“Tienes cambio” is one of those phrases that is just necessary if you are in Latin America. Translated, it’s simple meaning of “do you have change” often leaves travelers frustrated with merchants inability to create change from any medium sized bill and up.
The problem (from my personal experience thus far) is that ATM’s only deliver up bills in quantities of one hundred quetzales (the exchange rate for Guatemala to the U.S. Dollar is around 7.5). Yes, people can go into the bank to get smaller bills, but most people don’t. Banks don’t have the best hours, so travelers such as myself find ourselves only using ATMs outside of the bank.
So a hundred quetzale bill equals about thirteen dollars…which to people residing in developed countries…it should be no problem to make change. In Guatemala, if I want to use the hundred bill, I better be willing to spend close to half of that amount with the merchant. A few days ago I was actually turned down on buying something because they couldn’t make change.
It seems that these merchants would finally have a light bulb turn on in their head and realize, “Hey, why don’t I start the day off with assorted bills” (which they can get for free at the bank), “allowing myself to have a competitive advantage over merchants Beavis and Butthead by providing change to my customers. Brilliant!”