I really hate pennies. They are smelly, fussy, and add unnecessary weight. When I lived in Switzerland, I thought it was so great that all the prices were rounded to the nearest 0.05 CHF. No more pennies and everything in nice rounded numbers divisible by 5. Of course, then I started to resent the little 5 Rappen Swiss coins that accumulated in my change purse.
But here in Saudi, they’ve done away with coins altogether. At least, that’s what it seems. You will get the odd 50 halala (cent) coin once in a while, but actually, what you’re more likely to get is gum. Yes, chewing gum. It’s just a phenomenon you see in grocery stores. In other shops (e.g. clothing, hardware, books), pretty much everything is rounded to the nearest Riyal, so all transactions involve just the Riyal bills. But in the grocery stores, they can’t round the prices for things like produce or meat, which are sold by weight, to the nearest Riyal. But they might as well.
So let’s say you are due 1.62 Riyals in change. The cashier might hand you just a 1 Riyal bill, or you might get a 1 Riyal bill plus gum. You don’t even get to choose what flavor of gum you want. And it’s not as if it’s some decent gum from, say, Wrigley’s. Instead, you get a single piece of some locally-made gum that looks like a Chiclet, but about half the size, and whose taste lasts about half a bite.
The worst are the little convenience stores. They don’t even sell things by weight, but they’ll charge, say, 3.50 Riyals for something. So you could end up being owed 1.50 Riyals in change, but again, get gum instead of the 50 halala. If you complain, they’ll say to you, “What’s the big deal? It’s only 50 halala.” Yes, but it’s my 50 halala!
It’s outright theft, plain and simple. On a case-by-base level, it seems hardly a big deal. As the cashier says, what’s a few halala? And I did state upfront how I found little coins such a bother. But imagine the money these grocery stores, both big and small, are making from millions of such transactions every year? Why should we forego our small change to contribute to the profit of these corporations? You gotta hand it to them, though. It’s an ingenious strategy. Most of us will not bother complaining about the gum. Who has the time to argue over a few halala every time we go to the grocery store? Besides, there are enough time-wasting nuisances to deal with in this country.
But what gets me so riled up is that, yet again, we are not given a choice in the matter. What if I wanted my 42 halala, or whatever, rather than a piece of gum? Why are you foisting the piece of gum on me? It’s not like Saudi doesn’t have the coins to give people proper change. Indeed, Saudi coins apparently come in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 halala. (Although I have yet to see any of them, except for the 50 halala coin.) Shouldn’t there just be a rule or something that people should get their proper change? And if people don’t want to carry around a lot of change in their pocket, they could set up donation boxes for charities beside all the cash registers. At least allow us to choose what we want to do with our money, no matter how small the amount.