I don’t know exactly how long this has been going on in Dakar, but certainly long enough that it’s a common practice. Too common. Humorously common.
Often when you’re paying for your goods, whether groceries at a supermarket, gum and Nescafé at a buutik, or bread at the bakery, the person will look at the money you’ve just handed them and then look at you. “Amuloo weccit?” they ask. “Don’t you have exact change?”
Change is a precious commodity around here. When the ATM spits out big bills (about $20), you groan because it means you’ll have to beg and coerce people to break them. It doesn’t matter whether your total comes to 4,300 cfa or 75 cfa. Getting change back is going to be an issue. Sometimes it ends in a verbal IOU. My vegetable lady often does this, and it works fine since I buy from her twice a week. No change for that 5,000 cfa bill on Tuesday? Not a problem. She just knocks 2,000cfa off my total on Friday.
There is a more popular a solution, especially when dealing with small sums. When the person doesn’t have the necessary change, they may offer you a token gift instead.
When buying produce, you may be offered a bundle of green onions or a couple limes instead of that 100cfa (20 cents) they owe you.
At the buutik there’s often a bag of mint candies available for the vendor to grab one or two to hand to you instead of the 50 cfa.
A bakery near us has recently gone high-class and formal. On our printed receipt they wrote an IOU for the 25 cfa. (Yes, that’s about 5 cents.)
Recently at a clothing store when the cash register was rather change-light, they gave me a bracelet instead of the 350 cfa. That was a first!
I think my favorite exchange was at the grocery store we go regularly go to. When the total came to an odd sum that Cheikh figured would result in our leaving with some random token gift, he beat them to it by handing over a couple cfa bills, some coins and two pieces of candy. The look on the cashier’s face was priceless. It started off in the direction of, “What is this toubab fool doing?” and then landed firmly in “My eyes cannot roll high enough into my head.”