Friday, August 21, 2009

Change, Please

When making a purchase in Nigeria, it is often difficult to get change from the vendor. Sometimes change is genuinely hard to come by, but other times it is a business technique designed to get you to spend more money.

A couple of years ago, the government minted some new one naira coins (worth less than one penny) and two naira coins. The coins aren't worth much, but they do help to finish up a transaction properly. Strangely enough after seeing the new coins around for a couple of months, they seemed to drop out of circulation. People were used to carrying paper money and didn't want to be bothered with heavy coins.

A couple weeks ago when I bought some items at a major supermarket, my total was something like N3,446 ($22.09). I gave the cashier N3,500. Now, this supermarket never has the coins to make a transaction exact. I knew that so I was expecting him to give me N55 change. Well, he gave me N50. I told him that's not right for the store to keep my N4 change. It's better for the store to lose N1 than for the customer to lose N4. (And vice versa: if the larger amount were in the store's favor, then I would say they should keep my smaller amount.) This has been going on for a long time, and since I had just come back from the U.S. where everything is so precise, I said something. He acquiesed and gave me N55 change.

Well, when I stopped at the same supermarket today, the cashier recognized me, and got out some brand new coins and gave me EXACT change! I smiled, and said, "I'm happy!" He grinned broadly. This is the first time I have seen coins this year! Maybe even in the last two years!

Then I went on to the outdoor vegetable sellers and encountered another variety of "no change." I bought N300 of guavas, N350 of lemons, and N100 of mangos for a total of N750. I handed the seller my N1000 note. And then the cajoling began:

Seller 1: Madam, come and buy N250 bananas.
MB: No thank you. Bring me my change.

Seller 2: Madam, come and buy oranges.
MB: No thank you. Bring me my change.

Seller 3: Ma, what of carrots?
MB: No thank you. Bring me my change.

Then I decided I would take a new tactic on the game. "Please bring me a stool so I can sit down and wait for my change." I had hardly seated myself when the N250 was produced. It wasn't that they didn't have change, but they really wanted me to spend my whole N1000 in their market.

What's the big deal? Couldn't I have used bananas, oranges, or carrots? Well, probably, but 1) I don't want them to wear me down everytime and 2) maybe I have a plan for that N250 change.

In all of these situations, it is essential to maintain a sense of humor and lighthearted banter--never anger. Nigerians like a lot of good-natured "back and forth" in the market.

And once in awhile I do give in: Earlier today I bought a bunch of plantain from an old man who was carrying his load of plantain on his head. I bargained the price down to N400 for a small bunch. When I gave him N500, he said "no change," and wanted me to buy two more plantain to make up for it. I agreed--maybe because my whole family was desperate to eat plantain.

In spite of all these stories, I must admit that there are some fine establishments that always produce exact change without any prompting.


Jenni said...

your post made me laugh because even in my brief times in Nigeria I've experienced that countless times! I LOVE Nigerians :)

conniez said...

This just made me laugh! You know I love the market