Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © ErN 134, Jeff Matthews  entry Oct 2002     

he Change to the Euro

euro coinsThe only people not complaining about the change from the lira to the euro seem to be those who make a living from tips. In the days of the lira, it was common practice to leave a 100 lire coin—or 200, at most—as a tip for a coffee in the mornings at the local cafe. The equivalent of 100 lire, today, is the itsy-bitsy copper 5-cent coin. The 10-cent coin is a bit better; at least it is bronze and shiny. Nevertheless, it now quite common to see people leaving the next highest denomination, the 20 cent coin. That is a substantial increase in the average tip. No one wants to be seen plopping down paltry combinations of 1, 2 and 5-cent coins. Just leave 10 or 20. So far, the only use I have seen for the 5-cent coin, by itself, is in coin-operated lifts. Some apartment buildings, outrageously, make you pay to get up to your own flat. The excuse is that it keeps kids from riding up and down all day long for free and fun. 

Those hustling at street corners, selling packs of tissues or cleaning the windshield of your car, used to charge (or expect) one-thousand lire, the lowest denomination of paper money. It was a handy and a reasonable price. It is equivalent to 50 new cents, a handy coin, but one that most people don't seem to like. There is a tendency to view the shiny €1 coin as the new unit for that type of quick service. The guy with the squeegee doesn't demand €1, true, but looks crossways at you if you give him 50 cents ("Why, you cheap so-and-so"). So, you cave in and give him twice as much as you used to. The general complaint is about so–called “micro-inflation,” referring to the blatant “rounding up” of prices. Stores converted the old lire price to euros, came out with, say, €1.87, and rounded it up to €2. In some cases, there seems to have been a doubling of prices: that is, a service that used to cost 100 thousand lire now costs €100, twice as much—but it looks the same, and that is the deception involved. I complained about this to a plumber. "That's double what it used to cost in lire," I said. "We don't use lire, anymore," he said, as if that true statement were some sort of explanation. The phenomenon is apparently Europe-wide. Germans commonly refer to the "euro" as the "teuro," a pun on "teuer," the German word for "expensive". 

I was very optimistic at the time of the change-over. I knew that things were bad in the Balkans, in Chechnia, and in many other places I couldn’t spell, but, on the bright side, at least in my part of the world, central Europe, peace and tranquility had finally reared their cute little heads. Yes, traditional enemies still sneered at each other’s total lack of morals and personal hygiene, but, on the other hand, they now swarmed over former enemy territory only on peaceful duty–free shopping binges. Tribal massacres were still found at football matches, sure, but that was ok, because that was a lot better than it had ever been. In short, things had not been so quiet here since everyone was killed in the Thirty Years War. United Europe, then, was at hand. The flag was up and flapping, the Chunnel was in, and the national anthem, though, not official, seemed to have gone by default to the happy snappy Ode to Joy with music by Ludwig van Beethoven and text by Friedrich Schiller —not exactly Rodgers and Hart, but not bad. 

There was even a common language called ‘money’—the €— and everyone was in a hurry to learn lots of it real fast. The goal, then, was economic union, one big prosperous family earning and spending the same currency. Make it in Sicily, spend it in Copenhagen. (That might have to wait until Denmark decides to convert to the euro.) For a while, before the changeover, the main problem was what to call the new currency. ‘Ecu’ (European Currency Unit) was an early solution —and a terrible one.  I wouldn’t be caught dead spending anything as ugly as an ‘ecu’, maybe because it sounds too much like ‘eco–’, as in ‘ecology,’ or ‘eco–this’ and ‘eco–that’. I’m not ready for European financial puns on ‘ecu–logical disaster’. 

On the other hand, the Germans are said to have loved ‘Ecu’ since it sounded exactly like ‘Eku’, the name of one of those potent German beers, which can really devalue the inside of your skull. The French were happy with Ecu, too, since it sounded a lot like ‘ecu’, the word for an archaic French coin. Other candidates around Europe, were, not surprisingly, the Euromark, Eurolira, Europound, and Eurofranc. Or we might have fallen back on archaic terms: the Eurothaler, Eurodoubloon or Eoroducat, or maybe exotic currencies such as Euroyen. Now, that had a ring to it, as did another of my favorites, the Eurosemolian, or the slangy but catchy Eurobuck, Euroquid and Eurosmacker. I recall that my childhood heroes on Space Patrol solved a similar problem with something called a "Galactic Credit." That might have worked.

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