Thursday, March 01, 2007

Korean Math

I am by no means gifted in the area of math. I always got my lowest grades in school in that subject, and I specifically chose to go into a field that requires a small amount of math.

That being said, my experience in many jobs that require money handling has given me a good ability with money math. I can count back change, figure the best way to "overpay" to get a more favorable amount of change back.

The Korean money system does not have high money denominations. They have bills that equal about $1, $5, and $10 and coins worth about a penny, a nickel, and a half-dollar. So, I often end up with large about of coins in my pocket. It is often very difficult to get rid of these coins for reasons I am about to explain.

The Koreans are brilliant people, but most shopkeepers tend to be severely lacking in the area of "money math." I often overpay, to get a favorable form of change back, but my efforts are often met with frustration. At first, I thought they just thought I was a dumb foreigner who didn't understand my money. However, I now realize, that the concept of overpaying just doesn't fit into the Korean thought process.

Just tonight, I went to a store and rang up a bill of W5,700 (about $5.70). So, I gave the lady a W10,000 note, a W1,000 note, and two W200 coins for a total of W11,200. In turn, she could have given me a W5,000 note at a W500 coin. Perfect!

It wasn't that easy. At first, she insisted on just taking the W10,000 note. Then, I showed her on a calculator how much simpler it was. We went back in forth for several minutes before her husband came over. Her husband always seems to be at this store. They are open from about 7:00am to 12:30am and he is always there. He is very good a "money math" and is no-nonsense. he came right in, saw what I was trying to do, gave me my change and let me go.

I wish this was an isolated incident.

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