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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Changing Money Matters

???? ?????: to hit somebody in response, to give it to someone.

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In Russia parting with your money (large amounts of it) is easy enough to do. It's another matter, however, to do it correctly in Russian. The first trick is changing your hard currency (??????) into rubles. You all know by now that you do this with scruffy-looking men who mutter ?????? (exchange) under their breath in poorly lit archways. They are more likely to give you a ?????, that is, a wad of cut-up newspaper covered by a couple of real bills.

Instead, you always go to the ???????? ????? (exchange office), commonly called ????????. There you can say: ? ???? ????????/???????? 100 ???????? (I'd like to change $100). To keep them from giving you three crisp 1,000 ruble notes, you can add: ?????, ??????????, 1,000 ? ?????? ??????? (please give me a thousand in small bills.) Or: ?????, ??????????, ??? ?? ?????? (please give me 100 rubles in 10-ruble bills.) If they've already given you the big bills, you can ask someone: ??? ????? ????????? 1,000 ??????? (Who can change/break a thousand-ruble bill?). No one will be able to, and you'll spend the next few days cadging off friends because no store, restaurant or service organization will take the large bill. ????? ???! (I don't have any change!)

The salesclerk can also protest, ?????? ??? (I don't have any small change). ?????? means "small change" or "coins." ?????? are "trifles," i.e. anything of little value or importance.

In restaurants you part with your hard-earned cash by asking for the ???? (bill, check), or saying: ?????????? ???, ?????????? (could you bring us our bill?). Then you are faced with the eternal question, to tip or not to tip? In Russian, tips are ?????? or ?????? ?? ???, "tea money" (since giving a couple of kopeks for tea was the way to thank someone for good service in the old days). If you are an American, please don't take out your calculator and figure out the 10-15 percent down to the last decimal point. In Russia (if not everywhere on the planet but America) this is ?????? ??? (bad taste).

In restaurants and stores, you can also ask: ????? ????? ??????? (How do you accept payment? How can I pay?) If the waiter says: ????? (any way you want) -- you should understand this as code for: Even though we are expressly forbidden by law to accept anything but credit cards and rubles, we will happily take your dollars, euros, pounds or other freely convertible currency. But he might add: ?? ????? ??? ? ?????? (but I'll give you change in rubles).

It's extremely helpful to know that ???? ????? means "to give change." ???? ?????, on the other hand, means, "to hit somebody in response," "to give it to someone." I remember the old days when every cashier had an abacus (c????) and a cash register (???????? ??????). I never learned how to figure sums on an abacus (????????? ?? ??????), so standing in the checkout line was always a bit of theater, watching as the cashier whipped the worn black and ochre wooden beads back and forth to figure out the total, which she then rang up on the register before meticulously counting out your 2 rubles and 43 kopeks in change.

In today's supermarkets this is all done with machines that read the code. After the cashier glances at the total, she'll usually say: ?? ?? ??????? ??? ????? ? 43 ???????? (Do you have two rubles and 43 kopeks?) While she looks off into the middle distance and the line behind you groans, you empty your wallet, root around the bottom of your purse, and turn out your pockets. When you proudly produce the small change, she opens the cash register to reveal piles of every bill and coin Russia has ever minted. So take a tip from the salesclerks and just say -- ?????? ???!

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.