Adapted from an article I wrote two years ago, here for your erudition:
When you first come to Romania, you will inevitably be invited to play a game. The invitation will come unannounced and you will have no choice about whether to play unless you are quite prepared.
The game’s rules are not enshrined in any rulebook, nor is there any official name, but it is nonetheless the Joaca de Marunţi (mah-roonts), otherwise known in English as the “Change Game”.
The word marunt means a lot of things, including “remainder”, “bit” or “leftover” as well as “little piece”. In this case however it means change, referring to money, especially coins.
When you go into any store of any size and the total rings up to be something less than even than the size of any single bill, ie 1.60 lei instead of a much more pleasing 2 lei, the Change Game has now begun! Gird your loins and hunker down for the game is afoot.
Option one: Hand the cashier 2 lei and make a sad face and moan about how you wish with all of your heart that you had correct change (marunţi), the offending 60 bani, but due to your grandmother’s recent illness, the crop failure down in the Banat, the incompetence of the Romanian government and other signs of a hex upon your miserable life, you simply do not have it.
You will know you have won this round of Marunţi if you get a 50 bani coin back. Smile, for victory is yours!
Option two: Despite your pleadings and “woe is me” tale, the surly cashier gives you the “stone” face, perhaps even a Scolding of Righteousness, and all your acting is for naught. You simply will not get 50 bani from her.
Instead she will force you to buy several cheap items to make up the 40 bani difference, located at the register for just this purpose. Your choices are:
- A box of matches
- A piece of generic hard candy
- A small tube of instant coffee powder
- Bouillon cube
- A single piece of gum
The gum and bouillon cube are often worth 20 bani, the rest 10 bani apiece. Your only hope of calling this round of Marunţi a draw is to NOT let the cashier choose your “consolation prize” and instead argue for matches instead of candy, or whatever your preference may be.
Warning: No matter how friendly you are, do NOT attempt to return to the store at a later date with a large sack of matches and hard candy and attempt to use this as “coin of the realm” to buy something. They will not be amused ;)
Option three – Despite the clerk’s grumbling and groaning, she will open the cash register and give you the correct change from the enormous pile of coins she has stockpiled therein. Why she was even asking you for correct change when she has so many coins in the register is not for you to understand, fool.
Welcome to Romania and good luck playing the Change Game!