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Money Matters

Au Revoir, Franc! Hello, Euro!

euro coins

Despite popular skepticism and rampant rumors to the contrary, the Euro is here…well, almost. We’ve still got a few months before it’s bye bye to our old pal Franc (and his centime sidekick). Here’s a rundown of all you’ll need to know about the Euro, handy if you plan on coming to Europe, and of course, to sound intelligent at your next cocktail party.

The Euro is already used for cheques and other ‘intangible’ financial transactions. I’ve got a Euro cheque book and a Franc one, and for the moment I can use either. Everywhere in France the prices are posted in both Francs and Euros (be careful with this, because sometimes the Euro is in larger type, and you don’t want to screw that up when you have to pay). From December 14 this year, you’ll be able to get a sample of the currency at banks, the ‘Euro kit’, but you can’t use it anywhere just yet. Come January 1, 2002, the actual Euro bills and coins will be floating around and we’ll have until February 16 to use up our Francs in stores. During this transition period, if you pay in Francs you’ll receive change in Euros. (Life will probably pass before your eyes as long queues form anywhere anyone has to pay for something) After that, the only place to exchange old Francs for Euros will be at the bank or post office.

Francs can be exchanged in any bank or post office for free up until June 30, 2002. If you end up finding an old crumpled 500ff note in a pair of jeans six years from now (happens to you all the time, eh?), you can still exchange it at the Banque de France until 2012 (for free until Feb. 17, 2005). After that, you’ve got a relic. So when you arrive in the new year, get some Euros ASAP, Traveler’s Cheques are already available, but don’t panic if you only have Francs. Beware of scams that always happen, especially when new money is minted. Counterfeits will be everywhere, and the fact that no one yet knows exactly what the money looks like (just a general idea), then I don’t recommend doing the ol’ black market currency exchange on the back roads.

Get one of those cheap Euro converters that are everywhere now and keep it handy. And make sure if you buy something with your Visa card for 250 Francs, that the ‘FF’ symbol is on the bill before you sign it or on the machine before you enter your PIN, and not the ‘€’ symbol (this has, alas, already been happening to unsuspecting tourists AND residents). There are bound to be honest miscalculations, so even if you’re not used to the French Franc, you’ll be able to compare the Euro conversion to the listed Franc price (they’ll both be listed until July, officially, but probably longer than that in most shops).

The easiest way to convert from Francs to Euros is to add half the value and then divide by ten. So 100ff is: (100 + 50)/10 = 15€. This is fixed, so it won’t ever change; The conversion from US dollars to Euros isn’t fixed, so there’s no formula at the moment. For awhile the Euro and the dollar were equal (which for some reason really annoyed people), but currently 100€ equals $110.00. It should be quite easy to get confused on that since they’re so close, so keep sharp when you see a price that’s too good to be true.

Euro countries are: Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland, France (including Monaco), Greece (barely squeezed by), Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Portugal. All Euro coins will be the same on the face side, and each country will personalize the opposite side (but can be used anywhere in the Euro zone).

Denominations will be (don’t forget the French use commas instead of decimal points and vice versa): 0,1; 0,2; 0,5; and 1 Euro coins (cents); and 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 Euro bills. That cute Euro symbol “€” is representative of the Greek epsilon and the first letter of the word Europe. The to horizontal bars symbolize stability of the euro. 

Grumblings: Of course not everyone is happy about the Euro, and yes, it will probably be a big pain in the bum until everyone is used to it. Every day in the Nice Matin are stories about shop keepers not accepting Euro cheques (which are legal now), the nightmares when people will be paying with Euros AND Francs in one transaction (also legal until February 17), and the general malaise of trying to get the money out there. Of course, it’s France, and this too shall pass. The French, having been around the block a few times, tend to deal with ‘crises’ much better than we Americans do (nation-wide strikes, natural disasters, all in a day’s work here). The key is to remain calm, especially if you’re visiting, and if you can’t make heads nor tails of your money, or a shop keeper is telling you that you can’t use Francs when you know you can, forgive them their temporary European upheaval and you’ll eventually find someone who can help you find your way.

If there’s anything else at all you’d like to know about our new European single currency, then look through this very comprehensive set of links all about the Euro: http://www.ex.ac.uk/~RDavies/arian/euro….

And now, a moment of silence, for Franc.

This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged. 

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