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Europeans Still Count in Old Money

June 27, 2002

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Greek drachmas may be ancient history, francs are passe and the mark is kaput. But the extinct currencies replaced by the euro have left their imprint in people’s minds, even though most say they like the new money.

Six months after the introduction of euro bills and coins, many people in the 12 countries using them can’t stop refiguring prices in their phantom old money.

Mental cobwebs about price conversions, along with a stubborn belief in some places that the euro led merchants to raise their prices, are common themes when people are asked about the new currency, which is bare of national symbols and printed in a rainbow of cool pastel tones.

``Sometimes I do miss the franc, mainly because I get frustrated at having to convert prices,″ said Christine Lelaidier, 42, as she sat at a Paris cafe. ``But I don’t have any nostalgia for the franc. We have to change with the times.″

The euro reached a psychological milestone when it rose to 99.43 U.S. cents early Wednesday, its latest climb in a rally that began in early April and has sent the currency up 14 percent. But on Thursday the dollar gained, and the rate slipped to 98.59 cents in early trading in Tokyo.

``I mostly think in euros, but when something seems high, I recalculate it in marks,″ said German businessman Klemens Mueller, who was carrying his lunch through a mall in downtown Frankfurt. ``For instance, this sandwich, which was 2.80 euros. I stopped to think, that’s 5.60 marks.″

Germans and the French have it easy, dividing roughly by two and by six. Belgians must divide by 40, and Spaniards by 166 to think in pesetas.

But even in France, a poll by the Ipsos research firm for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that 68 percent of the people wanted stores to go on showing franc equivalents. In the Netherlands, only one person in five admitted to thinking in euros in a survey for the Trouw newspaper.

Yet a European Union survey showed 75 percent of respondents in the euro countries approve of their new currency.

The euro notes and coins were introduced Jan. 1, circulating alongside national currencies until the last of them ceased to be valid on March 1.

If there’s a country given to euro-regret, it tends to be Germany. Its government led the charge for the euro, but Germans also traded in a stable currency that symbolized their status as Europe’s powerhouse economy after World War II.

Public suspicion that merchants rounded prices up during the transition_ stoked by the top-selling newspaper Bild _ reached the point that the government convened a summit three weeks ago with consumer groups to try to defuse public annoyance.

Some German businesses seized on mark nostalgia as a sales come-on.

Patrons of two Berlin watering holes, ``Bad Boys Bar″ and ``On a Sunday in August,″ can get lunch for one mark _ in old coins, please _ if they bring in an advertising flyer.

Haka, a firm that sells surplus or slightly damaged goods from trucking companies, let people use marks for two weeks in June, and took in 40,000 marks, worth about $20,000, which was taken to the central bank to be exchanged.

``We wanted to show what euro prices mean in Deutsche marks,″ said company head Carl-Dieter Haken.

The unflattering euro nickname ``teuro″ _ a play on the German word for expensive _ is widespread, even though economists say the currency’s not to blame and Germany’s inflation rate is low at 1.1 percent in May.

While Germans may grouse, countries with a reputation for weak currencies such as Greece and Italy had a lot to gain from the euro.

That’s because the new European Central Bank was designed to enforce the same sort of anti-inflationary policy that made the German mark Europe’s most stable currency for decades.

Low inflation helped Germany make up for high labor costs that tend to make its products expensive abroad. Now, everyone in the 12 countries has a solid currency in their pockets.

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