Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Introducing the Som

January 20, 2008

The som is the unit of currency used here in Kyrgyzstan. The exchange rate varies, but currently 35soms is roughly one dollar. Coins are rarely used at all. I guess they’re in the final stages of being phased out. I have heard that they exist, but that people are usually surprised when they receive coins as change. Paper soms exist in denomination from 500soms, down to half a som. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this. Somewhere along the way, in a handful of change received at the grocery store or somewhere, I received a bill labeled 50. Not having remembered where I got it, or how much money I was owed when I received it, I simply assumed it was a 50som bill. After all, there ARE 50som bills. What was interesting about this bill, was that it was about half the size of the other bills in my wallet:


If I’d paid closer attention, I might’ve noticed that while the 100som bill spells out жуз сом (one-hundred som), the smaller bills read элуу тыйын, which turns out to mean, essentially, fifty kopeks. There are 100 тыйын per som, apparently. Guess how I came to this stunning realization? Not by intelligently wondering why the wording was different on the different bills and checking my Kyrgyz dictionary, no. Instead, I was leaving the internet café. My bill came to 35soms, and I tried to pay for it with what turned out to be the 50 kopek bill. The woman running the internet café simply gave me a look which conveyed her thought, as clearly as if she had spoken: Are you a complete and total dumbass? I immediately realized that I’d done something wrong, and tried to cover it up by acting as though I’d simply grabbed the wrong bill out of my wallet. I took my 50тыйын bill back and exchanged it for a 100som bill. My change from it contained a legitimate 50som bill, which was the same size as the rest of the bills in my wallet. I went home and immediately rummaged through my Kyrgyz dictionary to confirm what exactly had just happened... sigh.

Here’s a shot of the 500som bill:

And this is a close-up of the mountains which appear on the back of the 100som.
Is it just me, or is that a face? Seriously, I find it a little frightening.

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