The Color of Money.
The Ukrainian money that I have included in this post was practically useless by the time I had arrived. Ukraine was using a transitional currency, and this lasted until 1997, if I am not mistaken. They have stabilized somewhat since then, and now have money that doesn’t look like it belongs in the eastern European edition of Monopoly.
I love the design of this money, and it is smart design in that it is very small. Not a bad idea if you need to carry a lot of cash around.
When we would go into the city center to buy groceries, mail letters, and exchange currency, it was always a circus. As you would exit the Metro, gypsy children would cling to your legs in hopes of pick pocketing whatever you had in your wallet. I quickly learned to always have an ample amount of candy to give these guys to keep them away from my money. They had a racket, and I was happy to help them with it as long as they didn’t take my money.
Next to the main post office in Kiev was where the money exchangers had set up booths. On certain days none of these booths would be open, so groups of thugs would stand next to them, and offer to give you a great exchange rate for your dollars. It was all part of the racket; they were simply the guys who would be working in the booth on other days.
One day when I was desperate to exchange a fifty-dollar bill, I took one of these guys up on the offer. He had given me a good quote, so I thought I would give it a try. I normally didn’t exchange with people on the street because it could be dangerous.
This guy takes my fifty in one hand, has a pack of cigarettes in the other, and starts holding the money up to the light of the sun as if to inspect whether or not it is fake. He then starts folding it, and as he is doing this man comes up to us and starts yelling, “what are guys doing, don’t you know this is illegal?!” So the man hands me a folded bill, and as he hands it to me I notice that it is a one-dollar bill.
I grab the man and start shaking him, and yelling at the top of my lungs “GIVE ME MY FIFTY!!!” The whole square must have heard me, because it became quiet. It is the one time in my life where I can truly say I was angry and ready to harm someone. Well, I got my money back, and I was lucky because it was all I had left for that month to live on!
I knew to grab the guy because a Ukrainian friend of mine had told me how he was scammed out of a hundred dollar bill. He had filled me in on this routine. They use the pack of cigarettes to hide a folded one-dollar bill, the man that comes up to the crowd is part of the routine, and the folding is done to make you think that they are inspecting whether or not is real money. As everyone disperses the stolen money is handed off to another guy heading in the opposite direction of the group.
So, my advice is to exchange you hard earned money in a bank if possible.