Monday, February 23, 2009


They say that a country's food, language and money are excellent indications of its culture. So it is in Romania also. learning to use and understand our money was a challenge. A few important facts: the currency is called 'leu' (singular - means 'lion' by the way) and 'lei' (plural), it went through a devaluation a few years ago when we dropped 4 zeros off the bills, the lei is often called RON (new currency) and it is a 'euro-based' currency and not a 'dollar-based' one.

The crazy thing about living in a different currency is how many times a day you find yourself "counting on your fingers" to see what something is worth in dollars that day. One day the dollar is high, then low, then changed again. I've learned a lot about the markets and money values.

Now, most clerks talk in "old money" and transact business in "new money," which can be quite confusing as it is also done in a second language for me. For example, a diet Coke (or Cola light) might cost 3 RON. The clerk will inevitably say (in Romania) 3,000 lei (trei mii). You have to keep it straight. Or, you have something that costs 400 RON, but the clerk will say 4,000,000 lei. Another smaller (but equally confusing) thing is the use of the , in Europe. Prices are listed as such: 29,5 ...meaning 29.50 or 49,95 and so on. Once the number is over 1,000 there is no comma because it is considered the decimal point in pricing.

Another phenomenon that occurs in Romania is the "mandatory exact change requirement." Clerks in smaller shops and stores begin the day with no money and they collect it through out the day. They often use a shoebox or a plastic box of some kind. It is the customer's role to have exact change and, if not, they must often go and find =it before they are allowed to buy things from the store. We've often been denied a purchase because we could not produce "exact payment." In the past clerks would give you items for change (whether you wanted them or not and you never got to choose) such as small coffee packets, sunflower seeds, gum or paper handkerchief packages. This practice, though out-lawed, still happens at times. You take it as part of life.... it becomes a running joke at times of all the things you weren't allowed to buy and all of the opportunities the store lost to actually sell something.

No, I'm not making fun (as some will accuse) just pointing out a difference that is very unusual to me personally. My life has been enriched from the country, the people and the experiences!

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