Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Money talks

Someone's getting a pay rise, woohoo! This is but a small increase to the pittance, but as I like to say, it's better than a kick in the teeth, right?

In honour of this fact, I bring you a couple of otherwise random observations on Russian money matters:

Basically, it's like all the annoying things about Prague, multiplied. If you thought (or if you heard me describe) that the shopkeepers of Prague were anal retentive about changing large bills, then in Russia they're ten times worse. Sometimes I plan entire shopping expeditions on the back of whether I think I'll be able to break a big note. We get our pay doled out in multiples of 1000 roubles, which is about NZ $55 or 20 pounds. So, not a massive amount, but reasonably substantial. It takes cunning strategy to break these notes. Often, if I'm in the supermarket or a bookshop, say, I'll try to whip out the 1000 rouble and pay for a 300 rouble purchase. They will invariably try to extract a smaller note out of you. If you have smaller notes in your wallet, on no account let the shopkeeper see them. They will hone in on this weakness and break your feeble spirit. Don't even try paying with the thousand at the produkti or kiosks around town, it just won't work. Even breaking a 100 rouble note can be troublesome at these places. They will always ask for you to supply the small change as well - for a 454.32 purchase, be ready to supply the 4 roubles, 32 kopecks. This is a problem because it confuses the hell out of me. Why I can't understand that there are rouble coins and kopeck coins, I don't know. After all, there are dollar coins and cent coins, pound coins and pence coins... this has never been a problem area. But with roubles and kopecks, I panic.

Talking of 32 kopecks, if you thought 50 heller coins were useless, then meet kopecks. Just before I left NZ, the 5 cent coin was taken out of circulation, I suppose on the ground that it was essentially useless (5 cent lollies, anyone?). The Russians need to sit up and take note. Usually, the smallest you see is a 10 kopeck coin, which is worth NZ $0.0054. However, 1 kopeck coins do exist - that's right, there are coins that are worth NZ $0.00054, or to put it even more ridiculously, 0.00019 pence. And it's not like you can even buy something worth one kopeck - yet they insist on making things in the supermarket cost 14 roubles, 12 kopecks, etc. Crazy!

Above, I mentioned produkti - the delightful Russian equivalents of the dairy or, for those challenged in Kiwi-speak, corner store, convenience store, etc. Now, Russians are obsessed with preventing shoplifting - probably with good reason. To this end, they plastic-wrap my bag when I go to the supermarket, the drinks fridges on the roadside are controlled somehow with a button - pay your money first, they press something and the fridge opens, and some produkti have lockers where you must stow your bag before you go in. But the best produkti are the ones that are straight out of the Victorian age - all the goods are behind the counter and you have to ask the shopkeeper for the things you want. Ah, classic! It's these little things that make Russia not just a cold New Zealand where they talk funny. Of course, this can be a challenge when you don't know the name for what you want (pointing helps, but this can take time - no, up! up more! down! across!) but that's all part of the fun. Also cool is that, as I discovered last night, you can go to your local produkti and pick up a single egg (3 roubles, 40 kopecks). Now that's handy.

Now, this is unrelated, but question: are there more amputees in Russia, or are they just more visible because they're not cared for properly? Sounds like a silly question, but I really want to know. I must see people missing one or more limbs every day, mostly begging on the streets or on the metro. In New Zealand, would they be whisked off, provided with artificial limbs and given a benefit or assistance to work, and therefore aren't a visible presence in daily life? Or are these hordes of limb-impaired Russians veterans from the war in Afghanistan or somesuch? Are there any enlightening statistics/theories out there? Go forth and seek knowledge, my faithful readers!


  1. I think that they don't have the same regard for workplace health & safety, therefore more accidents at work.




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