22 June 2011

Filipinos and Dirty Money

It's always been a wonder to myself why Filipino money always seems to look like some typhoon has passed over it. It's just so dirty, so old, and so smelly. Now, after traveling in the Philippines, I think I know the answer. In short, Filipinos have some habit they have regarding money, and everyone doesn't seem to mind it at all.

See, try riding a jeepney for example. You'll give a bill to the driver, and what does the driver immediately do? He rolls it, he folds it, he quarters it, he does everything he can to the bill until it is deformed. I have seen a few jeepneys where the money are all rolled up in tiny rolls, like home-made cigarettes, and stuck in between the metal in the jeepney dashboard. If there's a conductor in a bus, on the other hand, he will fold it lengthwise, and then wrap it around his fingers, as if it's some sort of makeshift fan that he is holding.

The other day, I was given a 20 peso bill for change. I didn't recognize it immediately, because it was so dark and dirty that for a second, I wanted to get some hand sanitizer and rub it all over my hands after handling it. Needless to say, I disposed of it at the earliest convenience, using it as my jeepney fare for the next ride I took.

I've seen bills that are made of plastic, instead of paper. Mexico for example, has initiated those, using plastic bills instead of paper. I wonder how long they last if that's the case. But perhaps, if the Philippines uses that, it still wouldn't last long, as the bill-handling habits of the Filipinos are rather hard to break. They would still roll it, fold it, quarter it, and mess it up as if there is no tomorrow.

(Mountains and Walls, from my Ollantaytambo Series)


  1. Besides riding the Jeepney, I am immensely curious to see how the conductor makes a fan out of those notes.

    In India people like to write on currency. It annoys me a lot. For example, you go to the cashier at the bank to deposit money, s/he will count it, put it in a bundle and use a leaky pen to write the number of notes that are in that bundle on the topmost note. This number is written over or next to Mahatma Gandhi's smiling face. It gets competitive after a while, every cashier wants to make their mark on previously marked notes. So you can imagine...

    I don't think people in India would hold money between their fingers, or make artistic shapes out of the paper because, but ofcourse, these are not sacred ways of handling money. :D

  2. Old francs used to be super dirty too! Euro notes are cleaner for some reason.

    In Australia, there are plastic bills. Pretty handy considering how going to to beach and surfing is important there!

    Notes in Canada are fairly clean and new but that may be because Ottawa is the capital and has fairly new notes all the time.

  3. Priyank,

    Why would you write on currency? And don't they realize that the number they write would be invalid once the bill becomes part of a different pile? And, making artistic shapes out of money is not sacred, but writing on them is?

  4. Zhu,

    Yes, I love plastic bills! I first saw them in Mexico, and they're the most awesome thing I saw money-wise. Very innovative!

  5. I have never seen plastic money. The dirtiest money I have ever used was in Ethiopia – it looked like dirty rags. In France if you give dollars to be exchanged and they have the smallest cut or something written on them most of the banks will refuse to change them. It has happened to me.

  6. Vagabonde,

    Yes, I find it interesting how some countries can be so particular about the state of cleanliness of foreign currency. I don't understand sometimes why they want the foreign currency they'll receive to be really clean or else they won't change it.