Read, Write, Run, Roam

The quest for change in Belgrade


I recently read an article about old currency circulating in Serbia. * Some of the coins and bills from the hyper-inflated 1990s are still being used in stores, so watch out. A grocery store might hand you a worthless 20-dinar coin, but they certainly won’t accept it.

I’ve heard that old currency is sold in the Fortress or along the northern part of Knez Mihailova. Five hundred billion dinar bills (no, that is not a typo; see above) are available for a Euro or two. It’s the perfect souvenir for a morbid economist: Serbia experienced one of the longest hyperinflation episodes in history.

I checked my wallet and, sure enough, found a coin that may be worthless. But at least it’s a one-dinar coin. I’ll consider it a nice souvenir.

It’s probably fine, but I’ve never seen a silver one-dinar coin before.

I haven’t just noticed the date of my change. I’ve also noticed that giving and getting change is a bit of an issue here. Taxi drivers and famers always want exact change, but that’s an international phenomenon. When large grocery stores balk at me using a 500-dinar bill for a 300-dinar purchase, it seems quirky, to say the least. How can I give exact change when I can’t receive exact change? Help a housewife out, retailers.

If I don’t have exact change, I’m prepared to see grocery stores round my total up or down. Usually it’s a small amount, and I figure it all works out in the end. But a Serbian friend has a darker perspective; she thinks retailers purposely round up because Serbians don’t insist on exact change.

I was skeptical about this until I recently bought tickets to the EXIT festival (!!!) at a bank. Yes, you can buy concert tickets at a bank. I’m not sure why. The teller took my money, gave me the tickets, and then fiddled around with her papers as if we were done. The problem? I was owed change. Not a lot of change (20 dinars) but still, it’s money. My money. And I was at a bank. If there was a place to expect accurate accounting and small bills, it’s a bank. I waited a few more seconds and asked for my change.

She laughed, touched her head as if to say she was sorry, and handed me my note.

tollbooth cats and bank humans

We both smiled and I walked out the door.  It was probably an oversight; maybe I’m getting paranoid. But I’m happy I asked for my 20 dinar note. I used it to buy a gorgeous bunch of radishes at the market yesterday. With exact change, of course.

* I think the article was in Belgrade insight, but I can’t find it online. If anyone knows the article I referenced, please let me know so I can give the author credit. Thanks. 

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3 responses

  1. Erasfa

    Small correction:
    Silver coins of 1, 2 and 5 dinars are from not from the 90s. They were released afte 2001 and the reason why they’re being pulled out from use is because of the inscription on one side of coin. It says National Bank Of Yugoslavia. That country doesn’t exist anymore so coins have to go as well.

    As for the change, it’s tiresome from time to time. I got used to checking out my wallet for change while I’m standing in line 😀 However it gets better especially in Maxi stores and green market.

    April 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm

  2. Andrej

    I was a bit taken aback I remember when I first went into a London grocery store, and received my exact change *to the penny*. And sure enough it kept happening every single subsequent time.

    So yeah, a dinar or two tends to get looked over in Serbia, whether you owe it or you’re being owed… 🙂

    April 29, 2011 at 7:33 am

  3. That’s funny-thanks for sharing the story! In the US there’s talk of getting rid of our one cent coins, since people always have “too many” of them, thanks to exact change. (They also cost more to make than they’re worth.) I wonder if rounding up the change will make its way to the States…

    April 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm

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