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 highest 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.
- 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.
- In One Piece, Luffy and his fellow Straw Hats enter Skypiea, a nation ten thousand meters in the air. The Skypieans use the "extol", which is fixed at 10,000 to the beli, the usual currency on the Grand Line. Usopp takes advantage of the ignorance Skypieans have about the relative prices of goods in the different currencies to be able to get away with trading rubber bands for "Dials", which are manufactured for different purposes (for example, a Tone Dial records and plays back voices). In a scene early in the Skypiea arc, Gan Fall states that he charges five million extols when he gets called by a device he leaves with the Straw Hats. It sounds like a huge amount until later on the characters are informed of the exchange rate; he was effectively charging only 500 beli.
- 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".
- 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.'"
- The Canadian dollar was the butt of jokes back when the exchange rate was particularly abysmal. For instance, comedian Simon Cotter recounts his first time travelling as a Canadian citizen after moving there from the US.
Cotter: On a trip to Mexico, they gave us all Canadian flag pins and told us to wear them everywhere. They never did that in America. They never said, "Hey, you're going to another country. Wear an American flag pin!" It made me feel so patriotic, until they explained to me, "We gave that to you because Mexicans prefer to rob Americans, and this lets them you you aren't American." And my first thought was, "Oh, that's really clever." But my second thought was, "Oh my God... how bad is the Canadian dollar? You can't even get robbed in Mexico!"
- Comedian Arj Barker on a trip to South Africa:
Barker: When I was in South Africa, I learned something. I learned that if you live in a crappy economy, that's terrible... but if you're just visiting a crappy economy for a couple of days, it's awesome. I was listening to the radio and the guy said "...And the South African Rand has slipped another 30% on the dollar today!" ...But that's not what I heard. What I heard was, "BIG SALE TODAY! 30% OFF FREAKIN' EVERYTHING! ALL WOODEN HIPPO STATUETTES AND SEMI-AUTOMATIC WEAPONS MUST GO! IT'S CRAZY SOUTH AFRICAN DOLLAR DAYS!"
- 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.
- One Don Rosa Donald Duck story featured a wanted poster citing a reward of "one bajillion pecos ($20)".
- "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 '80s, 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 one of the Richie Rich adventures, a would-be revolutionary in an unnamed Eastern-ish European country accidentally sets off his superweapon and levels an enormous swath of the country (luckily, Nobody Can Die, or even get hurt beyond scrapes and comically shredded clothes). As the leaders wail that it will cost billions to rebuild, Richie asks how much that is, to which his local companion says, "About 23 dollars." Richie promptly pulls a stack of bills from his pocket and everyone rejoices.
- The Italian series Gli Aristocratici once made a jab at the Turkish Lira (pre-2005, thus before it was revalued, see below). What makes it painful is that the currency the Turkish Lira was compared to was the Italian Lira, itself a frequent target of such jokes that at the time just happened to be worth about eight times the Turkish currency.
- Marjane's mother is described in Persepolis as having issues with the way the prices are rising in the 1980s Iran.
- In one arc of The Tick, Tick and Arthur go adventuring an a fictional African nation called Van Buria (founded by US President Martin Van Buren) and come back with a briefcase full of local currency. It turns out to be worth $8 US.
- In the last issue of Sonic Universe, the Chaotix Detective Agency receives a large reward of Meropan Sand Dollars for successfully solving a case. As they eventually find out, though, Meropan Sand Dollars have such a miserable exchange rate that the reward is effectively worthless.
- 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, five whole comic books," snarks Peter).
- Dilbert has the fictional country of Elbonia, where 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 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 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). Each Bison Dollar shall be worth 5 British Pounds. For that is the exchange rate the Bank of England will set once he kidnaps their queen!*
- In The Icicle Thief, 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 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?"
- A justified example can be found in The Colour of Magic. Twoflower comes from a land where gold is about as valuable as lead, and the gold coins he's using as money are supposed to be fiat currency (later books revealed it's backed by silver). As a result what he thinks is enough travel money for a few weeks visiting Ankh-Morpork has enough value locally to purchase half the city outright. He never actually figures this out, and continues to tip people more than the value of a house.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast it notes that the alternate-future U.S. went through a huge hyperinflation, and one New Dollar is worth 1,000 "old" dollars. Except that 1000-times redenominations are dime a dozen and don't mean that there was any huge hyperinflation, just a pretty ordinary one. Serious hyperinflation starts when your currency devalues by a billion times, and doesn't hit the "huge" mark until you get to Weimar Republic 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.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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 Its exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu is simple enough, but since a 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 the 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.
- This quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mentions three cases of funny money:
- This is also some Self-Deprecating Humor, since the Galactibanks are the products of Douglas Adams' 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.
- Parodied in Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need, according to which the exchange rate for Italian currency is "1,000,000,000,000,000 lire = Nothing."
- In Broken Angels Sanction IV's economy is so bad, on account of the nuclear civil war going on, that their Standard Archaeological Find Token (saft) exchanges with the UN Protectorate dollar on a 230 to 1 basis. Kovacs gets a bit riled up when a crime boss offers just five million for a spaceship he'd just stolen, and even more when he says that was in saft, not dollars.
- The Guns of the South highlights the discrepancy in value between the Confederate paper dollar and the gold dollar.
- One of the things that baffles the Confederates about the Rivington Men is their insistence on the equal value of Confederate paper money and gold, something even the staunchest Confederate fire-eater won't. This includes charging fifty dollars in paper for a repeating rifle. Fifty gold dollars is a reasonable price for a high-end off-the-shelf rifle, but fifty paper dollars might not be enough for a pocket knife. It is implied (while never stated outright) that the time-travelers might be taking the Confederate bills back to their own time and selling them to collectors, thus recouping their value (and perhaps more, since the bills are in new or nearly-new condition.) And, as they hail from South Africa, gold is readily available to them.
- Earlier in the narrative, Nate spends a gold dollar in a tavern, which gets him a quart of whiskey, a room for the night, a cooked breakfast for two and (most importantly in this context) ten dollars in paper in change.
- Later on, Nate goes to buy a hat, and ends up paying ten dollars in paper for it. He notes that he could have paid a dollar and some change in silver instead, but that no-one spends metal money unless they absolutely have to.
- The Renford Rejects featured a joke about the Italian lira.
"I've just won 10,000 lira!" "That's £3.50".
- 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.
- 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).
- M*A*S*H episode "Change Day": 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. If this seems uncharacteristically mercenary of Charles, that's because it was a leftover script where he took the place of Frank Burns.
- One episode of Simon & 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.
- The Canadian dollar having Ridiculous Exchange Rates was a running gag on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, mostly because regular Colin Mochrie was Canadian.
- 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.
- The well-meaning Kramer takes a trip of Japanese tourists all over the city, not realizing that their several thousand yen is only a few hundred US dollars. Sure enough, they run out of money very quickly.
- In another episode, he and Jerry go to Italy and he's aghast at Jerry paying the taxi driver several thousand lira, again not realizing that it's only a few American dollars.
- Flight of the Conchords: Bret and Jemaine somehow rent their small New York City apartment on the salaries of holding signs and playing gigs to a single audience member. In the final episode, it's revealed that they've been paying their rent with New Zealand dollars instead of American, so they owe a huge sum of back rent.
- There's an Art Brut song called "18,000 Lira" about a failed bank robbery, which concludes: "sounds like a lot of money."
- 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.
- In Warhammer, the Border Principalities have known for their instability and consequently any currency issued by them is viewed as worthless.
- 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 more favorable exchange rates.
- In Tropico 3 Absolute Power El Presidente can choose to print more money; while giving money in the short term, it permanently 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 currency.
Informant: A pleasure doing business with you.
Rico: Considering the value of the Panauan buck, shooting you would have been more expensive.
- 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).
- 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".
- After some really stupid decisions by the managers of Gaia Online, namely the creation of an insane quantity of gold generators, the amount of gold accrued without any adequate Gold Sink, making the prices soar (see here).
- Neopets has serious issues with hyperinflation, caused by the fact winning Neopets is a walk in the park, although the stakk introduced policies aiming to reduce this amount, such as the selling of an item by a NPC account (read here for more details).
- Team Fortress 2's economy has suffered from inflation issues for as long as it's existed. The primary currency is metal (the game's main crafting component). The exchange rate for a single key (the other main currency) went from around eight refined metal in 2014 to fifty in 2019. Keep in mind that producing a single piece of refined metal through conventional drops can take weeks, and that a key is worth $2.50; trying to hack out a profit in more than pennies without buying a few keys is borderline impossible. This owes to the fact that metal is produced by Random Drops, while keys need to be bought from the ingame store—the playerbase (especially bots) is constantly pumping more metal into the economy, leading to its value slowly cratering. On the bright side, this means that you can buy every single actual stat-affecting weapon for basically nothing.
- 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.
- 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 this Touhou doujin 4koma, 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 the Joe Oriolo Felix the Cat cartoon "Penelope the Elephant", Rock Bottom kidnaps a lost elephant from Felix that he intended to return to her Rajah for a 50,000,000 bakshee reward. Rock Bottom makes it there ahead of Felix, but to the former's shock, it turns out the reward money is worthless—50,000,000 bakshee is only worth 10 cents in American money. He's so flabbergasted at this outcome, he angrily throws the meager award aside and goes into shock, while Felix gets the last laugh.
- In the Reality Show parody cartoon Drawn Together, when Toot Braunstein and Ling Ling accidentally kill the hottest prostitute in Mexico, they are given 24 hours to pay the fine of 500 billion pesos. Horrified, Ling Ling yells "That's almost 12 american dollars!"
- 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.
- The Simpsons:
- In "The Old Man and the C Student", 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 for taking an old foreign coin collection of his to a bank to exchange it for 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 one of the Halloween episodes, Homer attempts to smuggle souvenirs out of an unidentified Middle Eastern country without paying export duties. When he is caught, he is surrounded by armed policemen who demand he pay a fine "... of two American dollars!"
- In "The Old Man and the C Student", 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.
- A first-season episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! saw Scooby as a potential heir to a share in a considerable fortune—a million American dollars. Turns out, while Colonel Sanders (no! not that Colonel Sanders!) had the million-dollar fortune... the dollars were in worthless Confederate paper money. No attempt is made to explain why the mansion isn't noted as part of the estate since it'd at least be worth something. Or the fact that Confederate money is highly valued by collectors.
- In Ed, Edd n Eddy, Eddy gets a (comically) huge envelope of money from a penpal in Korea and immediately tries to buy jawbreakers. Right before he gets tossed out of the store, Edd remarks:
Edd: This is foreign currency, Eddy! Virtually worthless in its present state!
- 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 (shades of M.Bison, perhaps?).
- 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.
- Robot Chicken spoofed The Six Million Dollar Man with the Six Million Peso Man (who upon being completed immediately disappears past the US border).
Mexican Government Man: "That's 283 American dollars we won't see again..."
- The Venture Bros.: Dr. Venture is initially very pleased at the amount of the check he receives for lecturing at a Mexican university, then he dejectedly notes it's in pesos.
Dr. Venture: "All these zeroes are meaningless."
- TaleSpin: When Baloo recovers an idol from Colonel Spigot he trades it in for a 13 million torbit reward. He calls Rebecca, bragging that he's going to buy the Sea Duck back, while Louie figures out the exchange rate from torbits to shaboozis (Cape Suzette currency). Eight shaboozis worth of gas (plus ice cream tab, tax, and tip) wipes out the whole reward. Suddenly completely broke, Baloo is forced to do an immediate about-face, meekly telling Rebecca he'll be back to work tomorrow and asking if he can reverse charges on the call.
- Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh: Tip tries to make some spare money by taxing Boov around all day; at the end of the day she and Oh count the large piles of currency they have collected only to find out the 6,034 Gleeblos they have are worth $3.00 USD.
Some currencies, though, are actually quite stable; they just have a lot of zeroes attached to the end. Either way, if you're used to dollars, euros, or pounds, life can get a little weird in those countries.
- Zimbabwe is the by-word for hyperinflation, giving us the page image at the top. The 100 trillion-dollar bill◊ from 2009 set a record for the most zeroes ever put on a banknote with 14 — and this was after two revaluations that cut 13 more zeroes. Inflation rates were in the millions of percent (sometimes billions), and it became more appropriate to speak of the currency's "half-life" (i.e. how long it takes for it to lose half its value) — a stable currency might last 35 years, but the Zimbabwe dollar's half-life at its worst was just 24 hours. People were withdrawing money so much that ATMs started malfunctioning just from an inability to handle the ridiculous numbers. 2009 was the last straw, when the Zimbabwe government just gave up and made the U.S. dollar the official currency.
- In Zaire in 1993, longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko replaced the currency with the "nouveau zaire", which was worth three million old zaire.
- The Mozambique metical was the lowest-valued currency in the world in 2004 (i.e. before Zimbabwe started going to shit), with the exchange rate hitting a low of 24,500 meticais per dollar. In 2006, Mozambique redenominated the metical at a rate of 1000:1.
- The São Tomé and Príncipe dobra fell from 12,000 dobras per euro in 2004 to about 24,500 per euro in 2009, when the country signed a deal with Portugal to peg the dobra to the euro at that rate. Then they revalued the currency at the rate of 1,000 old dobras to one new dobra in 2018.
- The Indonesian rupiah was hugely devalued during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, to the point that Indonesian students started making a habit of taking part-time jobs in Singapore at places like McDonald's, so they could get paid in Singapore dollars and exchange them for millions of rupiah. It's stabilized since then, but the exchange rate is still pretty ridiculous, at between 14,000 and 15,000 rupiah per U.S. dollar.
- The South Korean won is another stable currency with a ridiculous exchange rate of about 1,000 won per U.S. dollar. Unfortunately, the largest banknote available to the general public is 50,000 won, which is only around $40-$50. South Korea is a very industrialized and developed economy, so it doesn't rely too much on cash, but you might still find yourself in a situation where you need to pay with a proverbial Briefcase Full of Money. (U.S. military in Korea particularly have to deal with this, as Korean landlords prefer soldiers to pay the year's rent up front in cash.)
- North Korea also has a won, and given the nature of the country's famously strict command economy, it's worth a lot less on the open market (read: the country's huge and poorly controlled Black Market) than the North Korean government says it does. The biggest shock came in 2009, when the government not only chopped two zeroes off the currency, but at the same time also instituted wage hikes (ostensibly to illustrate the nation's "prosperity") — the real goal of it was to wait for the currency's black market rate to collapse back to "normal" and, in so doing, wipe out the population's savings and thus eliminate any illusion of financial independence from the system.
- The Japanese yen has had an interesting history. World War II precipitated a huge decline in the yen to fund the war effort, and Imperial Japan exacerbated the problem by printing "banana money" for use in its occupied territories, which had no serial numbers and were thus trivially easy to counterfeit — by the time the war ended, those yen were totally worthless. Also totally worthless were the sen (1/100 yen) and rin (1/1000 yen) coins. After the war, the Japan fixed the yen to the U.S. dollar at 360:1,note but as the country recovered and industrialized, the currency strengthened dramatically, and by the time Japan was ready to take over the world it was only about 80 yen to the U.S. dollar. Now it's somewhere between 100 and 120 yen to the dollar, and while it's not thought of as a particularly valuable currency, it's actually one of the most traded currencies in the world. (Incidentally, Japan likes to keep it relatively weaker, because its economy relies heavily on exports, and people are always going to want to buy more of your stuff if it's cheaper.)
- The Philippine peso was pegged to the U.S. dollar at 1:1, the Philippines long having been tight with the U.S. (having once been an American colony and relying on American help to fend off the Japanese), but it's now somewhere between 40 and 50 pesos per dollar with a roller-coaster ride through practically every value along the way.
- The Vietnamese đồngnote is worth somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 to the U.S. dollar. It's gotten worse over time, even though the country's economy has been supposedly "ready to take off" for the last decade; when Top Gear (UK) did their Vietnam special in 2008 (and Jeremy bragged about his shoebox full of cash before realizing it would only buy him a motorcycle), it was closer to 15,000 to the dollar.
- China during the Chinese Civil War was not a politically stable place, especially during the 1940s, when the Communists, Nationalists, and various warlords were all vying for power in different bits of the country. The currency during this time was so mistrusted that smart Chinese businessmen preferred to be payed in gold, silver (still plenty of Qing-era ingots left), or opium.
- The Weimar Republic's Deutsche mark was one of the best known examples. The common story is that Weimar Germany, saddled with huge debts and reparations from World War I, ran the presses until the whole debt was paid, but the famous 1923 hyperinflation was more acutely caused by the Ruhr Crisis, when the country missed a reparations payment, and the French and Belgians teamed up to occupy the Ruhr Valley, which was Germany's industrial heartland and crippled the country's economy. At its worst, one U.S. dollar was worth 420 quadrillion marks (that's a 42 and 16 zeroes), the country at one point printed a 100 quadrillion mark banknote, and even postage stamps said 20 billion marks. There are a ton of famous anecdotes about the worthlessness of the Weimar mark, such as being better suited for firewood◊ or wallpaper◊, or the story of someone who forgets a wheelbarrow full of money and comes back to find the wheelbarrow stolen but the money left alone.
- The post-war Hungarian pengő experienced the single worst hyperinflation in history. The largest banknote◊ was worth 100 quintillion pengő (that's a 1 followed by 20 zeroes), which is the single highest denomination banknote ever issuednote — and even that was effectively worthless. The currency's "half-life" was as low as fifteen hours at its worst. The pengő was eventually replaced by the forint in August 1946 at a rate of 400 octillion pengő to the forint, and by this time (per Postwar by Tony Judt), "the dollar value of all Hungarian banknotes in circulation was just one-thousandth of one cent."
- In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Poland was just getting used to the whole "market economy" thing, and the value of the Polish zlot fell so badly that before the redenomination in 1995, the largest bill in circulation (introduced in 1992) was was "only" two million zloty◊, roughly 80 U.S. dollars at the time. The new zlot was established by dropping four zeroes from the old zlot.
- In Yugoslavia, right as the country started to fall apart, the Yugoslav dinar experienced extreme hyperinflation as well, leading to the printing of the 500 billion dinar note◊, which with 12 zeroes broke the record for most zeroes ever printed on a banknote before Zimbabwe beat that in 2009.
- Russia has seen every currency fluctuation you can think of:
- During the Russian Civil War, not only was the ruble notoriously worthless (even post-revaluation, a million rubles was petty change; before then, it was pretty much toilet paper), but its rate wasn't even unified. Every town or petty government issued its own scrip, resulting in thousands of currency units in one country. The most notorious was the kerenki, the scrip of the Provisional Government; it was so poorly made that any printing device could (and did) make indistinguishable counterfeits, and they eventually became so worthless that they weren't even cut into individual banknotes, but rather used as 1x1 meter uncut sheets, leading to the money unit being "meters of kerenki".
- The Soviet Union was a strict command economy, and there was a huge disparity between the "official" exchange rate for the Soviet ruble and the black market exchange rate, the latter of which was much more commensurate with the currency's real value. If you managed to get into the Soviet Union with foreign currency (or cool Western goods like jeans), and you could exchange it on the black market, your purchasing power in the Soviet Union was near limitless.
- The New Russia was hit by another round of hyperinflation, and although not quite as bad as before, prices had skyrocketed to there being four more zeroes compared to the Soviet era. The government tried a couple of stopgap measures which failed miserably (like the "Ural franc", an attempt to reintroduce local scrip), before it relented in 1998 and revalued the ruble. It's now relatively stable at 60-70 rubles per U.S. dollar, although it's sometimes seen as a "petrocurrency" and not particularly trusted in the global market.
- The old Italian lira was a longtime easy target for this trope, particularly given the notoriously dysfunctional government and Obstructive Bureaucracy and the country's popularity with American tourists, which gave the impression that it was worth whatever the government felt it was worth this week. That bureaucracy actually stymied attempts to revalue the currency in the 1980s by slashing three zeroes from it. By the time it was replaced by the euro, one euro was worth almost 2000 lira.
- Axis-occupied Greece witnessed one of the worst hyperinflations in history — in October 1944, it hit a monthly rate of 13.8%.
- Revolutionary France issued the assignats, so named because they "assigned" the value of the church's estates. But they issued so many of them that their value collapsed, to the point that the State had to order the death penalty for those who refused to accept it.
- The Romanian leu was briefly the world's least valued currency, trading at 36,000 per euro. It was redenominated at a rate of 10,000 old lei per new leu.
- A couple of subversions: the old Cyprus pound, Maltese lira, and Latvian lat were all worth more than the British pound — and British tourists, used to the notion that their own currency was the world's strongest, tended not to find out the truth until after a night of drinking. They got the last laugh, though, when all three currencies were dropped in favour of the euro, which (until Brexit at least) was not as strong as the pound.
The Middle East
- The Turkish lira was even more of a Butt-Monkey currency than the Italian lira. It was the least valued currency in the world until 2005, trading at about 2 million lira per British pound, when it was revalued by dropping six zeroes. The Howard Stern Show had a bit called "Who Wants to Be a Turkish Millionaire?", where the winner would receive a million Turkish lira — at the time, worth about fifty cents.
- Israel used to have its own pound, which was replaced by the shekel at 10 pounds per shekel in 1980. The shekel lasted until 1985 before it was replaced by the new shekel at a rate of 1,000 old shekels per new shekel.
- The Egyptian pound trades at about 16-17 per U.S. dollar, which doesn't sound so bad — until you realize that it was once worth as many as two or even three British pounds. In fact, it was originally pegged to exactly one British guinea (a pound and a shilling, or £1.05 post-decimalisation), and currency controls allowed it to appreciate, before Anwar Sadat initiated economic restructuring in The '70s which allowed the currency to float — all the way down to where it is now. Some Egyptians with very long-term real estate "leases" were quite lucky to see this happen.
- The Iranian rial lost 80% of its value between January and October 2012, and during this period it saw several days of double-digit losses. It's worth around 42,000 per U.S. dollar, and the hyperinflation has led to a few protests. The toman reckoning of chopping off a zero or two is common.
- The Middle East is also home to a few subversions, featuring the top four strongest currencies in the world — the Jordanian dinar, the Bahraini dinar, the Kuwaiti dinar, and the Omani rial. Again, British tourists convinced that their own currency is the world's strongest tend to get burned in these countries — especially in Kuwait, where one dinar is worth about USD 3.30.
- The United States not only proudly has a "reserve currency", but through such global events as the Bretton Woods conference and the "Nixon shock" of the 1970s has basically been setting the rules for global currency trading over the last few decades. It's naturally got a lot of experience with when to print money and when not to print money, but some of this it learned the hard way:
- The Articles of Confederation basically left printing money to the individual states; the Continental Congress issued its own currency too. Nobody, however, printed anything worth anything, except perhaps to lend the phrase "not worth a Continental". Most Americans, if they needed an actual currency, would use the existing Spanish real coins that were pervasive in the Americas at the time. George Washington complained once that one needed a wagon of money to buy a wagon of hay. This is why the modern Constitution specifically prohibits the states from issuing paper money.
- Even after the Constitution was implemeneted, states realized that although they couldn't issue paper money, they could issue charters to banks and allow them to issue banknotes, which could be exchanged on demand for gold and silver U.S. dollar coins (practically identical to the Spanish "dollar", or 8-real piece). This led to nearly a thousand different institutions issuing such banknotes, whether or not they had the actual gold and silver reserves to exchange them — and they were so commonly counterfeited that people started rejecting real ones, especially if they came from an institution they hadn't heard of. Americans kept using Spanish coins until the Civil War, when the U.S. government — needing a way to actually fund the war effort — established a standardized U.S. currency that's the predecessor to the modern greenback.
- During The American Civil War, Confederate paper money was notoriously worthless (although now some rare bills might be valuable collector's items). The Union tried printing counterfeit bills to undermine the Confederate dollar, but success was hard to gauge — even though they were poor and cheap fakes, nobody valued them any less than the real thing. The counterfeit bills are sometimes even more valuable as collector's items than the real bills (and they also don't run afoul of U.S. law prohibiting ownership of counterfeit currency).
- During Texas's brief stint as an independent republic, the Texan dollar (colloquially the "redback") became so inflated that even the Texan government wouldn't accept it for payment of taxes, insisting instead on U.S. dollars, gold, or silver.
- Subverted (against all logic) by San Francisco "Emperor" Joshua Norton I, who printed scrip or bonds in the 1870s and used them to pay for things — successfully, as he was a cult figure in the city. Local businesses accepted them at fifty cents' face value, and when the time came for Norton to pay up, he printed even more scrip and used that instead. It still worked. When he died, all the scrip instantly became worthless; however, nowadays surviving Norton scrip can be worth tens of thousands of dollars as collectibles.
- The Mexican peso occasionally gets this treatment, partly from some historical inflationary episodes, but mostly from its status as an Acceptable Target for Americans. The worst was between 1982 and 1994, when the peso was essentially a "petrocurrency", and when the price of oil fell, the peso collapsed and the entire economy went with it. In 1993, the "new peso" was issued at an exchange rate of 1,000:1; the "new" was dropped in 1996. The current exchange rate is around 20 pesos to U.S. dollar, but Americans still get confused sometimes, because both the peso and dollar use the "$" symbol,note and you're never quite sure which one they want.
- The Canadian dollar is often thought of by Americans as "funny money", but again, this has more to do with the country's Butt-Monkey neighbor status among Americans than anything else. The Canadian dollar has never fallen below about 0.61 U.S. dollars, and on a few rare occasions has been even stronger than the U.S. dollar. But its pretty colors, evocative names (the "loonie" and "toonie"), and general lack of usefulness outside of Canada fit it in with the general "Canada is weird" aesthetic in the States. The main issue with the Canadian dollar is that entities that do a lot of business in the U.S. tend to get a lot of U.S. dollars and are thus more exposed to currency risk — Canadians mostly care that this discrepancy forced two NHL teams to move from Canada to the U.S. in The '90s, and they still haven't forgiven the Yanks for that (even after they got one back).
South AmericaThe problem seems to be endemic in South America:
- The Chilean escudo, first issued in 1960, was replaced in 1975 by the "new peso" at a rate of around 1000 escudos per peso. The Chilean peso is now one of the single most stable currencies in Latin America, and it's still around 600 pesos to the U.S. dollar. The one quirk is the 50 peso coin that's worth around 50 dollars because the government misspelled the country's name on it.
- Brazil faced hyperinflation several times over the 20th century, each time introducing a new currency only to see it lose value again. The ended in 1994 with the Plano Real, when (as This American Life once put it) the government lied to the people to restore confidence in the currency... and it worked. If you're counting, one modern real equals 2,750 cruzeiros reais (1993-94), and if you want to go back to the colonial era real, one modern real is 2.75 quintillion colonial reais.
- Argentina seems to go through currency collapses as a matter of course. The country was quite prosperous in the early part of the 20th century, and in 1944, a U.S. dollar was worth 4 Argentine pesos — this being the moneda nacional, which after several rounds of revaluation equals 10 trillion modern Argentine pesos. It came to a head around 2002, when after a disastrous experiment in pegging the peso to the U.S. dollar, Argentina gave up, put its currency on the float, and saw the bottom utterly fall out, with a peak monthly inflation of 10.4% in April 2002.
- Ecuador abandoned its own currency and uses the U.S. dollar. At the time it did so, one U.S. dollar was worth 25,000 sucres.
- The Peruvian inti was subject to such extreme inflation in the 1980s that by 1991, having already printed a 5 million inti banknote, the country introduced the nuevo sol at the rate of one million inti per sol.
- Venezuela is a by-word for hyperinflation, especially among Communist-hating Americans who see it as a textbook example of what happens when you go Communist (or more accurately, when you try to regulate a market through wishful thinking). It started with president Hugo Chávez and continued under his successor Nicolás Maduro — neither saw a need to let the global market decide their currency's value, and the bolivar was worth whatever they said it was worth. They didn't take the black market into account — ignoring the market won't make it go away, it just pushes it off the books. By 2016, inflation was around 700% — by July 2018, Maduro's opposition was claiming it was over 80,000% per year, and the black market exchange rate was six million new bolivars (or six billion pre-2008 bolivars) per U.S. dollar. Further redenominations have been bandied about, but never implemented. The country's famously antagonistic relationship with the U.S. has led it to abandon any outside help, and the extreme corruption, currency controls, and disparity between official and unofficial exchange rates has led to government and police getting very rich at the expense of people who can't afford basic necessities. Maduro tried to solve this problem by proposing the "petro", essentially a petroleum-backed currency pegged at 60 U.S. dollars per "petro" (about 360 million current bolivars).