Friday, February 04, 2005

Small Change

Like all currencies where the big unit is worth somewhat less than a pound or a dollar, the UAE Dirham has a problem in dealing with small change. One Dirham is worth 36.7 US cents (the Dirham is tied to the US $), and currently about 15 UK pence.

A problem arises when you are dealing with the small currency unit. One Dirham equals 100 fils. This means that 1 fil is worth .38 US cents, or .15 UK pence. Clearly, the cost of making a coin to represent this exceeds its face value.

In general circulation we have coins worth 25 and 50 fils, and 1 Dirham. Then we have 5, 10, 20, 50 , 100, 200, 500 and 1000 Dirham notes. Whenever you buy anything for cash, what you actually pay will be rounded up or down to the nearest 25 fils. And by the way, we still have two versions of the 1 Dirham coin in circulation. The old 1 Dh coin (about 1 inch in diameter) was supposedly replaced by a new, smaller one about five years ago. But for some reason we still get the big ones turning up. I think the big ones were given a stay of execution so that vending machine operators could have more time to modify their machines. But really, five years!

There used to be small copper coins worth 5 and 10 fils, but I really haven't seen any of those for about 5 years. At that time, Spinneys supermarkets made a big deal out of using these coins when giving change, and gradually my pockets filled up with this stuff. I decided to try to spend some of it one time. I'd had lunch in an hotel that was not one of my regular haunts. I hadn't enjoyed the lunch or the service, so I spent quite some time counting out the exact amount of the bill in small change, including quite a lot of the copper stuff. I left it on the table and departed. I was stopped in the lobby by a security guy who was pretty insistent that I should have a quick meeting with the manager. The manager was ranting on about how these little bits of copper were not legal tender, so I invited him to quit wasting my time and to sue me if he still had a problem.

Haven't heard from him since.