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Always check your change

Always check your change

Leaving a convenience store just now a cashier tried swindling me out of 10 pesos in change. I left the place a little confused then marched right back in to collect what was owed to me. If I hadn't it would have been the second time in three nights that someone jacked me for 10 pesos in change.

Look at the coin above. A cabbie gave it to me as change for a fare from Polanco to Centro. Happened quick and uneventfully, but it happened at night, in the dark of traffic. The coin the cabbie gave me is shaped like a modern 10 peso piece, it is silver in the middle and gold on the outside like most modern 10 peso pieces, and it weighs more or less the same as an average 10 peso piece in circulation today.

But upon close examination, which of course was too late, I realized this coin reads "20 Centavos." And that, curiously, its year of minting is written as 1944.

A centavo is a micro-unit of Mexican currency, a hundredth of a peso. This coin is essentially worthless because a single centavo -- or even 50 of them -- can buy you nothing. Imagine the worth of this coin then, in 40s era centavos?

I took the coin out with me for two days this week, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to return that sneaky cabbie's favor to all of Mexico City. Rightfully, as this is a city of swindlers if there ever was one. Everyone is constantly trying to pull tricks on one another, up and down the class scale, in trading big and small. With this non-10 peso coin in my pocket, I stepped into the action of the sidewalks. A potential victim: the hunched-over old newsstand man on a corner on Bolivar Street. In my head I'm rubbing my palms together. But I'm also thinking, if I get caught, the situation could get extremely embarrassing, extremely fast. No one likes being swindled. Making that sentiment known, as loudly as possible, when you realize it is happening, is a traditional response here.

Yet I couldn't do it. I gave the old guy a real 10 peso piece for my paper, then I showed him my bogus 10, casually. The old man explained amiably that it was worthless coin, and to watch out. I told him what happened. He laughed and chatted on, and suggested I take the coin to the coin shop down the block, which I went ahead and did, with no luck. And when I left the old man at his newsstand, I could tell that although he was being friendly as we chatted, he must have been relieved -- and also probably perplexed -- that I didn't try tricking him out of 10 pesos.


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