Money Matters

Taking money out of an ATM in a foreign country is like getting Monopoly money out of the bank. The bills are colorful compared to our singular, drab green and they sport portraits of people and events we don't recognize. Foreigners complain it's hard to tell one bill from another in the US since all of our bills are the same color and size. I tell them we look at the numbers … there's no color-coding in America. That said, here we are in Australia and it's hard to know what our American dollar is worth any more. A few years ago, the American dollar was worth about $1.50 in Australia. We arrive and it dips to 95¢. I remember being in Canada when the exchange rate was at 50%. Those were the days. I check currency exchange rates frequently now because it can make a big difference. When we charge something on Master Card, for instance, they first convert from the Australian dollar which at the moment is $1.05, so right off the bat, everything we charge costs us 5% more. Then add to that the fee they charge for doing the currency conversion and it really adds up.

When we first arrive in any new country, it takes time to figure out the currency and the coins. This confusion is enhanced when a foreign language is involved. We've held up many a checkout line trying to pay for our purchase. At some point, you just hold out your hand and let the cashier take what she needs. Luckily, the Aussies speak a form of English, so it's been easier here.

The Australians like some jingle in their pockets, I think. They have lots of coins to deal with. There are the 5, 10, 20 (not 25) and 50 cent pieces. There are also $1 and $2 pieces. When they ask for a gold coin donation here, it means they're after a $1 or $2 coin. The $2 piece is smaller than the $1 piece which doesn't make sense to me. So when you get $4.95 in change, you end up with a heavy pocket. By the end of the day, your pants are falling down from the weight.

Another thing I find interesting is that though Aussies have short, cute names for everything, e.g. Tasmania is Tassie and breakfast is brekkie and afternoon is arvo, they don't use terms like penny, nickel, dime, quarter and half. They're just 5, 10, 20 cent get the picture.

I can understand why they don't use the word penny. They don't have any. All prices here are rounded off to the nearest 5 cents. They might advertise $9.99, but it's really $10. That said, they always include the GST (general sales tax) in the price. So $10 really is $10 when you check out at the register. I find it odd, however, that the GST applies to everything. If you go to the doctor, your office visit includes GST. If you pay a traffic violation, your ticket includes GST. If you buy a new yacht...well, you should be paying GST.