Monday, 19 March 2007

Currency Curiosities

In the 1960's Australia switched from pounds and shillings to a dollar system. The government chose to have a fifty-cent coin and a twenty-cent coin instead of the North American quarter. Both coins are large and thick, particularly the fifty-cent one, so that a few in your pocket or purse make for a considerable weight. There's also a ten-cent coin, slightly smaller but thicker than a quarter, and a five-cent coin about the size of a dime.
The relief images on the coins are attractive, with the exception of the 50 cents which has the Australian coat-of-arms, too cluttered an image for the space. I particularly like the 20-cent platypus and the 5-cent echidna.
Originally there were also a two-cent and a one-cent coin, both copper, but these were eliminated some years ago. Retailers however, still adhere to the strategy of prices ending in 99 cents, even though there is no longer the currency to pay that exact amount. Cashiers simply round the total up or down to the nearest 5 cents.
One great advantage here is that taxes (GST, etc.) are rolled into the advertised prices so that what you see on the price tag is what you pay (to the nearest 5 cents, of course). This is a nice surprise for Canadians who have become used to expecting another 14% added at the till. Of course, the other side of the coin (sorry!) is that prices often seem higher to begin with.
A peculiarity of receiving change here is that the cashier inevitably puts the notes in your palm first, then dumps the change on top. You subsequently perform a juggling act to steer the coins into your purse without any of them falling on the floor. If successful, you can then put away the notes. I hadn't really noticed this until I read a letter to the editor in one of the Sydney papers complaining about this practice. The writer was a Canadian.

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