work, and home again. We decide how we will each travel that day, how many buses we will need to catch, whether we can use the drier as well as the washing machine this week. We make plans to try and get more coins for the next day. We compete to see who can get the most.

I am sure that this sounds ridiculous to anyone who hasn’t tried to live in Buenos Aires… ‘What do you mean you can’t get coins?‘ Friends who visit temporarily, seem to enjoy the challenge. And I am happy that they do: the best gift they can give me is a pocketful of change when they leave. But when you have to play the ‘monedas’ game every single day it gets a bit stressful. It ain’t funny when you’re trying to get home from work in the dark or in the rain and the only way to take a bus is to first find a kiosk where you can buy some sweet (that you don’t want) with a $2 note and get a peso change… you are likely to be turned down repeatedly.

And so I am forced to perfect my convincing, ‘No, no tengo monedas,’ along with every other shopper I know.

Sometimes I will own up to having 20 centavos if I might land a peso coin in return, but that is as far as my ‘honesty’ goes. I will plan my purchases so that the total means change that clinks. I will even work out what I must to buy to be able to actually use the washing machine: 50 centavo pieces will not do. And after some months of this, I am getting rather spiffy at mental arithmetic, and dare I say it, at lying.

So what with the ‘monedas’ mission, our search for the best prices, plus the quest to discover ‘the most delicious in the barrio’, our little shopping trips are our daily mind gym workout.

We calculate. And I become more calculating.

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17 Responses

  1. We have a little stash of coins too that we try to replenish as much as possible. I can’t figure out why they don’t just mint more but it certainly adds a bit of adventure to shopping and getting around on public transport. I pity the beggars who can’t get any donations as people don’t want to part with their change!

  2. Hi Quickroute
    My stash is rather low tonight! Did not give my quest enough attention today… too busy dancing. Ah well, tomorrow I will have to work at it a bit harder, or walk.
    I just wish they would introduce some sort of travel card on the buses. But I think I may be waiting some time for that eh?

    SC

  3. Sally, it is nice to see you so happy again! I have decided that maybe I should stand on street corners opening taxi doors to get monedas…always a challenge. Besooos Deby

  4. Hi Deby,

    Yes my down days passed and I’m smiling once more.
    I guess the days when my biggest stress is lying my way to more monedas, have gotta be good ones!
    A friend of mine told me she goes and asks various banks to change her a few pesos, and that is something I haven’t tried yet. Maybe it’s worth a try…

    Thinking of you and Roxie, hugs SC

  5. I love your comment on “Mira Vos.” I just glow when my teachers tell me that. I might as well be five again. 😉

    I really hate that I have to lie to get monedas in this town. It’s really a fight!

    Thanks for joining us at the milonga today.

  6. Hi stilllifeinbuenosaires

    Yeah, I love that, ‘Mira vos!’ phrase. It always makes me laugh when I hear the Argentines say it to each other, and I love it when they say it to me.
    It’s that kind of, ‘Well look at you…’ which literally translated might be thought a bit rude but of course it isn’t meant that way at all is it? More like a lovely warm, ‘You clever thing you!’ or ‘You gorgeous thing you!’ Anyway, whatever it is, I LIKE IT!

    And yes, that monedas thing is a bugger. Drives me nuts!

    And it was great to join you today.
    Let’s not leave it too long to meet again eh? Like I said I’m always there Mondays, if you fancy dancing in the afternoon.

    Hasta pronto

    SC

  7. Maybe they don’t make more because the metal is worth more than the face value. Still, what a ridiculous waste of human energy that game is once you multiply it by a few million….

  8. Hi b.
    Yes I think you are right about the value thing. And you sure are right about the waste of human energy…

    … but as always someone profits and presumably smiles as a result, and I understand there is a black market where you can hand over $100pesos and they will give you $90 back in monedas… I think I read that the bus companies do this. To me it might be tempting to buy monedas occasionally, just to relieve the daily niggling stress… and ensure clean knickers 😉

    SC

  9. The most recent idea of getting two, peso coins for me is to go to the supermarket and change a two peso note at the customer service for the locker one is required to use when bringing in outside shopping bags. I am sure lots of people have figured this one out.

  10. Quite brilliant Miss Tango!
    I remember you told me about this the other day.
    I haven’t tried it yet, but i will. I will!

    SC

  11. We left all of our coins with the woman who cleaned, and fixed our breakfast in BA. I did not know, at the time, that it was such a big thing.

  12. Hi Elizabeth
    I reckon you made a friend for life there! 🙂
    SC

  13. Sally!

    I loved this entry so much. It was really funny, true and touching too–an unusual trio of adjectives. After reading some of your other entries, I have to say that I think you write really well. You have such controlled language, your language is beautiful, and you know how to tell a great story. I’m a fan.

  14. Hi Jackson Bliss

    Am delighted you looked and that you liked what you read. It is lovely that you took the time to tell me so too.

    There’s no doubt that this blog, my writing and me have come along way together since we started out on this adventure from England to Buenos Aires.
    And I hope that we all have further to go!

    So good to meet you the other day. SC

  15. Back from a month’s hol – touching base
    M
    x

  16. Hi Mo, good to see you back in touch with the blog.
    Hope your holiday was fab.
    Hugs, SC

  17. […] Primavera found a reasonable work-around to get coins when he lived in BA. Sallycat also shared her calculating ways to obtain […]

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