Every now and then, I plan to give you a sneak peek at my Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks book. so, here’s a sample that you might be able to identify with. Everyone who has ever crossed a border knows how it feels to suddenly have to operate in a new currency. There’s always a learning curve and it’s very helpful to equip yourself with a pocket calculator to work your way through the whole experience. Well, Poland’s monetary unit, the little zloty, (the plural is zlotych) was in a category all unto itself. Here’s the story, shortened to fit in here:
“At the train station, I finally found an ATM and drew out 800 Polish zlotych, without knowing the exchange rate. It’s so necessary to know this very important fact, even in order to understand how much you’re drawing down your debit account. On my way out to find a taxi, I inquired about the exchange rate and was told that $3.50 equals one zloty. Omigosh, if that’s true, then I had just withdrawn $2800 from my account and that was not good at all. I spent a moment of panic in the cab, thinking that my bank must have lent me the $800 above my current balance, and how could I repay that costly loan? But, then I talked some logic into myself and was sure that he meant that one dollar equals 350 zlotych, which meant that I had only withdrawn $28 and was completely safe…
Later: “I’m absolutely in shock and can’t really believe what appears to be the case about the exchange rate of the dollar to the local currency. By now, I’m very accustomed to sliding easily into a new value system whenever I cross a border. I simply need to know how many local tolars, koronas, forints, or zlotych that my one dollar will buy and then I can do the math on what things are costing. But, this challenge has absolutely thrown me and I don’t dare buy anything except my meals until I believe what actually seems to be the case. At the moment, things don’t compute (again) because everything seems to be so very cheap, costing only pennies and that doesn’t feel right. I have checked at the exchange boards and every one says that the dollar equals 320 zlotych. Guess the station guy was a little out of date, but with this reckoning a shirt costs fifteen cents and my Chinese lunch today cost a nickel. Other hostel guests aren’t from America, so they don’t use, or relate to, the dollar. I can’t consult with them.”
The next day: “At breakfast, I solved the mystery of Poland’s monetary unit, the apparently bizarre little zloty. It’s very simple. The exchange boards in Poland are using one hundred dollars as a base, not one dollar, as has been the case in all the other countries I have been in. So, the single dollar is worth 3.20 zlotych. Now things fall into place realistically. I should have figured that out, but I’ve never seen the exchange rate posted on a base of one hundred. Now I’m on solid ground again. I was quite correct not to believe what my senses were telling me when I looked at all of those exchange boards.
A girl named Cat cleared this up, saying that she had found the explanation somewhere in very small print. Cat’s a student of International Relations, a junior, studying at American University in Washington, after having spent one year in Spain and a summer in London. She came to Poland for a few days before flying home and back to a “normal life” and she’s wondering how she can ever return to the society of our immature college youth, with their high dramatics over trivia, after having spent a year abroad.”