First encounters

Kind of a wacky picture for a wacky subject. I used to have a great art app on my iPad. It was fun.

British Sterling, as it used to be, was a damnable currency. Foreigners must have had a hell of a time figuring it out, because there didn’t seem to be a sensible thought behind it. It was created following a system developed by Emperor Charlemagne, so let’s blame the French.

It was the currency I grew up with. My mother used to take me shopping at Mr. Cudd’s, so I was accustomed to hearing “that’ll be two and six, please, Mrs Smith”, or “tuppence, for that”, “two Bob, please”, and so forth. When you grow up with something, it doesn’t need to make sense. It’s just what IS.

The basic units were pounds, shillings and pence (“pennies”, in fact, not to be confused with new pence). One pound equaled 20 shillings. 12 pennies equaled a shilling and a penny was divided into four farthings. Prices were therefore quoted in L.S.d. (Sorry I haven’t the stamina to work out how to make the pound sign!)

Additionally, there was a guinea which equaled 21 shillings. High value items had their prices quoted in guineas, thus “15 guineas”, rather than 15 pounds 15 shillings (L15.15.0, actually). Perhaps it was actually akin to the system we have in the States where prices are marked, for example, as $29.99, because that sounds so much less than the next dollar amount!

If you lived in Britain you needed an oversized wallet, as the paper notes were the size of a gentleman’s handkerchief. A change purse was pretty useless. You really needed a sack for loose change. I haven’t been to England for a long time, but as far as I know, you still need the sack.

At least you are no longer expected to know the values for a “tanner” (sixpence), a “Bob” (one shilling), a “florin” (two shillings), a “crown” (2 and six, or 2 shillings and sixpence) or a “sovereign” (one pound). The pound was known as a “quid”. I don’t in fact remember there being pound coins when I was a little girl, but they were made of gold and I’m not sure we had any!

“Tuppence” was the Scotty dog next door, but it also meant “two pennies”.

The reason all of this came to mind was that I was thinking of the first time I encountered American people. It was an unfortunate first impression, but then, I was only eight.

In 1955 my father had taken a job with UNESCO in Cambodia. My mother was left to pack up life as she knew it, and was to join my dad six months later. I am sure my father intended that both of us children would be sent off to boarding school, as indeed my elder brother was. In my case, mum put her foot down. As a child, I was severely asthmatic and my mother thought I was also too young.

Doctors had tested me for allergies, dust and pollen being the major irritants, so it was suggested that perhaps SE Asia would not be the best environment for me. In fact, from the day I arrived in Cambodia, I never had another serious attack.

The problem of my being in Cambodia was that it was a French-speaking country. What to do about Carolyn’s education? The sensible thing would have been to enroll me into the local “ecole primaire” and just let me get on with it. Children absorb language like a sponge. However for reasons forever unknown, it was decided to seek admittance for me in the American school.

In due course, an American lady came to meet me at our apartment. She said she wanted to know what grade to place me in, so I was given a math problem to figure out. It involved the American currency of dollars and cents, of which I had never heard. At that time, the decimal system was unknown to me. Consequently, this child, that had a total grip on the aforementioned, damnable British Sterling, failed miserably.

I was placed with children a year younger. I was not pleased. I felt like a failure. They spelled stuff wrong, too, and they had different words for things. I didn’t really care about that, but they looked at me as if I was weird.

When I skinned my knee someone painted me with Mercurochrome and applied a band-aid that was bright red with stars on it. I pretty soon peeled it off. What a fuss about a little scratch. Isn’t it amazing, the silly stuff you remember?

The good thing about the Americans, though, was that they had chocolate milk and root beer. Not the most auspicious beginning, but there was promise….

2 thoughts on “First encounters

  1. Carolyn I well remember going to Europe before the Euro and thinking how pretty the money was and it kind of blew my mind that 10000 lire was like 2 two dollars. I recall being in England on a tour we were in Yorkshire and getting an education on the money. Wow it was like following Alice down the rabbit hole

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