Celebrating the New Year, part 2: The Evocative Side of Things

This is a post continued from Celebrating the New Year, part 1: The Crashing Bore, published 9 Jan 2013.

So, after shaking off the  disappointment of London, we boarded the train New Year’s Day, and headed for Paris. The train trip was beautiful, seeing all the sunshine on the snow on the France side, and riding under the Channel was really a thrill, knowing we were traveling underwater. As January 1st is a holiday, we went straight to our hotel, had dinner, and called it a night.

The next morning we were up early, and headed out…into the biggest mess I have ever seen. The date was 2 January 2002, and it was the very first day that France was on the euro. What a tangle! Every business was trying to exchange francs for euros, and it was confusing enough for the Parisians…it was insanity for this small group of Americnas just trying to buy a cup of coffee or a croissant. Each transaction was bedlam. When you paid in euros, you got back francs; when you paid in francs you got back euros. Everyone was so confused and trying to go fast enough that there wouldn’t be a backlog of business, so naturally there were problems. Every purchase was a little different, and sometimes the shopkeepers cheated us (totally by mistake) and sometimes they cheated themselves (also by mistake) just because the exchange was so complicated. The poor shopkeepers were very apologetic, even as they were quickly becoming so frustrated with the situation. In American terms, it went something like this: the rate of francs to dollars was 7 to 1. But the rate of euros to dollars was 2 to 1. That should have made it easy: just figure everything was 50 cents per euro. So if something was priced at 4 euros, it was actually costing us 2 dollars. But trying to keep up with the exchange of dollars to francs to euros was a nightmare for everybody. Did I mention that everything was still priced in francs? No one had changed their signage over yet (francs would still be an accepted currency for some time before they fully switched). What a zoo. Still, that’s a New Year I will never forget…evocative, indeed!

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