I’m a big fan of urban legends, financial and otherwise. You learn so much about people’s fears, paranoias, confusions, etc.
Here are a few examples from Snopes:
- U.S. law specifies that a creditor does not have to accept more than 100 pennies towards the payment of a debt or obligation.
- The letters ‘JS’ on the U.S. dime represent the initials of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
- A significantly large percentage of U.S. currency bears traces of cocaine.
Okay, the first two are myths, but the third one turns to be true.
Anyway, I recently ran into the story that National Geographic expense reports included a line for “Gifts for natives”. According to the story, decades ago that was common, but an increasingly populated planet meant that National Geographic journalists & explorers no longer needed to give natives gifts, so it became disallowed as an expense, disappearing as a line item from expense reports.
It’s a great story. It’s so good that it falls into the category of “too good to check”, an anecdote so apt that one doesn’t want to find out if it’s false because it would be a huge pain in the ass to come up with a better one. Sometimes, however, you just have to check, damn it.
So … is it true? Did the National Geographic really have an expense line for “Gifts for natives”? I checked around, looked for an example of such forms, and couldn’t find it. I emailed National Geographic, getting myself into an amusing conversation with a senior communication person there who seemed to think he was being punked. After some back and forth, however, and after some consulting with an archivist there, the answer seems clear: No, there never was a line item for “Gifts for natives”. Yes, now and then people might have actually expensed some strange things, but it was never (I’m told) a formal line item.
Another financial urban myth bites the dust. Sorry about that. If you have more, send ‘em my way.