Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dodgy Cien

We had gone out in the morning with the objective of going to a camping and fishing supplies store to pick up a penknife and some butane gas for the camping stove. This being Argentina, the camping shops were filled with rifles and handguns. Australia has some of the world’s strictest firearms laws, so as an Australian, the idea of purchasing firearms over the counter at a shop is an oddity. You find yourself wondering what practical camping or fishing application there really is for an evil looking handgun. Nevertheless I was getting quite sidetracked photographing stuff in the windows. “Oh wow, look Alix, they’ve got an M4 Carbine. Sweet, huh?”

Alix did not find this the slightest bit amusing so she hit me up for some cash to buy the supplies herself while I window shopped. I was scratching my chin and staring at the .357 Magnum Desert Eagle while Alix was attempting to close the transaction. She called me over hurriedly. The lady behind the counter had 2 one-hundred peso notes spread out on the counter in front of her.

“One of these notes is not real. Where did you get it from?” She inquired.

“The bank,” we both replied “which one was it, it was Santander Rio, wasn’t it? Yes it was. Definitely Santander Rio, from the Auto Teller Machine” we both spoke simultaneously, finishing each other’s sentences in the way couples do sometimes.

The 100 (cien) peso note is the largest one you see, it is the note that you receive from the ATM when you are withdrawing sizeable sums. We knew we had gotten it from the bank because you don’t receive cien notes from shopkeepers; rather, you hand them over and receive 50’s, 20’s or 10’s as change.

The lady went on to explain that this was ‘not the first time’ it had happened. I had noticed sales clerks holding notes up to the light before in a precautionary gesture. It is easy to ignore it, after all you are not a swindler with a wadful of monopoly money, so it’s easy not to think about it too much.

Naturally the lady wouldn’t accept the note, so we were stuck with it. She encouraged us to return to the bank we obtained it from, which sounded like a less than joyful course of action.

The Dodgy Cien and an authentic one. Can you tell which is which?

Then it dawned on me. Two days prior we had caught a taxi across town at the end of a long day of sightseeing, a long cab ride worth about 50 pesos. When it came time to pay, the cabbie initially accepted a cien peso note, ostensibly he had change for it. He then apologised and returned the note, asking if we had smaller bills. Digging in my wallet a little deeper I could in fact put the cab fare together using a combination of smaller bills, so we closed the transaction that way, but not before a single cien peso note had passed from our hands to his, disappeared from sight for a few moments, then been returned.

Was this a slight of hand trick to pass a counterfeit note? Or had the ATM dispensed the counterfeit in the first place? We would never know, but it seemed unlikely that ATMs would dispense counterfeit bills in a country where the shopkeepers regularly check for watermarks on paper money.

Suddenly I didn’t like the idea of trying to convince a bank manager that his ATM had supplied me with the Dodgy Cien, especially when I myself was not so sure. Besides, we had a city to explore. I resigned myself to having purchased an unintentional souvenir and reminded myself to make like a shopkeeper and carefully examine all bills from now on, lest we receive another Dodgy Cien.


  1. Priceless. I'm guessing the bottom one is fradulent.

  2. Yeah, you guessed it. It is a fairly obvious fake- when you are looking out for it!