Saturday, August 10, 2013

pesos on the barrelhead

The owner of our local tour company told a story the other day about a northern tourist who wandered into his shop and tried to purchase a tour with a 1000 peso note,

If the story stopped there, it would be unusual.  A 1000 peso note is a rarity in our little village where businesses struggle to find change for a 100 peso note.  But there is more to the tale.

The owner rejected the note.  Not because of its size, but its value as currency.  That series of note had been withdrawn years before.  Its value?  Only as a souvenir -- like a ceramic burro wearing a sombrero  manufactured in China.

Of course, the woman tourist attempted to persuade the owner to accept the note and he could then deal with the local bank because she had received it from a Canadian bank.  The plaint of every monetary loser standing without a chair when the music stops.

That tale has prodded me to pass along this public service announcement.  Since May, Mexico has a new 50 peso note.  That is it on top.  The old 50 peso note is below it.  For now, both are legal tender.

But it is also an opportunity to talk about Mexico's currency.  People often refer to Mexico is being some sort of financial backwater.  That is certainly not true of its currency.  Mexico was one of the first countries to switch over to plastic money.  Or, in the parlance of finance-speak, polymer banknotes.

And plastic the notes are.  The switch was a bit controversial.  Few things symbolize a nation's character more than its currency. 

As it turned out, the plastic does not detract from Mexico's proud historical heritage.  You barely notice the small man with the top hat and monocle printed on each note.

The plastic also turns out to be quite efficient.  The notes last longer than paper notes.  They are less likely to jam ATMs.  And they are more difficult to counterfeit.

That last point is the reason for the new 50 peso notes.  If you look at the two notes, you can see that the top one has more detailed graphics, additional colors, and new transparency windows. 

The two butterflies, for example.  Apparently, those windows are incredibly difficult to duplicate.

You might ask, who on earth would counterfeit a 50 peso note?  After all, it is the equivalent of less than $4 (US).  
Counterfeiters find little value in forging American currency any lower than a Jackson.  It s not worth the effort.  

But that is the danger of thinking in dollars in Mexico.  A 50 peso note can buy a full grocery bag of local vegetables and fruits.  With change to go in my pocket.

I found that when I thought of prices in dollars, I was far too ready to pay too much for everything here.  It took me about three years, but I have now adjusted to thinking in pesos. 

That is why the security measures are needed on the 50 peso note.  It is real money.

And you can use several of them to buy yourself a nice tour in Mexico.

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