Sunday, February 15, 2009

A few facts about floose

A note on DT vs. TD...I've seen the Tunisian currency abbreviated both ways but from here on out I will be using DT, which seems to be the more common of the two.

So "floose" is Tunisian Arabic for money. I know I've talked about the DT before but here's a rundown of how currency works in Tunisia. It's definitely different from anything I'm familiar with in the western world.

The Tunisian Dinar is split into 1000 millemes, so prices look like this (a Tunisian sandwich for $3,530 DT) instead of this (an American sandwich for $3.50). I've never seen so many coins in my life. There is a 5 DT coin with a silver center and a gold edge, a 1DT coin that is the same size and all silver, a smaller 500 milleme (half a DT) silver coin, a gold colored 10o milleme coin that is the same size as the 1 and 5 coins, a gold colored 50 milleme coin that, to my eyes is indistinguishable from the 100 except for the number printed on the front. A smaller 20 milleme coin is gold colored as well and the 10 is even smaller than the 20 and feels fake. There are apparently 5 milleme coins circulating as well, they are small and silver, but I have yet to see one and it doesn't matter because you can't buy anything with 5 millemes anyway. Even a piece of candy is usually at least 50. 

The paper money is far simpler. There are 5, 10, 20 and 30 DT bills. That's what we get out of the ATMs here, but that means that we end up with a LOT of change. When a train ticket is less than a dinar and we usually have 10 DT bills as our lowest form of paper currency, we'll end up with at least a 5 coin and 4 dinar coins, plus whatever small useless change is left. 

Everything is very cheap here, though, if you know where and how to shop. In the Medina, the souk owners will barter with you. Today we went to a flea market where we had to do the same thing. When the shop owners see foreigners, they'll often start much more expensive than the item is worth, but if you know better, you can get whatever you're buying down to a far more reasonable price.  For instance, I am taking an oriental dance (the politically correct term for belly dancing) class at a local dance studio in Sidi Bou and all the students in the class were told to buy the scarves with the jingly coins on them (I'm sure they have a real name but I don't know it) to tie around our waists. The instructor told us not to pay more than 10 dinars for them. When we went to the medina to buy them, the first souk we went to sold scarves to a few of my friends for 6 DT. I wanted to look at other colors, so I kept looking in other souks. When I found the one I wanted (black with gold coins), I asked the souk owner how much. He told me 12 dinars to start out with. I laughed, thanked him, and started to walk away. Then he dropped his price to 10. At least now I was in the suggested price range, but it still wasn't good enough. When I told him that my friends got their scarves for 6 and that I'd just go back there, magically he dropped the price on his scarves to 6 as well! 

Taxis are also amazingly cheap here. The meter starts at 400 millemes and today my friend Courtney and I got to Gammarth, a few suburbs north of Sidi Bou Said where we both live, for 1,430 DT. Split two or more ways, taxis sometimes end up being cheaper than the train or the bus.

In a way, we're all becoming rather frugal. One of my favorite stories happened when I went with two friends to recharge the minutes on my phone. We all put 5 DT worth of time on our cell phones and I walked out of the store to wait with some other friends and Courtney and Lee came out of the store with disgusted looks on their faces. Turns out they wanted to buy a pack of gummy bears. The guy behind the counter just said "three" and they assumed he meant 300 millemes. That would be about right for the size of this pack of gummy worms. No, he wanted three dinars for them. "Three dinars?" Lee said to us, later, outside the store. He was exasperated. "For gummy bears? They're just regular gummy bears, they aren't even sour! Or worms!" I guess the guy at the candy store/phone recharging stand wasn't into bartering because he ended up without a sale. Keep in mind depending where you go you can get a sandwich for 3 dinars. You could get more than three round trip train tickets to Tunis for 3 dinars. That's the equivalent to 2 cups of gelato or 9 or 10 bottled waters or a couple kilos of blood oranges. 3 dinars for a pack of gummy bears? You have to be kidding :)


  1. Mo, I love reading about your flea market experience. I remember learning to do the same thing when I was about your age on my first trip to Brazil. It feels a little unnatural at first, doesn't it? (Can you imagine trying to barter with a storekeeper here in the states?) But it is expected. And it can be fun! I can't wait to see your "oriental dancing" scarf!

    Keep the great stories coming. I love you, sweetie! Mom

  2. So I'm going to take a gander at it... for 3 dinars, I'm going to have to say that its safe to say, that Tunisians do not produce gummy bears :P haha

  3. I thought you hated Math! Good job bargaining. I KNOW you can SHOP!