Change We Can Believe In

By Steve Mullaney

Ideally, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency will bring “Change We Can Believe In” to the United States. However, many folks living in Xela are looking for a different kind of change, sencillo. Returning from the ATM with a wad of bills tucked neatly in socks or bras, the next big question becomes “How am I going to convert my cash from Quetzales to Spendable Quetzales?”

The cheapest way to get this done is to go to a bank and ask for change. Usually, this means waiting in line for fifteen minutes and invariably getting stuck behind someone who is trying to do some impossible transaction, like depositing a goat into a checking account. (Livestock can only be deposited into savings accounts as of September, but this law is enforced to varying degrees—especially at Banco Industrial).

Option two is buying something that you don’t really need and pocketing the rest of the change. Your best bet is at any Sarita stand. Fortunately there are 472 Saritas in Xela, so you’re probably within one block from Guatemala’s unofficial banking system. People who work there always have change—in fact, the early business model was that folks would pay Q5 to get change and then receive a free ice cream cone.

Heartless corporations (McDonald’s, Wal-Mart owned Dispensa Familiar, etc.) are also sure bets to always have sencillo. Considering the line at the Dispensa is always seven or eight deep you probably won’t get the “Q100 Face” if you show up and buy a pack of gum and leave.

Rummage around in your wallet. Fake look in your pockets. Pretend to be very sorry. People don’t part with their change easily here: when you pay with a Q100 it’s like you’ve just run over their dog. Apologize as if you have just killed their dog. If you are a method actor you may need to kill a number of street dogs to get the proper inspiration. This is an acceptable custom, practiced by locals and tourists alike.

Flirt shamelessly. If there’s any way to pull the bill out of your cleavage you may not even have to pay. (This tactic does not apply to man boobs).

If all else fails, cry.

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