Turkey decides that seven zeroes don’t fit on money very easily and West Africa trades in tatters for crisp new bills.
News about banknotes wouldn’t seem to warrant much excitement, but anyone who has traveled around much knows that the currency can have a major impact on your visit.
My money memories are varied and often frustrating. When I taught English in South Korea I got paid in cash once a month. The biggest bill was only worth about nine dollars, so if I went out after work on payday without going home first, I had to do it with a giant stack of bills jammed in my coat or my pants. (Thankfully it’s a safe country.) When I was in Laos, nobody changed more than $100 at a time because the biggest bill was only worth 50 cents. You literally had to bring a bag with you to carry it. And everyone who has been to India conducts an ongoing fight with shopkeepers over tattered bills and a lack of change. The only way to get around it is to use the bad bills for tips–you literally have to give them away.
One of the oddest experiences was Turkey, however. When I lived there, virtually everyone headed to the exchange booth on payday to change their Turkish Liras for hard currency. Inflation was so bad that if you waited, you money would soon be worth less. On one occasion my wife and I decided to walk past the exchange booth and hit the post office first. By the time we got back to the booth–15 minutes later–the exchange rate had gotten worse already.
At the time, in the mid-90s, one US dollar was worth about 40,000 Turkish Lira. The million lira note was just getting into circulation. Over the years, as inflation has continued, it has gotten far worse. A few months ago, that million-lira note wasn’t even worth a buck. But everyone can now kiss those zeros goodbye: one NEW Turkish lira is now worth 75 US cents, or about half a euro. You’ll no longer be an instant millionaire when you enter the country, but a normal calculator actually works again to figure out exchange rates.
Meanwhile, seven West African nations have updated their currency for the first time since 1992. Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Burkino Faso, Benin, and Togo have shared a currency the past 12 years, but the governments never got their act together to issue new notes. So the old bills had gotten tattered beyond recognition and, as you can imagine, more than a bit dirty. But in January they finished phasing out $1.3 billion in old West African francs and issued new ones. For now anyway, it’s all crispness and the smell of new money.