I’ve noticed something interesting happening to me in Russia. Whenever I am outside I always find money on the ground. It’s not a lot of money — kopeks mostly (something like cents) — but I still find quite a few of them. Whenever I am outside of Russia, be it in the US or Europe or anywhere else, I am usually not that lucky. So what is it that makes money litter the ground in Russia?
I am thinking it has to do with an attitude that many Russians hold on small amounts of money. When you go to a supermarket, you will almost always find a kopek coin or a five kopek coin unclaimed at any cashier station. It’s as if picking up that little change isn’t worth it. Picking it up places shame on you for being so “mercantile”, so “small”. It makes you feel small and it’s shameful in the eyes of the others.
Same goes for the money on the ground. If you dropped a kopek or five, you won’t be bending down to get it. And if you a pedestrian who notices this change on the ground, you are not going to take it. Others may see it and then what would they think of you!
These beliefs about small money and how your own worthiness is connected with it translates into other facets of the Russian life and society. Nowadays you are often judged on how much money you make, what position you hold, and how many designer clothes and expensive cars you own. You can buy your degree, you can buy a judge, you can buy pretty much anything. People with lots of money rule the country and the last thing you want to do is to appear as if you don’t have money… which is what will happen if you pick up that kopek!
So I happily go around picking up all the change. I believe money should not litter the ground. It should be respected no matter how small it is… kind of like people who should be respected no matter how much they make.
My 2 cents … or kopeks worth…