Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Money & Me : Walk and chew gum

My middle school was a good mile away from home. By the end of my daily classes, I would be tired and hungry. Breakfast was long digested and forgotten, recess snacks were not a big part of Eastern European culture. But thank God for the gypsies! Most school days, when the weather was nice enough, a voluptuous gypsy woman was waiting by the schoolyard’s gate, selling sunflower seeds and packs of chewing gum.

The sunflower seeds were home-roasted, generously salted, and packed in long, narrow cones from a tightly spun newspaper. Salt clumps and hygiene standards aside, sunflower seeds were a treat! Especially after six lessons in math, literature, and whatnot. I just needed something to tide me over until I got lunch at home.

Back in the day, gypsies would trade with the Turkish seasonal workers across the Bulgarian border. That was their secret to stocking and selling Turkish chewing gum. Turkish chewing gum was way superior to the Bulgarian one. It was bigger, flavored, colored, and sweet. Most importantly, under each wrapper was a second wrapper - a photograph of a Western car, and that’s what the boys wanted. A chewing gum’s cost was twice that of the sunflower seeds, so I had a tough choice to make - get some seeds for the half-hour walk home, or buy a chewing gum and appeal to a boy I like by offering him my car photograph. Not that money savvy at my age, most days hunger won, but on a love-ridden day, I would spend twice the money and learn to walk and chew gum, on an empty stomach. Because who said money can’t buy you love?

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Money & Me: Money is sweet

Image by valuavitaly on Freepik

In 1980s Bulgaria, where I grew up, three generations would traditionally share a roof, as did we. I was my grandfather Ilya’s namesake and his favorite grandchild. I was not yet of school age when Grandpa started sending me to the corner store to buy him cigarettes, and generously let me keep the change. “Get yourself a sweet!”- he would say with a smile. Most often Grandpa would give me a 20 cent coin if he asked for the filterless, cheaper brand smokes costing 15 cents. 5 cents change was enough for a butter cookie or a wafer. But on a very good day, when he felt like indulging on 35c filtered slim cigarettes, he would hand me a 50 cent coin, which left me with 15 cents change. That was two chocolate dipped wafers, or a slice of cake! I was in sweet heaven while my Grandpa was poisoning his lungs.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize it but one day the light went on. If I was sent for the fancy cigarettes, but they were sold out (or I just say so!) I could buy the cheap ones instead and end up with lots of change. Lots in the eye of a child of single digits age. Even when Grandpa would give me the exact amount of coins for the more expensive cigarettes, if I bought the filterless fags, I’d have the upper hand.

Grandpa loved me so much. He loved smoking too. I doubt he ever got the drift of my little shenanigans. But with a bit of math I learned money’s top attribute - money is sweet!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Money & Me: The Beginning


Susan Sheldon / Eyeem | Eyeem | Getty Images

“In the beginning, there was…” barter. Money came later.

“Scientists have tracked exchange and trade through archaeological records, starting n the Paleolithic, when groups of hunters traded for the best flint weapons and other tools”, claims anthropologist Chapurukha Kusimba. “At first, people bartered, negotiating exchange deals between two parties for desirable objects. Money came later and its form evolved over the millennia – from natural objects to coins to paper to digital versions. “

Mother-of-pearl shells, amber, obsidian, copper, iron, silver, and gold have served as currency at different times. The Mesopotamian shekel - the first known form of currency – emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The earliest known mints date ~600 B.C. in Asia Minor, where the leaders of Lydia and Ionia used stamped silver and gold coins to pay armies. 

Having been around for so long, one would think money is a settled matter. But money is a fickle thing. 

I was introduced to money only half a century ago, yet in this relatively short period of time, I witnessed three redenominations of the Bulgarian lev in my home country. Nineteen European countries underwent currency substitution during the formation of the European Union. I lived in four countries after leaving home and I dealt with four different currencies. Moreover, I witnessed different attitudes toward money around the world.

Want to read about how I got to know and value money? 

Follow my "Money & Me" adventures (and misadventures!) in the next several weeks.