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Currency and Exchange
In order to enter St Almost you will have to complete a currency declaration form when you go through customs. This is to ensure you have enough hard cash to support you during your stay. If you are planning to stay for more than two months, we would recommend that you have at least four hundred pounds sterling, or dollar equivalent, and that you take only the bare minimum of St Almost doubloons(ð). Because of fluctuations in the strength of the currency, as well as its tortuous construction, you will find that pounds sterling or dollars give you a great deal more buying power and are more than welcome in most outlets. However, when buying drinks, cigarettes, or anything else in a public environment, always use local currency as a matter of safety.
After declaring your currency, you will be asked to pay an airport tax of $100, unpleasing to some travellers but essential to a country so starved of foreign funds. Restrictions mean you cannot buy more than $50 worth of doubloons outside the archipelago, as it is government policy to import as much foreign currency into the federal reserve as possible. Make sure you get a receipt from the customs officer who signs your currency declaration form, and make absolutely certain that he includes his officer number and shows you his identity card. You will invariably have to insist on this – if you don’t, you will be charged again whenever you come into contact with either the District or the Maritime police, on the grounds that that wasn’t a real customs officer but only someone pretending, and you don’t, therefore, have any real proof that you have paid your airport tax. You will be forced into declaring your currency again, at the expense of quite a proportion of it.
Do not lose your currency declaration form – you must pay an exit tax on leaving the islands of $100. This tax is not payable in any other currency. Customs officers will also want to see records of all your currency exchange transactions during your stay. This is to prevent you from taking doubloons out of the country and to be sure you haven’t been changing money on the black market.
The Black Market
Changing money on the black market is risky and probably futile. You may well be given a better rate of exchange than in the official bureaux, but unless you are a mathematician of genius you are unlikely to actually understand what you are being offered. You will, typically, be offered a fantastic rate, only to be told that your contact has no large notes and will be giving you your money in florin notes. You will, we guarantee, be quite unable to calculate whether the florins you have been given in any way add up to the amount quoted in doubloons in the short space of time it takes your man to vanish down a side street. The reasons for this are listed below.
Florins and Doubloons
The peculiar currency of St Almost is entirely the work of the de facto president, Sir Edmund Mandrake. Sir Edmund, before his Foreign Office career stranded him in the islands, was a high-ranking civil servant at the Treasury. His paper, “Why Keynes Was Wrong”, caused something of a stir in the Exchequer and was directly responsible for his transfer to his present post (in 1951). A lifelong opponent of the decimal system, support for which was gathering momentum in the United Kingdom at the time, Mandrake argued that the relative complexity of the non-decimal system produced in the population a greater mathematical literacy than the decimal, and that this greater fluency would translate itself into the necessary financial acumen and entrepreneurial zeal the country so badly needed to rebuild its fortunes after the exhaustions of the Second World War.
Mandrake’s theories were not popular, indeed, were not taken very seriously, until the Sleepy Revolution finally gave him the opportunity to make them into reality. Accordingly, St Almost now has the world’s first, and only, algebraic system of currency, whereby the number of florins to the doubloon is determined, not by simple quantitative strictures, but by a series of equations. The consequences of this have been disastrous, as only the most keen mathematicians can make sense of the system, and the result is that most everyday transactions in the islands are carried out by a system of barter. This is, of course, the way things were always done by the majority of the population – in cases where barter is impossible and no hard currency is available you will simply be asked for a notional sum of money, usually decided by what notes you have on you and which is the service provider’s favourite colour. Nobody has told Sir Edmund there are any problems with his system, because everybody likes him too much to hurt his feelings, and only government employees and representatives are forced to grapple with the currency. This no-one does (except Sir Edmund) without the aid of a calculator. It is, however, worth your while to at least try to get to grips with the basics of the system before you arrive, and the table below provides the necessary figures.