A Euro for Your Thoughts
Money sure has been in the news a lot lately. The airlines are running out of it, retail stores took in less of it at Christmas than they had hoped and, thanks to spending $69 million of it, Michael Bloomberg started off the year with a new job -- mayor of New York City. Oh yeah, a bunch of European countries dumped their francs, drachmas, and pesetas in favor of the euro too.
The euro, for those of you who have been too busy waiting for Weakest Link to rerun "Supporting Sitcom Actors No One's Ever Heard of Who Are As Desperate For An Audience As We Are" to catch the news, is the common currency which twelve out of the fifteen members of the European Union have adopted. The holdouts are England, Sweden, and Denmark, which used the E.U.'s "You Ain't The Boss Of Me" clause to opt out. Hopefully it will work better than it did for England during World War II.
The idea of the euro is to unite the countries economically, give the dollar a run for its financial money, and create some truly boring paper money adorned with generic, unidentifiable bridges and doorways, the well known international symbols of, well, anything but a monarch. It will also make it easier to travel from country to country since you won't have to worry about changing your money, figuring out how to fold it so it fits in your wallet, and walking around with a calculator in your hand so you'll know how many of the alien bills to unfold, examine, and overpay the smiling shopkeeper. Instead you'll hold onto the same money as you crisscross the continent. And wonder why it buys so much less just because you walked through customs.
Actually the euro isn't new. It's been in use for a couple of years, though much like my social life, it's been virtual. Hey, maybe there's hope for me yet. Even though there were no actual euros to hand over, store prices were posted in both the local currency and euros so people would get used to it, much like they did here when they put up highway signs showing the speed limit and distance to cities in both U.S. and metric. Which lasted all of about a week. Which if I recall is five metric days. At least the virtual euro managed to hang in for a couple of years.
People finally got their hands on the real thing on New Year's Day. In most of the countries they'll be able to use either the euro or their old money for a few months, though they'll only get euros back as change. Germany's the exception. There you have to have exact change. Just kidding. Actually they discontinued the use of the mark immediately so you have to use the euro. Germans have a hard time with the concept of gray.
Having an adjustment period is a good thing, since it will give people time to learn not to stare at the new money as if they're American tourists in Paris for the first time wondering what these strange looking bills are and trying to figure out how many they need to fork over for that weasel pâté with escargot and mayo on baguette they ordered by mistake. This sight alone -- Europeans having trouble with their money, not the sandwich -- makes the idea of traveling to Europe very attractive right now. Hey, Im not above a bit of revenge.
To get everyone primed for the euro, they promoted the hell out of it. There were German TV commercials ("Vee haf ways to make you use the euro"), a 50-foot replica of the euro symbol at the European Central Bank (Think: vertical crop circle), and even the introduction of The EuroWorldSong with Michael Jackson singing "We are the Euroworld. We are the children." Just kidding. Actually the chorus is "It's a small Euroworld after all."
Not everyone is happy with the change. Or the bills for that matter. In France the newspaper Liberation ran an obituary for the franc. In Germany some people buried their marks. Well, a few token ones, anyway. And in Luxembourg people worried that this would cause them to lose their identity. Until, that is, someone reminded them they don't have one.
Europe may not be the only place to get a new currency this year. Argentina has been considering it too. Last week the country's third out of five presidents in two weeks -- go ahead, think about that for a moment -- announced he was going to print brand new money called the argentino. This in spite of the fact that they already have two, the peso and the dollar. But now that he's gone and they're on their third president in two days (don't feel bad if you have to take notes here, so do the Argentineans) it looks like they may just stick with the two currencies they have. Of course that could change. After all, somewhere in among all this they adopted a new national motto: "Another day, another president."
So what are you to do if you have some Irish punts, Austrian schillings, or Portuguese escudos sitting in the drawer waiting for your return to Europe? Not to worry, banks say they'll always exchange them. Maybe that's the answer to the problem of the airlines and retail stores. Perhaps they should look in their pockets and behind the seat cushions for spare change they can convert to euros. If they find enough of it they might just get back on their feet. Or become mayor of New York. Hey, it's a new year, anything's possible.
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