The Queen and I: a story about change

The New York Times (thanks to Greg Mankiw for the link) have a story on the row that erupted after a chinese restaurant refused to accept payment in pennies. Here's a snippet:

It was about 11:30 p.m. on April 23 when Wayne Jones stopped at the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant in the Soundview section. Mr. Jones, 47, a lieutenant with the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service, ordered four fried chicken wings to go. The total was $2.75.

Mr. Jones placed his money on the counter: two $1 bills, two quarters, one dime, one nickel — and 10 pennies.

“The lady behind the counter started yelling, ‘No pennies, no pennies,’ ” Mr. Jones said. The woman told him she would take 3 or 4 pennies, he said, but not 10.

The tale of the 10 pennies unfolded yesterday in a sort of sidewalk circus. It was a melodrama of pocket-change proportions, part political stagecraft, part whodunit and, perhaps, part slow news day. Reporters descended upon the cramped, seatless lobby of Great Wall as customers elbowed their way inside to order food. A Bronx lawmaker stood outside alongside Mr. Jones, vowing to take up the issue in Albany.

I've had the exact opposite problem in the past. The fare for the bus I used to ride to University cost 60p and, while I am an avid coin collector, I don't tend to carry the stuff around with me. That created a bit of a problem: the bus drivers had an almost religious antipathy to handing out change.

At first I accepted this as a fact of life, and settled with walking to university through the (frequently torrential) rain. After spending a big chunk of my first year in bed, coughing and taking temperature, I knew I had to find a way to get on that bus. By mid-year, I had discovered the killer answer to all these heartless drivers.

The bus would stop and I would walk inside, trying my best to project an aura of aristocratic righteousness and superiority (a bit difficult to pull when you are a hair-all-over-the-place, worn-out-jacket-clad student, but nevertheless I tried). The driver would take a look of disgust at my £1 coin or, even worse, £5 note and command me off the bus.

And that was the moment I would go legal on him: 'It's got the Queen's face on it, you are obliged to accept it as payment'. Most of the times, he would frown a little and reluctantly let me in - for free. The few brave souls that resisted the argument were faced with my polite request for their name, so that the police could be invited to settle the matter. No-one ever took the challenge, and I would happily take my seat inside the, oh so warm and cosy, bus.

The funniest thing? I don't even know if this requirement is actually enshrined in law. But as I've found out, alleging lack of respect to the monarch sure makes for a persuading argument.

For those fascinated by this stuff, here is a link to one of my previous posts on why you can't get change in Italy.