March 01, 2001

Better than a Hundred Rubles

Better than a Hundred Rubles

Alexander Druz, a famous Russian знаток (expert) and long-time participant on the TV quiz program Что? Где? Когда? (What, Where, When?), once bet a friend that he could tell a joke about any subject. His friend took the bet and then lost soundly when Druz proceeded to regale him with jokes for hours, on all his chosen subjects. While I would never pretend to Druz’s level of erudition, after writing this column for five years I sometimes feel it would be possible to write a Survival Russian column on almost any topic. For this, we probably have the richness of the Russian language to thank.

Take for instance “сто” (100), the magic number of Young Russians which Russian Life  selected for its year-long series of profiles (published in 2001-2002). There are so many “hundred-related” things that they cannot fit into this space. But let’s get down to the basic ones.

The first is simple and quite mundane: it is the figure on our banknotes. Russians have many names for their 100 ruble note: from the old-fashioned and obsolete катенька (little Katya), to the rather neutral yet colloquial сотня, сотенная, the rude сотняга, and the contemporary стольник or the tender and cajoling стольничек. Whatever you call it, it always gives one pleasure to know that “У меня в кармане честная сотня ...” (“I have an honest hundred in my pocket”) – as Lyube lead singer Nikolai Rastor-guyev sings, anticipating a rowdy, weekend party.

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