Ah, money. When I first arrived in the UK, the money seemed like play money, which it wasn’t, of course. I knew I’d have to adjust to the new currency, but I didn’t expect it to go as it did. I thought that the more I used the money and the less contact I had with US money, the more real the UK money would seem. On the contrary, the more I use UK money, the more unlike real money it seems.
First, a short story about adjusting to new money. Within days of my arrival to the UK, I was paying for purchases at a store, counting out correct change. The cashier became irritated with me when I shorted her by about 20p. I had miscounted because I’d mistakenly thought (or didn’t think) that the 5p’s were equivalent to dimes. Well, they sure looked similar to me. This was not my only currency kerfluffle, but you get the idea.
Perhaps the 5p to 10¢ error was made, innocently enough, because initially I converted all my purchase prices in my head to US dollars. Most things here seem to cost just slightly less than in the US, assuming a one-to-one conversion. But then I’d do the math, which is roughly multiplying by 1.5 (1.6 exchange rate including a 20% VAT (value added tax), which is included in the price of many goods and services, compared to $1 plus the tax that would have been charged if I’d been in the US). Not quite as good a deal after conversion. Repeatedly I concluded that I was paying more for the same thing than I would have had I bought it in the States. Then I realized, “What difference does it make? It costs what it costs. Do you want it or not?” I stopped converting to US dollars.
Then I started thinking about the subjectiveness of money in general. Conversion rates fluctuate, prices are driven by supply and demand (or so I’m told), salaries are somewhat arbitrary around the margins. Right? As a result, money seems less real to me now, period. Money is worth what its holder thinks it is worth, what the holder is willing to give up in order to get. I doubt I’ll ever look at currency as I used to even after I return to the US. This is never what I would have expected upon moving overseas. Go figure.
With UK money seeming more like play money, it doesn’t surprise me that I should literally play with the money.
Matthew Dent’s Design Featuring the Royal Coat of Arms.
In 2008, the Royal Mint announced the winning entry in a public competition to design the first new British coin series in 40 years. Matthew Dent’s design featuring the royal coat of arms, a symbol of the reigning monarch, won the competition. Part of the royal coat of arms appears on the reverse of each of the coins from 1p through 5op and can be pieced together to form a nearly complete image of the royal coat of arms. The £1 coin features the complete shield. Mr. Dent’s design was particularly special because it was the first time a single design had been used across a range of coins in that way. The coins’ fronts bear the portrait of the Queen designed by Ian Rank-Broadley as coins have since 1998.
I think Matthew Dent’s design is pretty cool. Just like with the release of the US’s 50 States series of quarters, I eagerly look at the reverse of coins to see what I might find. Bills are also worth contemplation. Obviously, money is currency; but money is worth more than just what it can buy. It’s art and history and the latest in counterfeit prevention and…. Real or seemingly not, it’s a gas.
Note: Lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Money” (Dark Side of the Moon) were used in this post.