When doing business anywhere in Central Yerevan, no matter whether you go to a busy restaurant, visit a small kiosk selling newspapers, cellular phone fill-up cards, and cigarettes, or even enter a supermarket, you will nearly always hear the Armenian line, “manr chunes?” which means “have any change?” It is a strange phenomenon that has basically spread to all types of businesses, regardless of the size or how seemingly lucrative they are.
Another common request is to have the customer present change to round up the selling amount off to the nearest even dram. For instance, if you purchase some items that amount to 1,700 drams and present a 5,000 dram bill, the cashier asks that you also present 300 dram in coins so that three 1,000 dram notes will be returned. In such instances the cashier would be disappointed when you tell them you don’t have the right amount of coins—distributed in denominations from 10 to 500 dram incidentally—since it means that he or she will have to spend another five seconds to count out the change. One time when visiting my favorite neighborhood grocery store on
Thus it is a bizarre fact to me at least that predominantly only large dram bills are distributed from ATM machines throughout the city. I bank with HSBC here and I can say that with one exception, I have mostly received withdrawals in 20,000 (or just under $50) and 10,000 dram notes. But a few months ago I used the machine at the main HSBC location on Republic Square on the immediate left as you walk into the lobby. A withdrawal of 100,000 dram yielded mostly 1,000 dram notes and a few 5,000 ones. Although I had a thick, inconvenient wad of money in my wallet, which nevertheless made me feel rich for some reason, I was relieved that I would not be asked for small change when going to the store during the following week. But this is also not necessarily the case. I have even been asked for small change when presenting a 500 dram note to buy less than 300 drams worth of goods. Why the vendor was short on coins was beyond me, since they are generally in wide circulation.
So what’s going on? Why doesn’t the Central Bank of