There is much to report and I’m already way behind, but I’ll catch up soon. We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? In any case, an overly agressive baggage handler at the Mumbai airport reminded me of two currency-related topics I’ve been meaning to mull. Well, I’ve been mulling them, but I haven’t posted the mull.
I had left the details of arrival to my colleague, but our assigned transportation either did not show up or we did not recognize them in the crush of taxiwallahs at the arrival point. Arriving in India for the first time after about fifteen hours of flight we probably had “wealthy, dazed and confused” written all over us but we knew enough to hire a prepaid taxi from the window, which we did with great success. 190 Rupees for a “cool cab” including luggage and service charges. Just go to the row of blue taxis and get in number 5943.
Heading to the taxis we acquired a crew (perhaps a quarter of a horde in number) of overly eager to serve (not necessarily eager to please) and not very official looking baggage handlers. For their service (or attempt to serve) they asked for “some coins” but I didn’t have any. Perhaps this was a figure of speech, but the smallest denomination I had was a 10 Rupee note, about 25 cents US. It doesn’t usually work to ask somebody hustling for tips if they can break a large bill. Indeed, Rupees come in coins as small as 25 paise (1/4 Rupee) up to 5 Rupees, but I haven’t seen any yet.
As the ancient taxi sputtered out of the airport lot, I thought about this. I’ve been complaining for a while that the US $1 coin is lousy and unpopular, probably a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that in most civilized countries, the monetary equivalent of US $1 is a coin, not a bill. I think (among other crackpot currency thoughts) that the US should dump the $1 bill and make a $1 coin worth using. Canada’s smallest bill is $5, ditto ₤5 and €5 (almost $8 now); in Japan you don’t hit paper until ¥1,000, almost $10. And there are 1 and 2 coins for Canadian Dollars, Euros and Pounds, plus 100 and 500 Yen pieces, too.
I figured that like holding on to the penny, holding on the $1 bill is all about pretending that the currency has a lot of value, that you can still buy something significant for $1 and that 1¢ makes a difference. This fits with the fact that in India, there’s paper down to 25¢ because in that economy, you can get something decent for that amount. In China and Hong Kong the paper money starts (and it did start in China, orginally) at 10 RMB or 10 HKD, about $1.25, and I think there used to be no 10 HKD bill and used to be a lot more small RMB bills in China, reflecting the changes in those economies. I’m not sure what the real costs and benefits are to the country of maintaining paper or metal money, perhaps some freakonomist has written a paper.
Or maybe pants in the US are already in too much danger of falling down, and the additional weight of more coins would cause a national epidemic of wardrobe malfunction.
In any case, the subject of pants has little to do with the other part of my currency thinking, which is the wedding gift. I was invited to a wedding this summer, which it turned out I could not attend, but I wanted to send a gift. Going to the registry and buying and shipping some plates or stemware or cruets or something seemed unoriginal and labor-intensive. Cash or a cash equivalent like a gift card was clearly the way to go.
Then things got tricky. How much? Nobody has good advice on this. I’m in good financial shape these days, but I don’t know the couple that well. The idea that the gift should correspond to the expense of the wedding itself ,whatever you think of that, makes little sense when you don’t attend. I eventually arrived at a general range and then I proceeded to complicate things for myself. I wanted to give money in an interesting and meaningful amount.
I wasn’t willing to give up all originality by giving cash. I wanted to give an amount that would carry some meaning, not so much in its magnitude but in a numerologically significant way. Every culture has lucky and unlucky numbers. Half the happy couple is of Chinese origin, and I know that 8 is a good number in China, so maybe a sum with an 8 in it, or ending in an 8. In East Asia you sometimes see prices ending in 88 the way you see 99 or 95 in the West. It’s easy to add 88¢ to the end of any amount to send a little message, and $88 isn’t a bad gift amount either.
But the other half of the couple is of South Asian family origin. I did some research and couldn’t find as easy a numerology except the vague statement that numbers ending in 1 were considered fortunate in Hindu circles. Again, easy to make a gift of $51 instead of $50 or $101 instead of $100. Would a gift of $101.88 do anything other than confuse? I’m not sure. How about $81.18? That has two 8’s for double happiness (always a good wedding theme) and some ones and includes 18, which is a lucky number in the Jewish mysic discipline of Gematria because the numberical value (every Hebrew word has a numberical value, the sum of the values of its letters which are also traditionally used as numbers) of “life” “chai” (as in “lechaim”) is 18. Now things are getting perhaps needlessly esoteric. I picture the couple writing out thank you notes (I’m sure these two will enter gifts in a spreadsheet) and coming to mine and asking “what the heck was that all about?”
Realizing that the number games were a lot more amusing to me than they were likely to be to the happy couple, and acknowledging the small but real risk at the recipients might be more fluent in numerology than I and that I might choose poorly trying to combine two systems, I chose a mildly interesting number (round dollars, no cents) and bought a gift card. I could tell that the store clerk was troubled by my choice not being a multiple of ten or 25 but she was a true professional and took my money.
Maybe next time I can send a large prime number of decent dollar coins.