As we all think about budgeting for the year ahead and the money spent over the holidays, the issue of cash is on many of our minds. You may not be aware of the potential confusion and differing attitudes faced by those of us not born in the U.S. when it comes to handling money here.
First, one of the things I admire about most Americans is their respect for others who have succeeded in realizing the American dream. Most people seem to have admiration and often an honest desire to emulate those who succeed by hard work, intelligence and the subsequent acquisition of wealth. In the U.K., there are still the remains of the class system that encourages the judgment of people more on their background than their achievements and character.
Anyway, back to the practicalities of handling US money in the good old U.S. Did you realize that writing checks over here is different — especially when it comes to writing the date? In England, and most of the world, we write the date first, then the month and then the year. So Jan. 11, 2012, would actually be written as 11 Jan., 2012, or 11/1/2012, making it is easy to confuse November and January.
Then comes the actual money itself. All U.S. dollar bills are the same size and color, whether it is a $1 or $100 bill, unlike most other countries where the sizes of different denominations differ — the bigger the value, the bigger the size of the bill.
In fact, dollars became known as “greenbacks” because the federal government began issuing currency during the American Civil War. As photographic technology of the day could not reproduce color, it was decided that the back of the bills would be printed in a color other than black — green was chosen instead.
Notes issued by the Bank of England in British sterling, as the U.K.’s currency is known, vary enormously by color and size. For example a five-pound note is small and predominantly blue, whereas a 20-pound note is purple and too large to fit comfortably into an American wallet.
Another confusing aspect is that, with the exception of the U.S.’s penny, unlike in England and most other places, American coins don’t have the amounts on them — so learning that a dime is worth 10 cents and is a smaller round coin than a nickel, which is worth 5 cents takes time. In fact, when my mother visits from the U.K., she just gives the coins to me to sort out rather than learn about it herself.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, from American billionaire Warren Buffett: “Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.”
God bless America!
Francis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.