1 January 2002: Twelve countries physically exchange their local coins and banknotes into Euros. Slovenia follows suit in 2007, while Cyprus and Malta also adopt the Euro as their local currency on 1 Januray 2008. Within three weeks, all Cypriot Pounds seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth. But does that mean that Cypriots are all happy with their new money?
The answer ranges somewhere between unhappy, moderately happy and skeptical. The one reaction I hear most is `Money is money`, but many feel like they have handed in a part of their national identity. Lefteris (30) exchanged all his Cypriot money a few days ago. `We have had no referendum or anything. The change was announced about six months ago and that`s when shops started to prepare for the conversion. But the operation is running smoothly. I think the confusion will be over after the end of this month, when only Euros will be accepted.`
..believes shopkeepers are using the introduction of the Euro to raise prices
Anna (26, photo) has witnessed little problems during the introduction of the Euro. `I have been studying in Greece for 8 years, so I have been able to get used to it. For me, it only makes things easier, but I do believe that shopkeepers will use the conversion as an excuse to raise prices. Hopefully, salary increases will offset the increased cost of living. I`m also afraid it will affect tourism. Cyprus used to be relatively inexpensive compared to Greece and Italy, but if the prices are inflated, we may lose our competitive edge. Whatever the outcome of it all may be, I kept one specimen of each coin and bank note so I can one day tell my children that we once used to have our own national money.`
Anna may have a point when it comes to tourism. Out of the two million visitors Cyprus welcomes on its island each year, the majority come from the United Kingdom. With the British Pound losing ground against the Euro, holidays to Cyprus may become much more expensive for Britons. The cost of buying or maintaining local property has already been multiplied over the last five year, but risks undergoing further increases as well. Owners of souvenir shops mostly fear that tourists from the Euro-zone will start comparing prices with their home countries. As a result, they could end up paying more attention to what they spend, and eventually buy less than they do today.
Some shop entrance doors display yellow square stickers, qualifying the establishment as in compliance with the `fair pricing code`. A smiley with a holy circle above its head, combined with a bit Euro symbol, attempts to convince shoppers that prices have not been rounded up in the conversion process. Andreas (20) is far from sure: `Everything looks more expensive, and seeing many round prices in Euro makes me very cynical. Nobody will voluntarily round down, so I am quick to assume that many prices have gone up since 1 January.`
Andreas is also dissatisfied by the increased weight of his wallet. `So many useless coins. First of all, the value of the Cypriot Pound was much higher, about 1.80 Euro, so we needed less money to do our shopping. But that`s not all: We used to have a 1 Pound banknotes, which has now been replaced by a 2 euro coin. We carry more, but we have less.`
Sentimental or not, Andreas felt by no means inspired to keep any of his old coins and bank notes. `It`s Monopoly money, but there`s no possibility to do without`, says Michalis (28), adding that he thinks the Euro subconsciously makes people spend more, until the moment they really get used to it. Lukas (30) thinks that the Euro will soon be ordinary money for young people, but he fears that older people will possibly never get used to it. `Some of them still think in shillings, which is what one-twentieth of a pound used to be referred to in the 1950s`, he says.
The introduction of the Euro has caused fewer practical difficulties in Cyprus than it did in Greece 6 years ago. Local authorities certainly learnt from the logistical challenges faced by the initial 12 Euro countries at the time they converted to Euros. Cyprus is also helped by its small scale, allowing for simple distribution of old and new money. The fact that the Euro has comfortably positioned itself as worthy alternative to other leading currencies can be counted as another decent support to its introduction in Cyprus. In fact, some shops already accepted Euro payments well before 1 January of this year, simply as a gesture of hospitality to tourists from the Euro-zone.
Sofia (23) from Greece can perfectly understand why many Cypriots are sad about saying goodbye to their good old money. `It`s something you see every day, something you`re just used to. But people got used to it in Greece so they will also get used to it here. It`s easy for traveling.`
18 Days after the introduction of the Euro, shop owners still look at each and every coin and banknote with alarming precision. Most of them have participated in training courses to deal with the conversions and to check banknotes for forgery. Cash registers have been adjusted ro print receipts in Euros, and price tags on products are bi-currencial. Some shop keepers require help from (euro-)calculators and others are still struggling to organise the money in a systemized way, but the transition hardly leads to any delays at check-outs.
Pounds are still mentioned on menus and price tags, but finding tangible traces of the old currency is hard, if not extremely difficult. It`s all Euros changing hands, with Cypriot mouflon sheep on the back side of the 1, 2 and 5 cents coins, a big ship on the 10, 20 and 50 cents coins, and a mythological stone man on the 1 and 2 euro coins. Shops are instructed to offer change in Euros. Even if they wanted to offer Pounds for change, they couldn`t because nobody is paying them in Pounds anymore. In the rare occasion they do get paid in Pounds, the money will be sent straight to the bank at the end of the day.
I insist on completing this day holding acquiring an old 1 Cypriot Pound bank note and it takes me a while before I can lay my hand on one. Banks are eager to exchange Pounds for Europe, but the reverse trick seems impossible, so I do need to find a shop who happens to have received a payment in Pounds this very same day.
I get sent away with nothing from at least ten different shops, but I eventually complete my quest in a small jeweller`s shop, where the owner looks at me with inquiring eyes as he opens the upper drawer of his desk. When he presents me the precious piece of paper, I pay him 1.80 Euro and leave the shop with a smile. One Cypriot souvenir to be added to my collection of pre-Euro-era banknotes by the time I get home.
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