What happens when you combine Acceptable Targets and the classic fascination tourists have with foreign currency? This trope, of course.
Jokes about the worthlessness of Ruritanian currency are a comedy staple. Sadly, with the advent of the Euro and the retirement of the Italian lira, some favorite targets have gone. Other currencies lost include the Belgian Franc and the Slovene tolar.
Fortunately for comedians, there are always more countries competing to have the most absurd exchange rates. Or the biggest number of zeroes after that first 1.
However, jokes where a small amount of American currency makes a tourist one of the wealthiest people in the country are a serious case of Artistic License - Economics.
See also Ridiculous Future Inflation. Compare Astronomical Exchange Rate. For the other kind of "funny money", see Counterfeit Cash.
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In Axis Powers Hetalia, Germany is in a lot of debt to France and all his money is worthless. So Germany gets Italy to make cuckoo clocks for him, and pays him to do so. Italy is thrilled to receive all this money, even though he knows it's worth less than the paper it's printed on.
When the New Zealand dollar was going really strong a little while ago, the morning news made some jokes like this at the expense of the U.S. dollar... even though the NZ dollar was still only about 85 U.S. cents.
Since the British pound sterling is one of the largest units of currency in the world, jokes like this come up from time to time in British comedy, along the lines of, "I know a couple of people who just made $100 million US, which I think, if I've done the maths correctly, is roundabout £7.50"
As of the 2007 financial crisis, this was inverted to jokes about being 1:1 with the euro and US dollar.
A show called Goodness Gracious Me (about Indian immigrants in Britain) included "The Six Million Rupee Man".
"We can rebuild him. We have the technology: we just don't have the ideal exchange rate."
Australian comedian Adam Hills often jokes about the Barmy Army taunting Australian cricket fans in a bar in Newcastle by singing, "We get three dollars to the pound!"
"When you're heckling the exchange rate, that's creative!"
One comedian's bit on pesos: "I love shopping in Mexico. It's like a giant dollar store. At what point does your money become so worthless that you just say 'Okay, we have to go back to trading chickens; this just isn't working.'"
In one issue of Will Eisner's The Spirit, The Spirit's sidekick Ebony White travels to a desert kingdom to sell a valuable jewel. In exchange, he receives one billion of that country's currency. When he gets back home, he discovers the exchange rate for all that money is about 1.25¢. He promptly spends it all on hot dogs and ice cream at a local diner.
"Awful Flight", a Funny Animal parody of the Canadian supehero team Alpha Flight that appeared in an issue of The Spectacular Spider-Ham back in The Eighties, has one of the team excitedly point out a dollar on the ground. When the others ask what the big deal is, he explains that it's a US dollar! They're rich!
In Euro Trip, the characters make it to Slovakia by accident and find they only have $1.83 US on them — which, apparently, makes them close to being millionaires and grants them access to a lavish hotel room. (Naturally, this joke doesn't work anymore since Slovakia adopted the euro.)
In Canadian Bacon, Bud (John Candy) and co. get pulled over for driving a truck covered in Canadian insult graffiti written in English, but not French. The fine is $1,000 Canadian, or $10 American... and they have to add the French translations to the truck.
The film version of The Dukes of Hazzard has this exchange between the Dukes and a college kid they've suckered into analyzing a core sample they've given him: "How does 24,000 yen a year sound?" "Sounds like 40 bucks." It's actually about $240.
Street Fighter: Two of Bison's mooks steal a safe-full of his money, only to find out that it's just worthless notes with Bison's face on them (presumably to be made official currency after he conquers the world).
In The Fifth Elephant, Wolfgang von Uberwald mentions that the winner of a deadly contest gets the considerable sum of four hundred crowns. Our hero, Commander Vimes, determined to show no fear, sneers: "What is that in Ankh-Morpork dollars, do you know? About a dollar fifty?"
Except that 1000-times redenominations are dime a dozen and don't mean that there happened any huge hyperinflation, just pretty ordinary one. Serious hyperinflation starts when your currency devalues by billion times, and doesn't hit "huge" mark until you get to Weimar Germany level.
In an Older Than Radio moment Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, was on a cruise that stopped at the Azores, where many of the passengers went ashore to a restaurant. Clearly not having been adequately briefed on the concept of exchange rates, when the bill was presented for "24,000 reis" for cigars, and "18,000 reis" for wine, and so on, the passenger who had offered to pay paled in horror, gave the proprietor of the place $150 in gold, and informed him that he will pay no more. The proprietor had to go and get someone else to translate the amounts of local currency to dollars before the situation stabilized — at a price amounted to about $21.
In Snow Crash, most world currencies are exchangeable, with the exception of Federal Reserve Notes, which are used pretty much exclusively by employees of the almost-defunct US Government and considered effectively worthless by everyone else. The remains of the US government draft a memo to prevent old billion-dollar bills from being used as toilet paper, because a single square of toilet paper is worth more more than a $1bn bill.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's The Warrior's Apprentice, the protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, is horrified to learn he's being paid in millifenigs. They are described as making "an eye-catching toilet paper"' and their value is tacitly confirmed when the Felician paymaster doesn't bother to get a receipt from Miles for a pallet of banknote bundles. 'Millifenig' becomes a swear word within a page of their introduction.
After Miles wins the war he was hired to fight, millifenigs begin to be traded again, at about a tenth their prewar rate.
In a later book in the series, Mirror Dance, it is revealed that Miles has a framed millifenig on his bedroom wall.
Oddly, Felice could do a 1000-to-1 redenomination quite simply, just by switching from milli-fenigs to fenigs.
The Barrayaran mark has a mild case of this. Upon hearing a figure in marks, most galactics mentally divide by four, to convert it to Betan dollars.
The Guide: In fact there are three freely convertible currencies in the Galaxy, but none of them count. The Altairian Dollar has recently collapsed, the Flainian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flainian Pobble Beads, and the Triganic Pu has its own very special problems.note In the TV (and possibly radio) version, it uses "doesn't count as money" Its exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu is simple enough, but since Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu. Ningis are not negotiable currency, because Galactibanks refuse to deal in fiddling small change. From this basic premise it is very simple to prove that the Galactibanks are also the product of a deranged imagination.
Another bit in Life, the Universe and Everything has the survivors of a colony ship crash (who were deemed a completely useless chunk of another planet's population) have a fiscal policy update at their staff meeting. They note that since they have chosen the leaf as their form of currency, everyone is extremely rich. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a bit of inflation, with current exchange rates being three decidious forests per ship's peanut. The proposed solution is a massive deforestation campaign to increase the value of currently held leaves.
In the Timeline-191 series, the Confederate States of America win the Civil War and remain their own country, but then lose the world's equivalent of World War I. This causes Confederate banknotes to rapidly decrease in value, to the point where people have to race to spend any money they get their hands on before prices rise again. It takes a few years to get the economy under control again, by which time the banks had started printing one billion dollar notes (now rendered worthless themselves by federal decree, not that anyone would be able to give change for them anyway). At one point in the economic collapse, the Hitler Expy jokes about it at a political rally by saying "Bet you a million dollars", then taking a million dollar bill out of his pocket and throwing it away.
Live Action TV
The Renford Rejects featured a joke about the Italian lira.
"I've just won 10,000 lira!" "That's £3.50".
In Ladri di Saponette a time-traveler innocently puts ten thousand lire into a collection for a wedding gift circa 1948, bringing him under suspicion both for the amount and because it's a note from 1989.
In an episode of Family Matters Waldo is sent to prison in the fictional country of "Santo Porto" for trying to steal treasured artifact: A cheesy "I Heart Santo Porto" salsa bowl, technically the oldest bowl in the country. Carl and Urkel spend the episode trying to break Waldo out of jail until they're told that his bail is only $30 in US currency.
In An American in Canada, the titular character is mocking the strength of the Canadian dollar by giving the bartender an American twenty and getting back a Canadian twenty and a Canadian beer, as his Canadian friend watches. Of course, being an American, he does not realize that there is more alcohol in the beer, so he immediately passes out.
Because of the parity during its airing, an episode of CSI: New York had the discovery of a bag containing 250,000 Canadian dollars. As this was the same amount in US dollars, no-one made a joke.
An episode of Breaker High (a high school on a cruise ship) took the cast to a far off country in Africa or something. Two characters eventually get conned out of thousands of dollars by a shady business man saying the smallest amount of money he has is 1,000,000. It eventually turns out to be worth $7.50 US.
Inverted in an episode of Cheers: Frasier tips a bellhop the equivalent of $100 US because he's overestimated the exchange rate. Soon the entire staff of the hotel shows up hoping for extravagant tips.
Friends also jokes about the Italian lira. After Monica's new rich boyfriend Pete invites her for Italian food and then takes her to a restaurant in Italy, she insists on paying for the meal. He advises her to "throw another thousand on that" because so far she's paid "about 60 cents".
Played with in the Top Gear Vietnam special, where the presenters were sent to Vietnam and given 15 million đồng to buy a vehicle (complete with said đồng being delivered to them in shoe boxes full of paper cash). The presenters' initial glee at finally being given a reasonable budget for one of these challenges quickly fizzled out when they realized that it equated to about $1,000 US (or £487 in their case).
The Mash episode "Change Day" involved the army issuing new scrip to the soldiers, and the Korean locals would be forbidden from exchanging the soon-to-be-worthless scrip they had been paid over the years by soldiers. Charles tried to pull a Get Rich Quick Scheme and purchased old scrip from the Koreans at 10¢ on the dollar. Hawkeye and BJ thwarted him by getting a friendly MP to close the road so that Charles was unable to pass. They then purchased $400 in old scrip from him at 10¢ on the dollar, exchanged it for new scrip, and refunded a soldier's stolen money, leaving Charles to eat a huge loss.
One episode of Simon And Simon saw the brothers imprisoned in an imaginary Latin American dictatorship, sentenced to pay a hefty fine (something like "a hundred thousand pistartes", or whatever the fake currency was). While in jail, they meet an ex-pat American and relate to them their doubts about paying such a "large" amount. When told about the fine, the ex-pat says, "Guys... that's about fifty bucks!" The brothers Simon are soon out of jail.
Invoked and then Averted in an episode of JAG. Harm ends up in a fender bender caused by a beautiful Italian girl, who doesn't want any legal trouble and offers him several thousand Lira (in the form of a wad of cash) as compensation. Harm points out that she's offering him less than twenty dollars. It's only later that Harm learns she is Admiral Chegwidden's daughter, of course.
Because Due South came out when the Canadian dollar was worth quite a bit less than the American dollar, this came up a lot. In particular during a car chase in a taxi:
Fraser: I only have Canadian money on me,
Cab Driver: Fine, I'll drive 30% slower.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?: When the show picked up popularity in other countries, it became an Artifact Title because of this trope. A bit of controversy happened in certain countries when contestants won the grand prize, only to find out that 1 Million in their own currency resulted in a very comparatively small amount of money (Greece and Portugal changed their top prizes to €250,000; for example.) Contestants were outraged and demanded that they be paid the equivalent of 1 Million US Dollars. Some countries changed their show's title to reflect this outcome, such as "Who Wants To Be a Euro-Millionare".
On I Love Lucy, Ricky freaks out over Lucy's 1,000 franc spending spree during their trip to France. She reminds him that it's a much smaller amount in U.S. dollars.
Early in The Daily Show, they would regularly do a graphic reporting the U.S. domestic box office take over the last week in Italian lira. This was for the inevitable joke about how the films in question were grossing billions, potentially even trillions. Obviously, dropped when Italy adopted the euro.
There's an Art Brut song called "18,000 Lira" about a failed bank robbery, which concludes: "sounds like a lot of money."
FoxTrot used this: Jason gets paid $10, adds it to the money he had under his mattress, and announces that he's a millionaire (in Turkish lira). He spends the rest of the week running around acting like a stereotypical rich guy, reverting back to his normal self after he spends his money ("Wow, three whole comic books," snarks Peter).
Dilbert has the fictional country of Elbonia, where there someone wanted to buy something, and asked if "this" was enough, however much he actually had. The reply was something along the lines of "a minute ago, yes, but now it costs a hundred times more".
The inflation rate has risen to one billion percent in these strips, daily.
In one strip of The Piranha Club (back when it was Ernie) sleazy con man Sid Fernwilter tries to pay with various rather obviously phony credit cards; the proprietor of the store refuses. He wants to write a check; the proprietor, who knows Sid's reputation, refuses. Finally Sid asks if the proprietor would except "cold hard cash" and confirms that this is "actual money". The proprietor accepts... and is paid in 30000 "Irkutskian Slobotniks".
In The Goon Show episode "Robin Hood and his Mirry Mon", the Sheriff makes Robin an offer: Two shirts for five shillings and eleven pence. "Or in Canadian money, $6000".
In the Shadowrun campaign "Virtual Seattle", the setting is a somewhat post-apocalyptic America where the currency is the New-Yen and the dominant global economy is Japanese. In one event, the players are trying to steal information from a military ship when a Russian submarine unrelated to either party attacks. The Russians, if communicated with, will offer to pay the PCs one million Rubles if they join forces and let the Russians keep the ship once the PCs get the information they are after. Even though there was no published New-Yen to Ruble exchange rate, the players all assumed it was a Funny Money offer and declined the alliance.
Funnily enough, The Sourcebook "Shadows of Asia" has the exchange rate, as of 2064, as 1 Ruble =.33 Nuyen. That's still 330,000 nuyen, which isn't a small amount of money.
Solaris VII, The Game World of BattleTech is one of the few planets explicitly mentioned to print its own money. However, due to the proliferation of H-bills and the universally accepted C-Bill, Solaris scrip is only good on Solaris, and while it has some value for betting, there are a few snide references to the fact that to be worth anything, Solaris scrip must be spent in fairly large numbers and that as singles they might as well be given away. Oddly enough, no explicit exchange rates have ever been canonized, only the aforementioned implications. Most House currencies have much favorable exchange rates.
InTropico 3 Absolute Power El Presidente can choose to print more money, while giving money in the short term it permenantly raises the price of everything else, the more money printed the more the economy becomes inflated. Eventually everything becomes too expensive to afford.
The browser-based Kingdom of Loathing had a contributor reward called "Mr. Accessory" (nicknamed "Mr. A") that gave a + 15 to all stats for the price of $10. Those who donated $10 Canadian could receive a "Mr. Eh?", that initially gave a + 12 to stats, which was meant to reflect its relative monetary value. As implied, the value of the bonus was adjusted to better match the rising value of the Canadian dollar ? eventually requiring a Word of God acknowledgment that it would never be more powerful than a Mr. A.
In the online game/community NationStates, each nation can name its own currency, whose value — relative to other in-game currencies and real-world currencies — is determined by the player's policy decisions. Quite a few fall into this territory.
In Dubloon, there's a man who is eager to sell you his goodies for 1 million Farquads (he doesn't accept dubloons). Once an exchange service is open, you can find out that 1 million Farquads is worth 1 dubloon.
In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, the exchange rate between Mushroom Kingdom coins and Beanbean Kingdom coins is absolutely insane. In the beginning of the game, however many Mushroom coins you have — usually at least a hundred — turns out to be worth exactly ten Beanbean coins. By the end, however, the Mushroom currency has apparently devalued off-screen dramatically, to the point where 99,999,999 Mushroom coins is equal to 99 Beanbean coins.
In an early mission in Just Cause 2, while Rico is buying some information from an informant, Panau is implied to have this kind of money.
Inflation exists as a mechanic in Europa Universalis; while the player is unlikely to let it get too out of hand, some AI can get into a bankruptcy loop that results in both an incredibly unstable country and having to pay three or four times as much as everyone else for everything. (Inflation points increase the price of all things that cost money by 1% each, and are gained by event, reliance on gold, or minting coins — the equivalent of printing money).
Because specie coins have intrinsic value, they are a subject of hoarding and thus don't increase money supply as fast as paper money. You can inflate a currency in a bullion monetary system by minting too much coins (as it happened in colonial Spain) or debasing them (as Roman Empire did), but it's a fairly gradual process that cannot lead to real hyperinflation.
In the Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC for Portal 2, Cave Johnson reminds the test subjects that he's transporting into alternate dimensions to let him know if they come across any dimensions that are made entirely out of money. He then quickly adds that he's only interested if they're made of U.S. currency and if they encounter any made of pesos, they should just "keep walking".
From Kid Radd: Radd is thrilled to get a $1,000 paycheck from his first week. Bogey says the amount is in binary, meaning it's really $8.
Megatokyo has an exchange where Largo returns from his new job as "Great Teacher Largo", bragging about the money he made. Piro scans the bills and notes that Largo's salary for the day is 5,000 yen, or 50 US dollars.
Incidentally, that's about right. One yen is really (roughly) about one cent. Hence the Sight Gag in one strip where we see a 1¥ Arcade.
Something Positive had a gag where PeeJee gave Davan her lucky (Canadian) quarter. It didn't work—and PeeJee and Aubrey got mad, his apparently negative karma having killed the coin's good luck. Davan shoots back that it's "not like it was real money anyway", to which Aubrey grudgingly agrees.
In thisTouhoudoujin4koma, Reimu convinces Marisa to donate to her shrine through use of one of her birds. Marisa drops a bill for 10,000 Zimbabwean dollars into Reimu's donation box (not even worth a single yen). The next strip has Reimu going on the warpath.
In an episode of Cow and Chicken, the two titular characters take a plane towards Canada after entering a funny home video contest, and they win 20,000 Canadian dollars... but little did they knew, that the exchange rate was $1 US = $80,000 Canadian, which means they just won 25 American cents...
In an episode of Family Guy, when on a South American island Peter gets $37 out of his wallet. This makes him the richest man on the island.
In an episode of The Simpsons, a representative for Russia asks the Olympic committee for Russia to host the Olympics as it would stimulate its economy and help its exchange rate of 1 US dollar to 50 rubles... which quickly escalates to over a thousand rubles.
"Where the U.S. dollar buys fifty rubles" *pager beeps* "One hundred rubles!" *pager beeps* "One THOUSAND rubles... I MUST GO!"
In another episode, the family visits Canada. They pay for some cheap trinket with American cash, causing the shocked Canadian who took their money to proclaim that he was now set for life. (This was before the 2000s decline of the U.S. Dollar's trading power, when "Oh, it's only a Canadian dollar" actually meant something.)
In the season 2 episode: "Three Men and a Comic Book" Bart tries to raise one hundred dollars to buy a rare vintage comic book. He opts to taking an old foreign coin collection of his to a bank to exchange it to American currency. He was disappointed to find out that the whole collection was only worth three cents.
Played with in "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo". When Homer exchanges his American dollars into Japanese yen, he (and the rest of the family) thinks that everything in Japan is very expensive because of the large prices. In reality though: 100 yen is worth about 1 American dollar. This doesn't stop Homer from buying what he calls a "50 dollar pretzel."
In Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Gantu realized he was getting paid with worthless bills with his employer's face on them, as they were to be worth something after he took over the universe.
In The New Woody Woodpecker Show, Woody once found a Russian satellite that crashed and then he sold it to the junkyard for a few dollars. Later on, he learned the Russian Government offered five million units of their currency and he tried to get it back. After managing to get it back and take it to the Russians, he learned the money was worth less than the money he got when he sold it to the junkyard.
The Jetsons: George once won the lottery. The prize was worth 7.5 million dollars when he won. However, the economy of Venus suffered a collapse before he exchanged it in American dollars, turning the prize worthless.
In an episode of Metalocalypse, Nathan, now the governor of Florida, tries to solve the US' funding problem by introducing a new currency called Death Dollars and printing a lot of them. Needless to say, the money was totally worthless and ruined the already mostly destroyed state by driving them into an irreparable recession.
After going through a long period of hyperinflation (at one point the inflation rate was over 230 million percent, and the money supply was growing by 658 billion percent) and three revaluations, the Zimbabwean dollar was suspended in January 2009, and finally abandoned in April 2009. Before the third revaluation, the exchange rate was 300 trillion Zimbabwean dollars to 1 US dollar. ATMs were unable to cope with the amounts of money people needed to withdraw, producing overflow errors. One 2005 Zimbabwe dollar was worth 10 septillion (10^25) 2009 Zimbabwe dollars. Also, by the end of 2008, the inflation rate was estimated to be 89.7 sextillion (8.97 x 10^22) percent.
At those rates, it becomes meaningless to speak of inflation in percentages due to the way compounding works. It makes more sense to speak of the currency's half-life or tenth-life (the time it takes to lose half or 90% of its value, respectively). A currency with 2% inflation has a half-life of about 35 years, but a hyperinflating currency might have a half-life of a few days. For the record, at the peak of the inflation, the half-life of the Zimbabwean dollar fluctuated about twenty four hours, almost reaching the all-time record of 1946 Hungary, where in July the half-life of pengő was roughly half of that.
During the 1997 Asian Currency/Financial Crisis, the Indonesian rupiah was devalued to the point that Indonesian students pulling part-time jobs in McDonald's could go home after a few week's work and trade in those Singaporean Dollars for millions of rupiah. Work in Singapore in a cheap job, go home and be a millionaire.
This hasn't changed much. In October 2009, a million rupiah is worth about US $106.
The exchange rate is deceptive, however. While the rate is cartoonishly steep, it is stable, and actually has moved sharply in the rupiah's favor over the past year. If you happened to spend the last year and a half working in Indonesia and getting paid in US dollars, you basically took a 7% pay cut.
While living costs are ridiculously low compared to developed countries (a KFC meal set consisted of a wing, a riceball, and a cup of Pepsi will cost you US$0.9), prices of imported goods varies from cheaper ($45 for a brand-new PS3 game, roughly half of locally mandated minimum monthly wage) to highway robbery ($1000 for an iPhone 4 on contract) .
The North Korean Won lost even more value in 2009, largely due to the ill-advised financial reform that's a textbook example of Artistic License - Economics in that it ignored all knowledge about how money works, even in a socialist command economy. Long story short, the government revalued the Won, chopping the two zeroes off it, but at the same time it instituted huge wage hikes to illustrate the nation's "prosperity". This would inflate the currency even in the most strictly controlled planned economy, but North Korea actually has a huge and poorly controlled black market, where normal economic mechanisms are at work, so the new Won dropped almost to the pre-reform value basically overnight.
Prior to World War II, the Japanese Yen was worth around $12 in current (2009) U.S. currency, but faced a steep decline during and after. It was set at 360 to the dollar for a long time after the war, but now fluctuates with the market, usually hovering just over $0.01 since a few years ago.
In the prewar period, there were even smaller values: the Sen (1/100 Yen, and origin of the term Sento) and the Rin (1/10 Sen, or 1/1000 Yen). These fractional values became nigh on worthless after the War and were discontinued, though the Sen still pops up regularly in discussions of exchange rates and stock prices.
Nowadays the yen has notably appreciated — in 2008, it was over 100 yen per $1 and over 200 yen per £1. Then the financial crisis hit and the rate quickly fell off a cliff, hovering around 80 yen per $1 and 125 yen per £1 for several years, which has led everyone to cry murder and to the historically largest currency interventions on the part of the Bank Of Japan. For the export-oriented economy like Japanese, the strong yen is the worst thing they would ever need. That's right, it's actually worse for the Japanese (and also consumers in other countries who buy Japanese goods) to have their currency be worth more, which has led to a Springtime for Hitler scenario for the Bank of Japan. Fortunately, the rate has finally started to rise back up, starting in Q4 2012.
Back in the bad old days of Imperial Japan, the conquering Japanese printed new money for use in their occupied territories, known as "banana money" as the design incorporated a banana plant. It ended up being worthless due to to massive counterfeiting (there were no serial numbers) and then totally valueless after the Japanese forces surrendered to the allies, and samples are still given out for free in compilations of replicas of wartime relics (although rarer notes do still fetch hefty prices in auctions.)
Because the Philippines used to rub shoulders with America during the Wars, the Philippine Peso used to be 1=1. Now it's somewhere between 1=50 and 1=40 and on a roller coaster ride between them. And it doesn't help that most restaurants / hospitals have Wartime photos of their first place with menus showing a full course dinner for 10 pesos, house calls for 3 pesos, and a delivery for 20. (Kids: Wow, everything was cheap in the past!! Adults: Why god, WHY?!?!)
Mentioned above in the Top Gear example, $1 US Dollar equaled $15,000 Vietnamese đồng (pronounced "Dough-ng") back in 2008. In mid-2010: $1 USD = $19,000 VND. As of end-2012, it's $20,400 VND.
Hong Kong uses this trope properly (as in, the devaluation also allows for greater price differentials to people who care enough about it.) One US or Australian dollar is worth about $7-8 Hong Kong dollars; in the pricey tourist districts, that translates to just about the same prices back in the tourist's home country (cue first reaction looks of horror, however, when that beer costs $40HK). The rest of HK, however, gets $5 things, and as a result if you know where to look, you can get just about anything you want at a ridiculously low price.
1940s China was not a politically stable place (what with the Communists, the Nationalists, and various warlords vying for power depending on the location, and sometimes there was no standing government at all) and the currency suffered as a result.
Smart Chinese businessmen take payment in gold, silver (there's still plenty of Qing era ingots left), or opium.
Don't make jokes like this about Australian currency without doing the research first. Not too long ago, the Aussie dollar was half an American one — not any more. Though you wouldn't know it from the prices we get charged for everything...
As of October 2010, we're flirting with 1:1 parity.
And as of April 2011, we're merrily skipping around the $1.05-1.10 marks. (The key to this is that while the American economy is having trouble, the Australian economy is doing rather well—particularly as the trade in the basic minerals abundant in Australia and in demand in Asia picks up).
As of the middle of 2013, the exchange rate has dropped to below parity but still isn't bad at around US$0.90.
One of the best known examples is the German mark (not to be confused with the pre-Euro Deutsche Mark) from the interwar Weimar Republic. Destroyed by the war and without a single penny left to pay the war penalties, Germany had no choice but to run the presses until the whole debt was paid; as a result, the Mark's value collapsed, and the biggest banknote ever printed was the 100 quadrillion Mark bill, which was worth something around 24 US dollars!. When Stresemann became chancellor in 1923, the Rentenmark was issued at 1 RM = 1 trillion Marks.
At its height, one dollar traded for 420,000,000,000,000,000 marks. That's 420 billiards (long scale) or 420 quadrillion (short scale) marks!
It's a common misconception that hyperinflation was caused by the Weimar Government attempting to pay off its war debts by just printing money. The actual cause of hyperinflation was the 1923 Ruhr Crisis, when the Weimar Republic missed a payment on its war reparations, prompting a joint French-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr. The Ruhr was Germany's industrial heartland, so when the German Government called for a general strike in opposition to the French, it crippled the German economy. Cue massive hyperinflation.
There is a famous image◊ of a woman feeding the stove with money, since it's worth less than firewood. Money was also used as wallpaper◊.
There is a popular urban legend (attributed to many times and places) about two women who try buying bread at a bakery. They had a huge pile of worthless Marks in a wheelbarrow outside. When they went back out someone had stolen the wheelbarrow but left the money on the floor.
Another one involves someone going into a restaurant and ordering an egg and coffee, which was (say) 7,000 marks. An hour later, when the bill came, the price had risen to 10,000.
Or the sad story of a German family who sold their house to emigrate to America. When they arrived in Hamburg, they had to find out that not only was the money for their house not enough to pay the ticket to the US, but not even enough for the train ticket back to their hometown.
There are stamps that still exist that are for the postage of 20 billion Marks (actually 20 milliard, due to differences in how the US and Europe calculate one billion, but it is still an unimaginably huge number to mail a letter...) So many of them were printed and so few were actually used that you can get mint uncancelled specimens for little more than a song, but a genuinelly cancelled and postally-used one could set you back a pretty pfennig.
A historical trope from World War II. German occupation troops stationed in countries that still remained theoretically sovereign (notably, France and Denmark) got their pay partly in certificates that could be redeemed for the local currency and the exchange rates were arbitrarily fixed in favor of Germans. This made German soldiers very rich and doing business with them quite profitable. In case of fairly well-developed economies like France, there were plenty of goods available (often on the black market!) for the German soldiers to buy in relative comfort and security—often to the exclusion of the relatively impoverished locals. Consequently, Germans who had family members serving in occupation forces on these "nice" postings could get a steady stream of goods that could not be easily found in wartime Germany sent home by their soldier relatives.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the value of Polish zloty (currency code: PLZ) fell so badly that before the redenomination in 1995, the largest bill in circulation (introduced in 1992) was "only" two million zlotys◊ — worth roughly 80 USD at the time. The new money (currency code: PLN) was established by dropping four zeroes from the old one's value (1 PLN = 10000 PLZ) and in 2011, the largest bill in use, 200 PLN (introduced in 1995), is worth roughly 70 USD.
Of course, these examples pale into comparison with the post-war Hungarian pengő, which experienced the single worst example of hyperinflation in history. The 100 million B-pengő (i.e. 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengő) note◊ is the single highest denomination bill ever issued, according to The Other Wiki. And that banknote was effectively worthless. (A 1 milliard B-Pengő note was printed but not issued.) At the height of the hyperinflation, prices doubled in every fifteen hours.
To quote one source (Postwar by Tony Judt) "by the time the pengo was replaced by the forint in August 1946 the dollar value of all Hungarian banknotes in circulation was just one-thousandth of one cent." Most triumphant example indeed.
The modern forint is not in a good position either, with exchange rate being roughly $1 == 200 Ft, although this is going to change as Hungary is considering adopting the euro sometime around 2012 <current year>+5 years.
The early-90s Yugoslav dinar (image◊) holds the record for the most zeroes printed on a banknote.
That is until Zimbabwe created a 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar bill in mid-January 2009.
The French franc was replaced in 1960 by the new franc (nicknamed 'heavy franc') at a hundred to one. See the Casino Royale novel for an example of what it was like before. Old people in France used to think in "old francs" until the euro was introduced.
One Eastern European currency which subverts this trope is the Latvian lats, one of which is actually worth more than a pound sterling. British holidaymakers soon realize that the one-lats pint of local alus, whilst still cheaper than the extortionate prices at home, isn't quite as much of a bargain as it first appears.
Tourists often get burned in Kuwait, not realising that 1 dinar is worth US$3.50.
Russian Civil War era money was the king of this trope. It was not only notoriously worthless (one million rubles was a small money unit even after revaluations, and pre-revaluation million rubles was pretty much toilet paper), but it also was not unified. Every town or petty government issued their own scrip, resulting a total of thousands of currency units in one country. The most notorious was the kerenki, the scrip of the Provisional Government, that was so poorly made that any printing device could be used to make indistinguishable counterfeits (and indeed, every printer in the country was printing kerenki). Later they became so worthless that they were not even cut into individual banknotes, but rather used as 1x1 meter uncut sheets (the money unit was called "a meter of kerenki"). When someone needed less than a meter, the sheet was manually cut with scissors or even torn by hands.
1990s Russia was hit by this again, though not as hard. The prices grew from rubles to hundreds thousands rubles in some years after the fall of the Soviet Union. This time, the revaluation in 1998 proved to be relatively stable, with the copecks still (barely) in use. An early 1990s attempt to reintroduce local scrip (the "Ural franc") failed miserably.
The ruble is still pretty bad though, and is currently worth about 2,5 eurocents (about 4 USD cents, roughly). the most important part, however, is that it is stable, which means that you don't lose money simply by having it.
That's the whole point — exchange rate per se doesn't really mean much (and is rather easily manipulated by speculators), its dynamics, however, is the key. Since 2000 ruble is on the rise and is often said by the analysts to still be undervalued. And if the plans to chop two zeros off again would ever come to fruition, then the ruble would cost three to four dollars — but that won't mean that anything really changed.
In an amusing reversal, the Cyprus Pound is worth rather more than the British one (which is in turn the biggest well-known currencynote And the fifth overall, as of this edit, behind the Kuwaiti and Bahraini dinars, the Omani rial and the Latvian lats.). Which has led to more than one tourist giving a massive tip on the basis that "It's only Funny Money" only to realize (usually after sobering up) that the £70 (Cyprus) tip they gave works out to about £100 (sterling).
Was — it, and the Maltese lira, also worth more than the pound, were replaced by the euro in 2008.
The Italian lira was an easy target for this trope. Why? Well, when it was replaced by the euro, one euro was worth 1,936.27 lira.
A proposal to rectify the situation by slicing off the last three zeroes was made in 1986: the new currency would have been called ''lira pesante'' (heavy lira) or lira nuova (new lira). It never went anywhere due to obstructive bureaucracy.
The Middle East
The perennial joke-butt that was the Turkish lira revalued by dropping six zeroes. The exchange rate had previously been £1 ~ 2,000,000 Turkish lira. This is quite a common practice when currency becomes hyperinflated.
A bit used once on The Howard Stern Show was "Who Wants To Be A Turkish Millionaire" where a series of not-surprisingly scantily-clad, very attractive young women were asked a series of trivia questions, with the winner receiving a million Turkish lire. In other words, about fifty cents.
A few years ago (prior to re-valuation), a British family vacationing in Turkey got fined 250,000,000 Turkish Lira for speeding. Supposedly, their initial reaction was one of panic and despair over the amount they had to pay, until somebody pointed out the exchange rate.
The Israeli lira was replaced ten-to-one by the sheqel in 1980. The sheqel was replaced by the new sheqel in 1985 at a thousand to one.
The Egyptian pound, with its current exchange rate of about six pounds to the dollar ($0.16 to the pound) doesn't seem so bad...until you realize how far it's fallen. When the pound was originally established in the early 20th century, it was worth exactly one British guinea—a pound and a shilling, or £1.05 when decimalised.note The pound is a fairly new currency; in the late 19th century, the main currency was the qirsh or piastre (plural qurush). The term for the Egyptian pound in Arabic, gineeh, is derived from "guinea", which was worth almost exactly 100 qurush when the currency was established. Since this was awfully convenient—decimalisation without the fuss!—the Egyptian government decided to just make that the standard currency unit. Eventually, circumstances were such that the Egyptian pound appreciated against the pound sterling—eventually hitting £2 to £3 at some point. However, part of the economic restructuring started in The Seventies under Anwar Sadat (and continued since then) involved letting the currency float—and float it has, all the way down to its current value. This had three peculiar effects:
People started keeping their money in foreign currency as much as they could.
A large number of perpetual leases became absurdly cheap. Tenants in apartments that had been rented out for 2 or 4 or 6 or 8 pounds a month under perpetual leases became absurdly undervalued (with rents now being in the hundreds or thousands monthly), yet they kept paying the same rates. Consequently, Egypt instituted a rule against perpetuities, i.e. banned indefinite or effectively indefinite contracts, in the 80s (when this issue first showed up).
Egyptians—especially older ones—are liable to see their own currency as subject to Ridiculous Exchange Rates, while foreigners are likely to say, "It's cheap, but it's not that bad."
A new poster-boy for this is Iran, whose rial lost 80% of its value between January and October 2012, and has had several days of double-digit single-day losses (e.g. 1 October, on which it fell 18%). Iranians are already used to chopping off a zero (the toman reckoning), but this is getting ridiculous, and it has led to some protest in the country.
The Canadian dollar used to have a poor exchange rate with the U.S. dollar; now despite being pretty close (with the Canadian dollar occasionally being worth more), the exchange rate is still fodder for humor. It doesn't matter which side of the border you're on, either; it just determines if it's mockery or sarcasm.
It isn't funny to Canadian business that export to US, either. Stronger Canadian dollar means that Americans need to spend more for Canadian products; thus the American buying power (of Canadian products) decrease.
This put the RPG company "Guardians of Order" out of business. Paying for almost everything in Canadian dollars (they were based in Canada) and being paid for your product in American dollars (it's a much larger market for tabletop gaming) was nice under the older exchange rates. When the US dollar tanked, they wound up taking IIRC a 30% cut in income, and couldn't sell enough to make up the difference.
A weak Canadian dollar was also part of the reason for the NHL's push for expansion into the United States about twenty years ago. Since the Canadian dollar's rise, the NHL is talking about opening a franchise in, possibly, Quebec City (which hasn't had its own team since the Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995). Even more strident has been the gossip about the Phoenix team returning to Canada. And as of May 31, 2011, Winnipeg has an NHL hockey team once again—previously the Atlanta Thrashers, now the new Winnipeg Jets. Atlanta is the only U.S. city to lose an NHL team to Canada, and this team is the second they've lost. (The previous one was the Atlanta Flames, which moved to Calgary.) No word yet on the team in Phoenix.
The NBA sets aside money to protect Canadian teams (currently just the Toronto Raptors) from exchange rate fluctuations. Their ticket revenue is in Canadian Dollars. The majority of their expenses (including all player salaries) are in United States Dollars.
A lot of Canadian provinces have printed their own money. Some did so because they were independent colonies (or even separate countries) at the time, but in other cases the influence of an ultra-rightist political movement called Social Credit was at fault. A Social Credit government in Alberta even tried to nationalize the banks operating in the province (yes, conservative nationalizers!) and when that didn't work they issued "prosperity certificates", a notorious form of worthless local currency known in Alberta even eighty years later, as "funny money". Thus began the popular Canadian stereotype of Albertans as weird.
Look in any Canadian's wallet, and you're probably going to find some Canadian Tire Money. While these notes are officially not money, but "cash bonus coupons" redeemable for merchandise at any Canadian Tire store, many other businesses in Canada will also accept them as cash.
One enterprising criminal was caught smuggling counterfeit Canadian Tire money into the country
Civil War-era Confederate paper money was notoriously worthless (some of the rare bills are far more valuable now, as collector's items). The North tried printing counterfeit bills to undermine the Confederate Dollar, but success was hard to gauge. They were easy to spot (they looked too good) but they still circulated, since they weren't any less worthless than the real thing.
Before that, paper money issued by the Continental Congress and the individual states were also pretty much worthless, leading to the phrase 'not worth a Continental'. There's a reason the Constitution specifically forbids states to issue paper money. Even George Washington once complained that you needed a wagon of money to buy a wagon of hay.
However, due to a loophole, states were allowed to issue charters for banks to issue banknotes.note This is not quite the same thing as issuing money; the only legal tender—by which we mean money which sellers and creditors are required to accept from buyers and debtors—were the gold and silver coins of the US Dollar, issued by the federal mints, as well as the Spanish "dollar" (the peso or 8-real piece) until 1857 (the US dollar was made to near-identical specifications as the Spanish coin). The banknotes theoretically represented a certain quantity of such coins held by the bank issuing it, so theoretically the bills were just a way of making coins lighter and thus easier to use; if each banknote had to correspond to a certain coin or set of coins, then no money would be created. However, banks could and did issue more notes than they had coins in reserve... This led to nearly one thousand different institutions issuing banknotes at one point (sometime in the 1850s), each with multiple bills. Not only were there countless counterfeits, but it got so confusing that it became possible to pass bills from fake (but realistic-looking) banks as genuine; in some cases, these were better printed than those issued by legitimate banks. Luckily, the Civil War led to the establishment of a national paper currency.
The Mexican peso occasionally gets this treatment, even though the actual exchange rate has been 1 US dollar = 10 pesos for most of the decade, being currently around $1 USD = $13 MXN; this has to do mostly because Mexico is the neighboring country and therefore an acceptable target, and partly because the peso was Funny Money between 1982 and 1994: after a series of wrong doings by the presidents from that time, and after a sudden fall on the petroleum's price, the Mexican peso collapsed and the entire economy sank to the bottom (along with a sharp rise in crime during these times). In 1993, the new peso was issued at an exchange rate of N$1 = $1,000; the "new" was then dropped in 1996.
Notice that the symbol for a peso is also $ (common practice in Mexico is to draw the $ with two bars or appending USD when using dollars). This can make it tricky for American tourists to read from a price list, particularly in towns like Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez or Cancún where business is transacted in American currency just as often as in Mexican currency. Hilarity ensues.
Subverted or averted with, of all things, the printed scrip (or bonds) that Emperor Norton created in San Francisco in the 1870s to generate some personal wealth. Local stores would accept them at face value, equal to 50 cents pieces. When the bonds came due a few years later, faced with the possibility of having to pay off those bonds with money he still didn't have, Norton... printed even more scrip, which still was used in the stores at same value. When he died, technically the scrip became worthless because there was no one to pay them off: however, as a historical celebrity, any surviving Norton scrip are now worth tens of thousands of dollars as collectibles.
One US dollar is worth around 500 Chilean pesos. Why they haven't dropped three zeroes like Mexico did, no one knows...
It's not necessary, the economy is running fine and a massive money reprint would bring more inconveniences to the public, the 5 pesos coin behaves exactly the same as a cent (including being the chump change that no one enjoys having in their pockets) and the 1 peso coin is quite rare (and worthless).
Later, it became an aversion in fact— While the Chileans did drop the cents they had during the 1980s and then went into a progressive inflation during the '90s, compared to the Dollar, now, 500 chilean pesos per dollar is cheap. During the '90s the a Dollar was worth around 1000 Chilean Pesos in the most extreme cases. While the inflation, heavily controled by the goverment, has really rendered the 1 peso coin worthless, the Chilean Peso internationally is in fact strong: In the middle of the 2000s, there's a time the Dollar went to be worth 500 Chilean Pesos not because something wrong happened with the Dollar, that was because the Chilean Peso was getting stronger!
On a tangentially related note, Chile misspelled its own name on its 50-peso coin. Said coins are really sought after, since: 1.— Fake rumors began running that the government was issuing a 25000 pesos (around 50 USD) reward for each one, and 2.— Chilean numismatists are actually offering that much for them online.
If you actually want to hear about actual Chilean Funny Money, try with the Chilean Escudo, their currency during the 1960s and '70s. It was issued in 1960 and replaced in 1975 by the New Peso, Today's Currency: While around 100 New Chilean Pesos were worth 1 Dollar, 1 Peso was worth about 1000 Escudos!
Brazil faced hyperinflation several times over the 20th century, always ending up introducing a new currency only to see it lose value again. This ended in 1994 with the Plano Real, in which (as This American Life put it) the government lied to the people to restore confidence in the currency...It Worked. (Here's thatTAL episode, if you're interested.)
In 1944, a dollar was worth 4 Argentinian Pesos Moneda Nacional. Nowadays, a dollar is worth 6 Pesos Argentinos... except 1 Peso Argentino is worth 10 trillion Pesos Moneda Nacional after several revaluations. During the second half of the 20th Century, the Argentinian monetary system would go like this: hyperinflation - rename the currency (Moneda Nacional, Pesos Ley, Austral, Pesos Convertibles, Pesos Argentinos) and drop some zeroes on the way - a decade or so of peace - whoops hyperinflation again - rinse and repeat. These days, inflation stands at 25% yearly, one of the 5 highest rates in the world.