Change Over To The Euro

Seeing the bemused faces on TV on Monday last, of people in the two new Euro-Zones, we were reminded of our own experience of the change over to the Euro in Spain in 2002

The inevitable change-over to the new Euro currency had been well rehearsed for about two years wherever we were living in France, Portugal and Spain. All prices had been displayed in the local currency and afterwards, in small figures in Euros. However, although most people were aware of the ‘other’ figure, little notice was ever taken of it.

We were in Almerimar in Andalucia when the big change-over day was fixed for January 1st 2002. For three months beforehand, we noticed that the ‘Pesetas’ figure was now shrinking (sadly, not in amount, just in physical size) and the ‘Euros’ figure was printed larger in most shops and supermarkets. Television programmes were interspersed with adverts explaining both the actual coins and notes of the forthcoming currency and the procedures for the change-over. A month before, people were urged to purchase small bags of the new coins to try to become accustomed the them.

For us ‘Yotties’, there did not seem as if there would be much of a problem, after all we were accustomed to switching from one currency to another as we moved from country to country. Our only concern was to off-load our relatively small floats of francs, escudos, pesetas etc. before they became worthless. We had two months to do this. The very helpful ‘cambio’ office which had been set up at the local hypermarket dealt with that easily and efficiently…… (once Dave had managed to help them open their cupboard, but that is another story!).

Around Christmas, we noticed that the shops were now starting to display prices mainly in Euros, with Pesetas underneath in small figures. This was a sure sign of the impending arrival of the big event.

From January 1st, we were still able to pay for goods and services in pesetas, but we were only allowed to receive our change in Euros …. initially very confusing! It is one thing to adapt to a different currency, but to use the two concurrently is another matter.

Tills had to be changed and enlarged to accommodate a greater variety of coins. We took to carrying two separate purses for the first week, to avoid getting coins mixed up. Shopkeepers invested in special conversion calculators which could show the amount proffered in Pesetas, the equivalent in Euros, and also the change in Euros due to be given. Very clever! Friends who ran a chandlery say it was a very exhausting period for them as each transaction was much slower than usual. We also noticed frequent visits to the banks of armoured security vans to cope with the doubled loads of monies.

Day One, being New Year’s Day, was of course a bank holiday, though several banks in Andalucia did open for a couple of hours to try to ease any teething problems.
We happened to go out for lunch with some German friends that day, to eat in a Chinese restaurant. They were proud of the fact that every single ATM in Germany was reported to be dispensing Euros as and from Midnight, whereas in Spain, machines were still issuing the old currency after midnight until it ran out. Even then, people were finding mixed currencies being issued!

We had a lovely meal, but when the bill arrived, it was in Pesetas(!) … not a mention of Euros. Our German friends paid their bill in crisp new Euro notes, but received their change in pesetas!! We decided that discretion was the better part … etc and paid by plastic card to avoid a purse full of pesetas. Our Germanic friends were very upset at ‘the lack of order and efficiency’, until we joked that it was, after all, New Years Day…. The restaurant had been open nearly all night…. The banks were closed…. This was a marina village in Southern Spain…. And also, this was a Chinese restaurant!

The tension eased and we enjoyed the ‘on the house’ liqueur offered by the manager.

The change-over for us was accomplished with ease. Each time we paid in ‘old money’ for items from the supermarket, we had our change in Euros so, very quickly, the peseta purse became surplus to requirements. We ‘Yotties’ may have adapted effortlessly, but the same cannot be said for the local people, especially the elderly. For us it was a great relief to get rid of all those awful ‘000’s everywhere, but then we were already accustomed to decimal currency. We were amazed at the knowledge and patience of the local shop assistants who took their time to explain things very kindly and carefully to bewildered little old ladies.

Inland, we were told that things were even more difficult for some of the elderly locals living in the mountains. There, in the old farming regions, it was said that they had not even got the hang of pesetas yet, so the change-over had still a long way to go.

Since then, travel between countries in the Euro-Zone has become so easy….. but our French, Portuguese and Spanish friends all claim that the change has resulted in increased prices everywhere.

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