I’ve always been fascinated by the protocol of petty bribes: the folded bill nonchalantly inserted into a functionary’s pocket, the suavely encoded ‘suggestion’ indicating what the bribe is for. One of my unrealized goals in life is to subtly condescend to someone by pretending to try to bribe them with a one dollar bill. Imagine your friend drags you to a posh nightclub that you don’t want to go to anyway and the doorman refuses you entry because you’re wearing sneakers instead of fancy shoes. Theatrically slip him a crumpled $1 and conspiratorially murmur, “My friend George Washington would like to join the party,” then enjoy the series of expressions that pass over his face as he realizes that you’ve essentially tried to buy him off with a candy bar.
In the Czech Republic, these ‘My friend so-and-so…’ lines take on an added dimension because the historical figures printed on Czech bills have biographies that are both more dramatic and obscure than their American currency counterparts. Imagine the fun/confusion that could result from slipping someone a 100 crown note (equivalent to five dollars) and indicating, “My friend Jan Komensky would like to come in and develop a language where false statements are impossible.” Or: “Excuse me, but I think my friend is late to his defenestration.” A Tomas Masaryk would set you back about $250, but you would get to say, “My friend would really like to join the League of Nations.”
Czech currency, incidentally, is really beautiful– I will be sad when it’s eventually retired in favor of the Euro. The very first Czechoslovakian bank notes (along with the first stamps) were designed by the great art noveau artist and Czech patriot Alfons Mucha.