Do you have change, ma’am/sir?

Nyree Barrett hunts for a reason behind Dubai’s shrapnel shortage

The Knowledge

Dubai’s skyscrapers contain enough concrete to pave a path around the globe not once, but thrice*. Yet we have a serious shortage of change. ‘Will you take Chiclets, ma’am/sir?’ the attendant at the petrol station asks as I attempt to buy a bottle of water with a Dhs10 note. Well, first I’m all woman, and second, gum isn’t a valid form of currency in my neck of the woods. My actual reply, however, is less forceful and more concise. ‘I don’t like Chiclets.’ ‘But we don’t have change,’ the cashier insists. ‘You’re a major chain and you’re next to a bank,’ I fire back. ‘Surely your till is full at 11am on a Sunday morning?’ Cue silence and a blank stare. I give up and walk out of the shop, parched.

For some reason, Dhs1 coins, Dhs5 notes and all the denominations of the finicky fil are hot currency in the UAE. Rewind to yesterday when I gave one cashier a Dhs50 note to cover a Dhs28 purchase. ‘Ugh,’ she sighed. ‘Don’t you have anything smaller?’ ‘There is no note between Dhs28 and Dhs50!’ I replied. After a five-second stare-down, she slammed open the till to reveal a bounty of dirham coins and Dhs10 greenbacks.

Why are Dubai retailers so mean with shrapnel? No matter how hard I rack my brain, I can’t come up with a feasible reason. Do banks here refuse to give out coins? No – one ‘quick’ call to Emirates NBD deduces they’re happy to do so. Do prices of products here necessitate the use of more coins? No – unlike nations such as the UK where a product might cost £8.75, for example, Dubai stores often round prices up to the nearest Dhs5 or Dhs10.

My explanation? The UAE is home an underground community of tiny goblins with nasty, knobbly little faces who are attracted to coins, like Lord of the Rings’ Smeagol is to his ‘precious’. Maybe as I’m standing there, indignant that the cashier won’t give me one of her 70 Dhs1 coins, the poor lass has thousands of these mean little nippers up against her back, threatening all kinds of evil if she gives any away.

So, next time a retailer starts to reach for the Chiclets, don’t roll your eyes. Accept the gum – too much coinage may make you a target for these bling-thirsty creatures. In fact, I’m clearing out my piggy bank immediately to stock up on Chiclets – it’s the only safe option.

Alternatively, the explanation for the lack of change may be that Dubai’s retailers are useless at stock take, or perhaps the fact that ATMs only distribute Dhs100 notes. Nah, I’m going with the goblins.

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