It wasn't exactly an international incident, but Richard W. Lewis recently learned the hard way that there's nothing quite like American money.

Richard, who lives in Charlottesville, was en route to New York by car. He stopped at a food store in Hagerstown, Md. His bill came to $17.28.

"I handed the checkout person a $20 bill and 28 cents in change," Richard reports. "She took it, counted the 28 cents and handed me back a penny, saying, `I can't accept this penny because it is Canadian.' "

Richard says he "couldn't believe my ears." But, not wanting to cause a stink over one cent, he fished in his pocket for an American penny, handed it over and received his Canadian penny back. Peace, international goodwill and calories all soon broke out.

Still, misunderstandings and mutterings over Canadian money have crossed my desk more often lately -- especially now that the summer travel season is underway. They tend to come from places like Hagerstown, which is a port of call along Interstate 81, a main route to and from eastern Canada.

Way back when, Canadian and American dollars were roughly equivalent. One would occasionally spurt ahead of the other in value, but never for very long. In general, shopkeepers accepted them both with a smile -- especially near the border.

In recent years, however, the two currencies have diverged sharply. On July 15, the date on which I asked researcher Suzannah Gonzales to check, one U.S. dollar was worth $1.48 Canadian, according to the official exchange rate posted on the Internet. To put it the other way around: One Canadian dollar was worth 67 American cents that day.

I wouldn't presume to preach to businesses like the one Richard encountered in Hagerstown. If I were running a grocery, I wouldn't want to take a 33 percent hit, either.

Sure, a penny is just a penny. But ask any retailer what happens when you let a drop of water through the dike. Right. A flood.

Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Canadian Embassy, said that the question of which retailers accept which currency "is something an individual retailer would decide him or herself." Canada does not take an official position on the question, he said.

Time out for a brief commercial: Levey will cheerfully accept Canadian money (yes, Richard, he'll even accept a penny) in support of his two major charity drives each year. If you get the money to me at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, I'll do the rest. I'll accept not only Canadian money, but currency from any country in the world.

Still, there ought to be a better system in the Hagerstown food stores of this world. How about this? A basket of American change near the cash register, which many stores already provide -- but also a basket of Canadian change. Equal strokes for different folks.

The menus have found a home.

If you read this column early this month, you learned all about Anthony Denice's menu collection. It was wide, it was deep -- and it was threatening to engulf him. He wanted to give it away, to someone who would care for it (and about it).

As usual, publicity flushed the right kind of wildlife out of the bushes. In this case, Anthony has given his collection to the Opera Guild of Northern Virginia, which intends to auction it at a Nov. 6 fund-raiser. Nice outcome on both sides.

Let's see if we can duplicate it in the case of Bernard Hein's decanters.

He's in much the same boat as Anthony -- the proud possessor of a collection that's become too big to handle or to keep.

"I have hundreds of dollars worth of decanter bottles such as Beam, McCormick, etc.," Bernard writes. "I would like to donate these bottles to various charities to be used as door prizes or raffles. Could you help me locate these charities?"

If any charity is interested, please call me at 202-334-7276. I'll put giver and getter together.

A KID TO CAMP

Our 1999 campaign to send underprivileged children to summer camp ends today. I'll report the final results on Monday. Whether we sank or swam, heaps of thanks to all who kicked in.

If you're still sitting on the fence and would like to climb off it by making a credit card pledge, details follow in about an inch. Many thanks again.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of July 28: $393,902.80.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.