When is a Piggy not a piggy? The state of banking in SA

My son got a paint-your-own clay piggy bank for his birthday. An innocuous gift, you may think. In fact, some consider it an excellent way to introduce children to the ancient and somewhat unfashionable practice of saving money.  That is what I used to think too.

My son was quite curious about the origin of piggy banks so we did some research. Wikipedia was most obliging: Piggy banks “serve as a pedagogical device to teach the rudiments of thrift and savings to children”.

After I translated that into English for my 5-year-old, I read on. We learnt that one possible reason for using the word piggy in this context was that it derived from pygg, a clay substance used to make containers in the olden days.  (I no longer use accurate historical terminology with him. He asked me if his father and I were around “when dinosaurs were alive”.)

Wikipedia also gave a link to 50 Cent. Before you hit the send button on a comment pointing out that the plural of cent is cents and there is no reason to capitalise the “c” and 50 should be written as fifty, hear me out.

50 Cent is (apparently) the assumed name of a famous rapper.  So, if he goes to a shop, pays cash and needs half a dollar change, the correct way to refer to the money he gets would be 50 Cent’s fifty cents.

But I digress. The reason for the link on the Wikipedia piggy bank page was that Mr Cent had penned a song (and I use the term loosely) titled “Piggy Bank”. My son wanted to find out what the song was about so I googled the lyrics. (I know there’s a debate about whether Google can be used as a verb, and if so if it is lower or upper case, but I can’t remember the outcome. Forgive me)

The chorus looked like something my children would come up with if asked to sing a song about piggy banks:

Clickity clank clickity clank
The money goes into my piggy bank
Yeah yeah, get more money, more money
Yeah yeah yeah, get more money, more money
Yeah yeah yeah, get more money, more money
Yeah yeah yeah, get more money, more money
Yeah yeah yeah, get more money, more money

Actually, that isn’t fair to my kids. Sorry. I can’t repeat the rest of the lyrics here for fear of being rejected by email servers throughout the world but you can google them if you are so inclined. Although I can’t be sure, they seem to gloat that 50 Cent is making a fortune while the other “homies” and the like aren’t.  It may also be commentary on modern banks, implying that piggy banks are what smart rich people use.

I’ll come back to him later. The first odd thing about my son’s piggy bank was that it was not actually a piggy but a post-box.  This didn’t bother him; he tore the box open and begged to paint his post-box.

No sooner had the paint dried when he discovered a flaw: The coin slot was too small for five rand coins.  (My husband errs ever so slightly on the side of generosity.) So we shaved off a bit of the plaster with a knife to squeeze them in.  My guess is that the coins in China are smaller than ours.

Several weeks later he presented me with his full piggy bank. Off we went, stuffed piggy in hand, to the bank. My son’s obvious excitement touched everyone.

Everyone, that is, but the teller. She bluntly told him to go away and come back when he had sorted all of the coins into little bags. Tears brimmed in his little eyes. I narrowly averted a meltdown by pouring the coins out and making a game out of sorting the filthy coins into those minute bank bags.

We were making good progress. All was going well until the troublesome five rand coins proved too big for the plughole. They also refused to fall out of the enlarged slot.  By now the bank’s staff and customers had grown tired of my moaning son and the “clickity clank” of the large coins hurtling around the inside the pygg post-box.

I had no choice – with as much dignity as I could muster I smashed the loathsome post-box against the inside of the nearest bin until it shattered. I ignored the gasps and stares and back to the queue we went. We waited a little less patiently until the same dour teller handed over my son’s R48,62.

No more piggy banks in our house. I certainly won’t be repeating this little lesson with my daughter. We will continue to be our children’s bank until they are old enough to stand in those queues and look the tellers in the eye by themselves.

Much as I hate to admit it, 50 Cent may have a point. In fact, he must be laughing all the way to the Piggy bank. Yeah.