Why mentos is now legal tender in India

I really enjoy writing about the intricacies that make up India. Here’s another of those “stories”.

Obtaining “correct change” is an absolute pain here in India. Everyone from the bus conductor to the auto driver to the restaurant wants exact “change”. Most of them would refuse a customer if they dont provide them with the right coinage.

Take the Bangalore bus system, for example. The bus fare (for where I travel to and from) is usually an odd number between INR 10 and 20. The conductor (who gets money from 100’s of commuters every hour and still apparently gets no change) always demands exact change, even if he has a plethora of coins in his bag.

For most parts its so you can take the easy option and just pay him cash (a lower INR 5) for no ticket and hence goes into his pocket, than hunt around for the exact change. In case you refuse to do so, he’ll write the amount he owes you on the back of the ticket, and its up to you to ensure that you hunt him down for the change before you get off the bus. That in itself is an amazing feat, given that he’s always in the other end of the bus from where you are at the point you want to get off. In 50% of the cases you may not be able to hunt him down, which means he gets to pocket the difference.

But giving and providing change has been a problem at retail outlets too, which have come up with a “creative solution”, involving giving you a mentos for denominations less than INR 5. So if you are buying something for INR 14 and give him a INR 20 note, he’ll likely give you INR 5 and one mentos to make up for the INR 1 he owes you.

I experienced this several months ago (as did a friend last week) when I was taking the toll road out of the city. The attendant at the toll (when the charge was INR 19) did not have change for INR 50, so he gave us INR 30 back and a mentos. I was obviously peeved at the mentos, but since I did not have an option, kept it at the dash of the car.

Returning the same day, and passing by the same toll booth, I paid INR 18 in cash and gave back the mentos to the toll attendant to account for the INR 19 in toll charges. He did make a fuss about it, but I said that’s the choice he has, since they other attendant provided that to me last time around. He did accept it, but that opens a whole new area of currency arbitrage.

I suggest you go to the friendly neighborhood supermarket, and buy a box of mentos at INR 70 for 100. Then hand them out back to the retailer, each time to cover for the lack of small change. You are in the gain for INR 30!

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