A Fool and His Money

One of the pleasures that has not deserted me over the years is the joy of finding a coin on the sidewalk or on the street. Not that it adds much to my net worth, but to find a dime or quarter makes my day. I’m happy for the rest of the week.

But it is getting harder to find such coins. We Americans so rarely use anything but plastic any more. Fewer people are losing a coin for me to find because so few people have any coins in their pockets to begin with. It’s depressing. But more about that in a moment.

Presently I am visiting family in Belgium, which is in (Euro)pe. Not only do I get to see my family in person rather than in skype, but I get to play cars with a grandson, which is fun to do in French.

Here’s how you play cars with a three-year old in French. You label his two slow cars “A” and “B”. You label his fast car “S”. Then you go out on the sidewalk and race them downhill. (And believe me, there are many, many hills in Brussels.) As soon as the fast car passes the two slower ones, you yell out, “Look at that S-car go!” which endears you to all the French speakers in the neighborhood. “Viva la Chile Fries!” they yell in friendship. It’s easy to improve relationships between countries if you have access to a three-year old’s toys.

Speaking of sidewalks, here’s another reason I like visiting Belgium. Namely, Belgium uses euros rather than dollars. And so long as you are in a country that uses euros, the people always have coins in their pockets.

Why is that? The smallest bill (cash) is the 5-euro, then the 10-euro, then the 20-euro, etc. So, what happens if you use a 5-euro bill to buy a copy of a newspaper that costs 1 euro, 70 centimes? You get back nothing but coins. You get a 2-euro coin, a 1-euro coin, a 20-centime piece, and a 10-centime piece.

The euro system is geared to people like me finding coins on the sidewalk or on the street.  Not only because of its 1-euro and 2-euro coins, but because the use of plastic does not seem as great as it is in the U.S., at least not in small shops where you buy food and drink. The second day I was here I found a 50-centime piece! Half a euro! It was bright gold and wedged in between two cobblestones just waiting for me to pick it up and put it in my pocket. I’m confident that before I leave (Euro)pe, I’ll find more, maybe even the pot of euros at the end of a rainbow!

I hope my love for finding coins on the sidewalk or on the street doesn’t mean that I’m one of those greedy, dishonest people I recently read about in an article titled, “The Ten Commandments of Money Management.” Commandment X sums up the first nine. Above all, thou shalt not forget that people want to separate thee from thy money.

I generally ignore any article that begins, “The Ten Commandments of…”. It makes the author’s advice sound loftier and more set-in-stone than it could possibly be. Perhaps the reason I gave this article a second thought was that people wouldn’t need these reminders if people actually lived by THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and other related values, namely, that we’re to look out for each other’s interests, be good neighbors.

But we don’t. We all of us fall a bit short, or more accurately, way short, and need to be reminded that Above all, thou shalt not forget that people want to separate thee from thy money.

Commandment X is a rather sobering statement about the neighborhood, Mr. Rogers. Not only is it a call to question the intent of anyone trying to sell me a bill of goods, but it’s a call to self-examination. Am I one of these people trying to separate other people from their money?

Again, I hope not. In my defense, let me say that, yes, one person’s gain is often another’s misfortune. A person has to lose a coin in order that I find it on the sidewalk, but… I didn’t pick his/her pocket. I didn’t wish that the said pocket had a hole in it. I couldn’t find this person in order to return the coin when I found it, and if my find occurred in the U.S., a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter is hardly going to bankrupt anyone.

Of course, if I found a 1-euro coin here in Belgium, the person who dropped it couldn’t afford the Euro-Menu at McDonalds, and I’d feel badly about that. I’d turn the euro in to no less a sleuth than Belgian detective Hercule Poirot so he could find the owner. Of course, if I really hit the big time and found the Pink Panther Diamond on the sidewalk, I’d contact Inspector Clouseau, who doesn’t live that far from here, and let him find the owner.

Coins, diamonds, dog poop, and banana peels. A person should always look where one steps.






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