Buying Guinean francs in Conakry to settle a hotel bill. No plastic here.
I’ve only been back in the US for one month, and already I’ve been forced to upgrade to a larger and fancier wallet. In Africa, I didn’t even carry a wallet; I just kept my money (bills and coins alike) in a small money purse which could easily fit in my pocket (or even bra, if I was wearing a dress that had no pockets). It was a simple square sewn from African fabric with a zipper on one side.
I’m talking about it in the past tense, but I still have it. It’s just been relegated to my sock drawer, since there’s no way it could cut it here in America. I mean, I was loyal to my African money purse and I stuck with it at the beginning of my stay here in the US, but I very quickly outgrew it – or overfilled it, to be precise – as the number of cards that I had to carry mushroomed.
First it was only my debit card that I carried around. Even this took some getting used to, since in Liberia I didn’t carry any cards with me, it being an entirely cash-based economy (at the time I left, there were two establishments in the entire country that accepted payment by card, both of them expensive hotels). I paid for everything with cash all the time, no matter how big or small the payment. I paid my rent in cash each month, given to the landlord in a fat envelope. If I booked a flight to another African country, I paid for the plane tickets in cash at the travel agent’s cashier desk. I became proficient at counting out tatty, old series American hundred dollar bills like some sort of gangster.
Now, suddenly, in the USA I could pay for anything and everything with my debit card. Everyone ahead of me in the line certainly was, no matter how small the purchase, and no matter how much easier and faster it would be to just buy your $2.50 coffee with three one-dollar bills, rather than having to swipe your card, punch in your PIN code, and wait for the machine to print a receipt. But, apparently in the 13 years that I’ve been gone from the US, cash has become an anachronism. Who carries that green stuff anymore? That’s so 1990s.
If it was only for the debit card, I could manage to fit that in my African money purse. And of course there’s my driver’s license, which I carry as identification. But with each day that passes, my plastic is proliferating. Every single store I go into seems to offer me a new card, be it a “rewards” card, a store credit card, or both. I bought a laptop, and I got a “My Best Buy” card; I needed shampoo, and I ended up with a “Walgreen’s Balance Rewards” card; I ate a bagel for lunch, and it came with a “My Panera Member” card; I stopped in the corner shop near my apartment to buy a bottle of wine, and I acquired a “Buy 10 bottles of wine, get 1 free” card (well, that last one might come in handy).
By the end of the week (yes, I acquired all these cards in little over one week), I realized it had to stop. At Old Navy, I insisted to the sales clerk (after two attempts on his part to convince me otherwise) that yes, I’d really rather pay in cash today, instead of signing up for an Old Navy credit and paying nothing today. “But, ma’am, you’ll also receive a 10% discount on your purchase.” The problem is, you see, I’ve just had to buy a new wallet to store all my new cards, and I’m running out of slots to put them in. And I assure you these pieces of paper in my hand are actually legal tender. So, please take them.