Once upon a time, there was a woman who found herself in Macedonia right around the time of her son’s fourteenth birthday. Strolling in the beautiful town of Ohrid, she came across a shop selling knock-off Versace t-shirts with themes of Greek mythology. Her son, Onlyboy, had an obsession with the Percy Jackson books in general and Greek gods specifically, so she entered the store and bought the t-shirt. At roughly $30, it was a splurge.
Soon, it was time to leave Macedonia and drive to Greece. The birthday had not yet occurred so the t-shirt and its plastic bag were nestled between the other bits and bobs in the van.
Before long, the happy day arrived and Onlyboy woke to find himself a year older. He was presented with gifts, among them, the pseudo-Versace shirt. Because the family was travelling, the gift wasn’t presented in the standard wrapping paper but rather in its protective plastic sleeve with all tags still attached.
Onlyboy was thrilled with the t-shirt and had just slipped it over his head when the woman spotted the price tag at which point she did a double take. She got out her calculator and began frantically punching in numbers. She felt herself get hot, feel unwell, become dizzy. Then she croaked, “Could this possibly be a real Versace because I think we actually spent $300 on it.”
Onlyboy was commanded to take off the t-shirt at once. The same numbers were punched into the calculator all that morning with hopes that the machine would eventually spit out a different answer. Some conversions are easy: a British pound is worth about twice as much as a Canadian dollar. Some are confusing: it takes 40 000 Vietnamese Dong to make $2.50. The Macedonia New Denar is one of the confusing ones.
It was decided that Onlyboy would be forbidden from wearing the shirt; the tags would remain attached to the garment; the receipt would be guarded with the woman’s life; the family would drive all the way back to Ohrid after the two week holiday in Greece was up. The shirt would be returned come hell or high water.
It wasn’t until the family returned to Macedonia and spent an afternoon reacquainting itself with the currency, the cost of living, and how to make proper conversions that it realized that the t-shirt had, in fact, cost about $30 so the tags could be cut off and Onlyboy could finally strut about with his Zeus-ware in the very town from which it came.
The moral of the story is no matter how busy the vendor is, take the time to process how much the item costs before purchasing it. In some countries, this can take up to five minutes and some debate with companions. If there seems to be some grave mistake after the fact, don’t panic. This is not just good advice for rookie travellers but also a useful reminder for seasoned travellers like the woman in the fable.