Madagascar’s currency is the Ariary. Try saying that fast, over and over again!
In the 1920s Madagascar gained the Malagasy Franc (FMG) as its currency – pegged to the French Franc. In 1961 the Ariary (MGA) was introduced, with one Ariary equal to 5 FMG. Between then and 2005, when the Ariary became the only official currency, coins and banknotes were issued in both currencies, initially with the FMG more prominent than the Ariary. How’s that for confusing?
(Currently 1USD = approx. 3200 Ariary, while approx. 225 Ariary = 1 Rand.)
Here’s where it gets interesting. All products in mainline stores are marked in Ariary, but the majority of the population still thinks in FMG. The large notes are only in Ariary, while the smaller notes carry both the Ariary and FMG amounts. So, a typical scene at our local supermarket (which I see often) would go something like this:
Checkout lady: “That’ll be 24100 Ariary ($7), please”
Customer: “How much is that in FMG?”
Checkout lady: “120 500”
The customer then counts out the ARIARY, while doing the conversion to FMG in his or her head! So, while removing a 10 000 Ariary note she would say to herself, “50 000” and so on until reaching the amount owed …
Taxis, roadside vendors, kids at school, indeed the majority of all trade here is quoted in FMG, but one always has to check. So, when buying mangoes, if the lady says “5000 per kilo”, then you ask, “FMG, or Ariary”? FMG being the answer, you hand over a 1000 Ariary note for a kg of mangoes. Many a time I have got quite upset about prices until I realised that I was being quoted in FMG. Also, now, whenever I think something is too high, like at the tourist craft market, I will joke with the vendors that they must be quoting me in FMG because it couldn’t possibly be Ariary!
Of course, as a foreigner, I’m also often thinking in US Dollars or South African Rands. So the conversion will go from FMG to MGA to USD and back again. Fortunately, when I was growing up, calculators were a luxury and my dad always stressed the importance of doing sums in my head. Without his wisdom way back when, I’d be lost!
A triptych (I assure you, I’m not making up these names) of some more old banknotes: