Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Value of Coins as Souvenirs

Photographs by Nicole Holt

When traveling abroad, it is only natural to use the local currency. This usually involves tracking down an ATM to make a withdrawal at your destination airport or visiting one of the money changers that are all too eager to make their commission. With local currency in hand, you have a few minutes to admire your larger bills until they are quickly spent and broken down into smaller bills and coins.

I always enjoy exploring the coins of a new country. I'm not sure why, but it might be because of the relative permanence of the coin. Paper money is only around for a short period of time before it becomes worn and must be retired. Coins are much more durable; they stay in service for many years.

Somehow, I never quite seem to spend all of my coins before returning home. Some of the coins go to a coworker who collects foreign coins and the rest go into a mug that acts as a memory depository. I'd like to share with you a couple of my more memorable coin stories.

In Russia I was warned that it was unlawful to remove any of the local currency from the country and that I should get rid of all of my rubles before heading through security. I had remembered reading a story about a women who was caught bringing home some rubles and was charged with "Removing the Treasures of Russia." Being charged with a crime in Russia wasn't something that I was interested in experiencing so I planned on getting rid of all my rubles prior to proceeding through customs.

After exchanging all of my folding money for Euros, I put my coins into a large plexi-glass box which I'm pretty sure was for the maintenance of some sort of church as the box had a big picture of a church on it. I felt bad about letting go of my coins because I had never seen Russian coins before this trip. However, I really didn't want to be detained for something so frivolous as taking home a few rubles.

After making my way through security and not finding a drinking fountain, I went to buy a bottle of water. I paid in Euros and while they nearly had enough change for me they had to make up the small rubles. This didn't entirely surprise me as laws seemed to be randomly enforced throughout my stay to Russia, but it still felt wrong. By that point I was past the customs check so I felt that it was OK to take the coin home.

In Australia, one of the people with whom I was visiting pointed out to me that the back of their 50 cent piece features the seal of Australia. The seal bears the images of an emu and a kangaroo. I was asked why I thought this was the case, and I thought to myself that they must both taste good. Before I could utter my reply, I was informed that neither of these animals were biologically capable of taking a backwards step, and that similarly Australia must always move forward.

I was also informed that both the emu and the kangaroo both taste good.

My rubles and the Austrailian 50 cent piece mingle in my memory depository mug with coins from Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, Chile and other countries. However, I always pause slightly when I come across either of these two coins and the memories come right back to me. It's funny how something as common and small as a coin can bring back such vivid memories, but they do.

Even though they might not be the lightest souvenirs that one can find while traveling, I still like bringing home coins. Do you have a similar stash of coins that mostly collects dust but occasionally sparks your memory?

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  1. Yes. I have a collection of euros from 5 years ago and a quetzales from last year. They bring back great memories.

  2. Similarly, I like to keep a few coins from each country I visit. Though they just sit in a bag back home, I think coins say something about a country - what images they put on their coins, what shapes they are.

  3. I have a small collections of all the different European coins from when we lived there before everything went to Euros. I had to travel with different purses: one for Holland, one for Germany, one for Polland, etc. Before we moved back I had stacks of coins from each country that I exchanged with some friends who still lived there. Great memories!

  4. Robin Sue: That's a great coin story. Speaking of coin purses, on that same trip to Australia I was advised that the perfect souvenir would be a coin purse made out of the testicular sack of a kangaroo. I did not buy a coin purse on that trip.