Monday, October 01, 2007

I Kind of Feel Sorry for Nickels - Monetary Heavy Metal

I kind of feel sorry for nickels. They are kind of husky and not worth very much for being so thick. The dime, on the other hand, is a sleek and efficient coin that packs a monetary punch despite its deceptively diminutive size. I forget which European country it is, but in one of them I recall that they didn't mess around with the Euro cents, and instead rounded everything up to the nearest 5th cent. I can see the value in this, although I realize that advocating a similar stance in the United States would make the nickel the new penny, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

The American coin system is kind of weird in other ways as well. In addition to the disregard of the correspondence between coin size and value, we have weird names for them. The name "quarter" makes sense because it is a quarter of a dollar, but the dime, nickel, and penny are really just arbitrary nicknames for coins that don't exist in other nations or languages. Although a U.S. coin for 50 cents is most commonly called a 50 cent piece, it would sound totally weird if someone asked you if they could borrow a "ten cent piece" or a "one cent piece." Them's called dimes and pennies, weirdo. I recognized the peculiarity of this phenomenon once while teaching an English lesson in Japan. In Japan, for example, they're just called "ten yen coin" etc. and coins are widely used from values of less than a cent all the way up to 500 yen, or roughly five dollars. So anything from a penny to five dollars is coin territory. There are no bills for anything below the equivalent of ten dollars. A pocket full of change can easily be the equivalent of like fifteen dollars. This coin-centered monetary system could be part of the reason that Japan is notorious for its vending machines that sell everything from noodles to used panties. They don't have to mess around with picky bill acceptor things. I mean, let's face it, those things are a pain in the butt. You have to feed it a crispy bill or else stand there and fiddle with the corners of your bill until it meets the standards of the bill changer.

So what's up with America's reluctance to embrace the dollar coin or even the 50 cent piece? When I paid a toll with a five dollar bill the other day, I got both a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin as well as a Sacajawea dollar coin, and I must say I was rather amped. Despite the post office's best attempts to get these dollar coins out there in circulation, they don't really seem to be catching on with people. Will the whole coin thing be rendered irrelevant when debit cards take over the land? Things seem to be headed that way. People already use debit cards to pay for a pack of gum at the convenience store, and it seems like you can use cards to pay for more things all the time. I guess I'm not yet completely comfortable with money becoming just a number that the bank keeps track of somehow, and maybe that's why I like coins. Their tangibility, their stackability, and their visual appeal (caveman like shiny metal), it speaks to the pirate in me.

P.S. The 1986-1988 albums of Xuxa (like Raffi, but Brazilian, spaced-themed, and sluttier) are back in my life in a big way, thanks to brother Greg's wicked CD collection. I'm a Baixinho til death.

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