Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Moroccan Obsession
What could possibly have an entire African nation obsessed? Is it food? No. Electricity? Nope. The internet? Uh uh. Silly bands? Naw. Telling you that your daytime running lights are on while you're driving using the international gesture for "you're lights are on"? No, that's actually the runner up to the national obsession and the reason I've tried to disable the daytime running lights. Seriously. Give up? It's money.
Don't misunderstand me. It's not how much money they have or don't have that causes them to obsess. Moroccans are some of the most generous people I have met. Rather it is the state and distribution of their money that they are particular about. And in a cash society like Morocco's a lot of physical money transactions occur, much more so than in our American credit dominated marketplace. So what does this mean? It means that there are a lot of well worn bills in Morocco. On more than one occasion I have gone to my favorite bakery and pulled out a crumpled decrepit bill to pay with. The first time this happened the cashier sneered, showed her co-workers and told me how disgusting I was for trying to use it. I assume that's what she told me anyway. Luckily, this money lecture was in French so I only got nuances. And they weren't good. Not knowing French really comes in handy sometimes.) So then I'm doing defensive charades pointing at the grocery store checkout line that I just received the offending bill from. Like, duuuudddde, it's not MY fault. I've only had possession of this 20 dirhams for less than 40 seconds. Just hand over the baguette already. She did so reluctantly, but not without the total disgust that comes when you use ugly money in Morocco.
Bills are nothing compared to the exigency of change. Exact change. Anywhere you go in Morocco your merchant wants exact change. The thing is, it's near impossible to always have exact change. Especially when your only access to money is getting dirham bills out of an ATM. But, one needs change here. You need it for the parking guy, the woman begging in the street, to feed the parking meter and of course for the next guy who wants you to make your purchase with exact change also. Now at the grocery store they do have an entire tray of change. I have seen it I tell you. They will ask you for exact change anyway as if they are having a change drought. This is when I will do the "good faith" search through my purse. This is a faux fumble where I appear to dig down to the bottom of my bag past that unwrapped piece of gum that is collecting lint (unless I ate that piece of sweaty linted gum like I did yesterday). You see, I need my change to pay the parking guy. And I can see that you have the change. Just give it to me already!
So how did this money obsession start? I imagine it probably originated many years ago with the bartering system. If you want my ox cart you must trade me one healthy pristine cow. Do not try to give me the sickly feeble looking cow. And I do not want to make change by halving the cow. Who wants half a cow? The whole healthy cow for the cart or there is no deal. Take it or leave it. Oh yeah, and this particular cow in the photo? I saw this morning in an open lot on the way home from my friend's house. It looks all healthy doesn't it? Well, it was in an open lot eating garbage. So the good thing about using money? A dirham is worth a dirham, no matter how ugly. And oh yeah, it doesn't eat trash. I've got it. Maybe I can barter the liter eating cow for my groceries next time I go to the supermarket. Now how am I going to get the cow in my car?