FAREWELL PESETA, HELLO EURO
James Skinner keeps a diary for the first week of
December 31st, 1999 the world stood still awaiting a possible universal
catastrophe. Planes would fall out of the sky, pacemakers would
stop, your bank account would either turn you into a millionaire
or put you on the dole. At least that is what some doomsday soothsayers
predicted if most of todays computers were meant to go bananas
trying to set their automatic clocks at the turn of the century.
The only effect I have noticed since then is that the electronic
weighing machine at my local chemist continues to show the date
as 1902 as it tells me Im eating too much! Two years later
the script had been rewritten. The introduction of the new European
currency, the Euro told another story.
Spain, as tradition has it celebrated the new year with bells and whistles,
fireworks and drunken orgies no different to any other part of the western
world. As the municipal buildings tower clock in Madrids main
square clanked its creaky old chimes at midnight on new years eve,
millions of Spaniards took to the streets with bottles of bubbly and other
goodies to welcome 2002. Private and public parties erupted throughout
the country. The worlds problems were placed on the backburner,
at least for the time being. As the night wore on, the only pains were
those inflicted by overindulgence typical of the consumer world.
There was a difference, however. The most important new-born of the year
was not human. Baby Euro had joined the party. Constant flashes on the
television screens showing the rest of Europes Euro family reminded
everyone that Spain was not alone. The rejoicing was twofold. Happy
New Year and Happy Euro! Finally the bands stopped playing, weary
partygoers returned to their dens and by morning, silence descended upon
the land. That is, until the banks, through special government decree
opened their doors.
I decided to wait until midday before I ventured down the road to visit
my local bank. Eager to lay my hands on a wad of the awaited notes, I
stood patiently in line at one of the tills for over an hour, pen in hand
and cheque book open. I would like 1000 Euro, what is the exact
amount in Pesetas please? I enquired. The clerk looked up and said:
Have you got your Euro cheque book? I cringed. First new year
mistake. Didnt order it beforehand. He smiled back at me and added:
Write it out for 166.386 Pesetas, and
date it 31st December,
Being a friendly sort I went on to ask him about the so called black
money, the non declared hidden pesetas. He burst out laughing. Weve
had all sorts walk in this morning to change money. One old dear brought
in a smelly bag with over half a million 1000 Peseta notes. Shed
kept them in her cow shed for over five years! Another old geyser dumped
nearly a million of the same at my colleagues window. They were
soaking wet as hed just pulled them out of his well. I guess well
manage he concluded as he welcomed the next customer. Being a holiday,
January 1st wore on smoothly. The next day was another matter.
Supermarkets were the wise ones. Second day into January, they were closed
for their yearly stock taking! It was the small trader that took the brunt
of the onslaught. Many small shopkeepers were unable to purchase
Euro cash registers in time as the suppliers ran out of machines. It may
cause certain handling problems until the Peseta disappears, said
Patricia Soni from the local Chamber of Commerce. The main difficulty
as we see it is the coexistence of both currencies. Curiously enough,
most merchants wouldve preferred to move straight into Euros, like
the Germans did, she
concluded. Its not fair', said my newspaper vendor. The
big stores have had six months training at the tills on how to handle
the new currency. Frankly, Im quite scared. The coins for instance
all look the same!
Come off it!, pitched in a fellow customer. You lot
will round up your prices upwards and well all have to pay more
for our shopping basket!
As the row started, I walked out taking my daily paper with me. I paid
for it in Pesetas.
However, there were arguments at the bus stops. The government had allowed
bus companies to accept Pesetas provided the fare was paid in the exact
amount. No problem if paid in Euros as the change would always be given
in the new currency. I tried out the system, took a ride and sat near
the driver-conductor to see the effect. If you dont like it,
take a cab! argued the conductor with an irate passenger who insisted
for her change in Pesetas. Theyll take anything, he
concluded. I got off at the next stop.
It so happened that one of the many cruise ships was visiting the seaport
of Vigo at the time. The town was swarming with passengers off the Aurora,
mostly British with the odd American couple meandering through the towns
shopping centre. Im quite used to bumping into these tourists when
theyre around. I was curious to see their reactions to the new currency.
Quaint uttered an elderly lady from the south of England as
she was handed her Euro change in a shop. Souvenir for my grandchildren.
Pity. I liked the Peseta, she muttered as she left the shop.
She did touch though on the ever present thought in our minds nostalgia.
In his article Goodbye, Peseta, goodbye Florentino Llera describes
its 134 years of life and relates it to the history of Spain ever
since it was created by Elizabeth the Second in 1868. Like all other currencies
it suffered its ups and downs of devaluation including a period during
the Spanish Civil war whereby different issues were minted by the opposing
warring sides. Neither would recognise the others Pesetas. It
has been liberal, totalitarian, democratic, centralist and autonomous.
Its been made of silver, bronze, paper, cardboard, copper and aluminium.
And from the 1st of January, the Peseta will simply be history!
he sadly concluded.
Into day three, January 3rd, and life seemed to be returning to its normal
pace. The converted Euro cash machines had had a field day, and my newspaper
vendor had overcome her nervous breakdown. Most Spaniards were accepting
the Euro as their new currency. Some of us old codgers, for sentimental
reasons will miss the Peseta, but the younger generation see it as a further
move towards European unity. Without batting an eyelid they have adapted
to it like a duck to water. Currency is a means to an end, not an end
in itself. I guess that is what the Euro is all about as the old continent
consolidates its world position and continues to open its doors to future
members. Britain take note!
© James Skinner. 2002. Vigo Spain
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