buying chocolate

Stopped by the supermarket on my way home from work and picked up some chocolate. Nothing exciting there. Cost me 12.60. What was interesting was the exchange. And the only reason why it struck me as really interesting was because it happens all the time and slowly it’s becoming less weird to me.

Cashier: (scans chocolate) 12 yuan 6
Me: (hands her a 20-yuan note)
Cashier: Do you have 1 mao?
Me: (digs through coin purse)
Cashier: Better yet, do you have 6 mao?
Me: (hands her a 5-mao coin and a 1-mao coin)
Cashier: Do you have 2 yuan?
Me: (hands her 2 yuan coins)
Cashier: Okay. (hands me a 10-note in change)

Maybe I should give a brief rundown on the currency system. For the price 12.60, one would say 12 yuan, 6 jiao (also called mao), and 0 fen. Though the conversion is way off, yuan = dollar, mao = dime, and fen = cent. No worries about the fen though because I’ve never actually seen a fen coin and I don’t think they’re even made anymore. Prices always end at the yuan or jiao because 1 fen is the equivalent of .15 cent … and that’s just too ridiculously little. Denominations that one actually sees are bills in the form of 5 mao, 1 yuan, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 and coins in 1 mao, 5 mao, and 1 yuan. That overlap of 5 mao and 1 yuan appearing in both coin and note form is very annoying. It’s why people in the US don’t use the Susan B. Anthony.

Chinese currency really isn’t that weird, but how they use it is different than in the US, especially since most people pay everything in cash. Cashiers here seem to hate giving out change in the form of small coins. When I was still new to Shanghai, a cashier started asking if I had specific coins and I looked at her confused. My wallet was open in front of me, so she just stuck her hand in my wallet and got the correct change. Okay sure, if the total was $12.01 and the cashier asked me if I had a penny, I’d look for a penny. But if the total was $12.26, I’d think she was mad if she asked: Do you have a penny? And a nickel? How about two dimes?