In Russia, you must have exact change

If you are visiting Russia for the first time, remember this: When paying for items, have exact change whenever possible. Small bills often won't cut it; you'll need exact change.

I've had Russians try to pay me my change in peanuts (literally, this happened) or simply ignore the issue entirely and give me nothing, but either way Russians almost never have enough change to break whatever banknote you're ready to offer, even if the note is only 500 rubles (less than $20 USD). When the lady tried to pay me my change in peanuts, the bill had been 60 rubles (more than two dollars) and I gave her a note worth 100 rubles (less than four dollars).

And of course ATMs (банкомат) almost always give you huge bills. Once I withdrew 5,000 rubles and received a 5,000-ruble note, worth about $175 on paper but in reality basically worthless. I used it at Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Музей изобразительных искусств им. А.С. Пушкина). The woman selling tickets balked, but I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, You've got more than 5,000 works of priceless European art so I'm pretty sure you can handle 5,000 rubles.

In Saint Petersburg I found an ATM offering the choice of small bills. I withdrew 3,000 rubles (~$100 USD) and received sixty 50-ruble notes, basically two-dollar bills. For Russia, such small bills are perfect. Absent this option, another thing you can do is withdraw a larger amount, and then process a second withdrawal for the smallest amount possible. That way you'll have immediate cash for whatever it is you are doing. To break large bills, try global businesses, like McDonald's or Starbucks (CTAPBAKC); if you are not in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, good luck.

Edit (Dec 2012): Still true. My god. Russians, never enough change.