PIGGY BANKS THIS WAY
million humans can actually feel, handle and use a common currency.
Gospel truth! When I went to collect my Euro cheque book this
morning, this was the sign I saw at the entrance to the bank. On
the left hand side of the main hall, one of the tills had been reassigned
and above the window sill was a large hand-written label that said:
Piggybanks. I naturally asked the clerk who was dealing
with me as to the reason for such an odd bank move. His answer made
absolute common sense. As the queues to change Pesetas into Euros
by most of the Galicians during the first days of the new currency
grew longer, the bank manager realised something was wrong. Not
all customers were his regulars. A great deal were out-of-towners
who had never been to a bank in their lives. Some of these dear
old country folk had come from far away villages, with their varying
degree of savings carried in anything from dirty socks to grubby
jam jars and had ventured forth to buy Euros. They needed
special attention and the banks were prepared to give it to them.
Portugal was more
astute. Back in May, 2000, the Portuguese Euro National Commission
had sought the help of the Roman Catholic Church. The parish priests
could inform their country flock about the introduction
of the new money. Brussels was perplexed whilst Lisbon was enthralled.
Not only were notices placed outside the churches as well as the usual
information leaflets handed out after Sunday mass, but at the end of
the sermon the congregation as well as the Euro would receive a blessing
from the priest. I could just picture him saying: Go in peace.
God bless you and
the Euro! The scheme worked. It also
helped that a Euro was equivalent to almost 200 Escudos.
It was not that simple at the border towns.
Portuguese merchants are having to deal in not only two but three currencies,
Euros, Pesetas and Escudos. Can you imagine walking into a shop to find
all the articles priced in three different figures? The value
of the article is the same, says Nuno Gomes who owns a clothes
shop in Valenca. I have no problem with payment. Money is money
after all, he concluded. I picked up a shirt priced at 1560 Escudos,
1300 Pesetas and 7,50 Euros. I handed him my Visa which he diligently
accepted. He wrapped up my article and handed me back my receipt which
was, you guessed, in Euros!
Despite the overall acceptance of the new currency and the Group
of Twelve Politicos patting each other on the back over the Euros
success, some hiccups have been observed that could have an impact on
one economic factor of the European Union. Im referring to inflation.
Most merchants in Spain, prior to the introduction, cunningly began
to round up some of their prices in Pesetas to meet the
Euro. My local Sunday paper, a loaf of bread and a bottle of olive oil
are some examples of items that have gone up. They all form part of
the statistical shopping basket. But the private sector
is not the only villain. The Post Office and public transport, to name
a couple, surprised their customers with increases in some of their
services. A normal letter within the European Union that cost 75 Pesetas
in 2001 has now been raised to half a Euro (50 cents) which is an 11%
increase! Rows broke out in the village of Cangas, across the bay from
Vigo between the Consumers Association and the bus company that services
both communities and those along the route. The new tariffs in Euros
are so complex that depending on where you get on or off you maybe paying
more or less in relation to the previous years fares. Despite
the confusion, there was no comment from the bus company!
With all this Euro saga going on, one cannot forget the main enthusiasts.
The kids. The children are and will be the main benefactors as well
as the future consolidators of the currency. For them the Peseta is
dead! They literally turned the Euro into a pastime. The children of
the primary school James the Apostle in the town of Soutomaior,
on receiving the various and sometimes incomprehensible information
about the Euro from government sources decided to improvise. They invented
a Euromarket game. Throughout the second school term last
year, they collected empty packages, bottles and cartons from the supermarkets
and using the usual pamphlets with offers of the day would
re-label the products in Euros. They then over priced some of them so
that the student buyer could detect the fraud. Others would
work at the till. They all learned to handle the new money
in a semi-real working environment long before D-day arrived. They werent
the only ones as Europe also invented a Euro game.
The European Parliaments Madrid office together with the European
Commission has launched a contest on the Internet called the Great
Euro Game. More than 5000 schoolchildren grouped in 500 teams
from Spain, Germany , Belgium, Italy and wait for it the
United Kingdom, have already entered the same. According to the organisers,
the game consists in resolving a series of tests based on intellectual
and practical ability in the use of the Euro thus increasing ones
knowledge of the European Union. They feel that understanding the historical
and social impact as well as the future economic repercussions of the
new currency are essential in the education system for nurturing the
success of the European Union. The Internet is a magnificent tool to
unite European students in such a game. Why not check it out at www.euro-scola.com?
The physical introduction of the Euro in its final stage has proved
two points. First of all it is here to stay. Thousands of articles have
been written over the past two years by numerous European experts yet
none have been able to pin point the actual effect on the public until
it actually happened. As Lourdes Santamarina Pérez and Andres
Fernandez Otero of Caixanova, a Galician savings bank, summed up: The
physical implant of the Euro since its creation three years ago is turning
out to be a success. Nevertheless, as the Euro becomes the second most
important currency in the international community after the dollar,
it has not had enough time to consolidate its credibility. The required
confidence needed by investors may yet take several decades. The
second point is that, regardless of the worlds present economic
woes, the Euro has established itself as a trading tool across certain
European boundaries. 300 million humans can actually feel, handle and
use a common currency. This, by far is the most important issue introduced
into todays world community.
© James Skinner.
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