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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 10:10 GMT
Euro set to confuse Italians
A man in an Italian market
Market traders are worried about conversions
by BBC News Online's Emma Clark

In Rome's colourful Campo dei Fiori, the market traders are getting rather hot under the collar.

With the upcoming launch of euro cash in January, they are beginning to worry about the complexities of converting lira into euro.

"For us, it will be more difficult. For a kilo, it's okay, but for 300 grams... we'll have to make impossible calculations," says Andrea Trovalucci, a fruit and vegetable seller.

"And with all the cents as well, that will make everyone have to do their shopping with pockets full of change. It's going to be crazy."

'Very, very different'

One euro is equivalent to about 1,900 lira and the vast difference in units is expected to confuse Italians more than most Europeans.

It will pose some problems for Italian people to get used to the new value unit

Giancarlo Del Bufalo
Italian Euro Committee
Many of them will also have to cope with cents for the first time in living memory.

"It will be very, very different," Giancarlo Del Bufalo, head of department at the Ministry of Economics and Finance, told BBC News Online.

"It will pose some problems for Italian people to get used to the new value unit."

Special helpers

The government's Euro Committee is aware that the street markets - where many Italians do their shopping - will be hard hit, and is working with local authorities to provide extra support.

Italian butcher in a market
Help will be on hand in the markets
"In the first two months of next year, we will try to help people in the market, to explain the difference," says Mr Del Bufalo, who is also secretary general of the Euro Committee.

This means "special people" trained by the authorities will stand in markets to offer help to confused shoppers and traders alike.

New trousers

The arrival in January of more coins than Italians are used to and wide euro notes is also throwing local designers in a state of high activity.

Gucci wallet
Gucci is redesigning its wallets
Milanese tailors and companies such as Gucci have found that they need to redesign suit pockets and wallets to hold the new money.

"The pockets will be more strong and resistant," explains Mr Del Bufalo, although he is not betting on a boom in trouser sales.

"I don't know if people will go out and buy new trouser suits, but someone thinks it might happen."

Price rises?

However, it is more than the resistance of their pockets that is worrying Italians. They are also finding the concept of decimalisation rather taxing.

Meat counter with prices in lira and euro
Many worry shopkeepers will push up prices
As well as using cents for the first time, Italians are concerned that decimalisation will give retailers an opportunity to round up prices.

"Italians are particularly sensitive to this," says Marion Bywater, the editorial director of Euro-impact, a monthly newsletter on the euro for business professionals.

Many shopkeepers may round up their prices just because they are unfamiliar with decimalisation, she adds.

Bus and underground companies, for example, have already threatened a 30% price rise, pushing up a standard fare from 1,500 lira to one euro (1,936 lira).

Keeping calm

The Euro Committee's Mr Del Bufalo, however, argues that retailers will resist pushing up prices because they are too fearful of dampening consumer demand.

"They are doing things to tranquillise people... they are really worried consumption will go down and make the economic situation worse."

He adds that the government is putting pressure on public services not to hike up prices.

Public antipathy toward the euro is also a problem for the banks which face the task of redenominating everyone's bank accounts into euros.

Big prizes

Unlike the rest of Europe, Italy decided that it could not convert the bank accounts unless a new law was introduced to protect banks from any legal action by disgruntled customers.

Toyota four-wheel drive
Toyotas are being given away as prizes
"The banks were worried that people would react in a negative way," says Mr Del Bufalo.

To encourage customers to sign up early for changing over accounts, one of Italy's largest banks, IntesaBci has offered prizes of Toyota four-wheel drives.

The government and the banks are only too aware that they have an uphill struggle to convince Italians that the euro is a good thing.

Local TV advertisements, sponsored by the Italian Banking Association, are even showing people how to fill out cheques with decimal points.

'A lot to do'

More ads will appear on national TV during November and December in an attempt to educate the public and soothe any ruffled feathers.

Me, I don't understand anything. We'll see how it goes when the time comes

"There is a lot to do," says Mr Del Bufalo. "We are preparing a very intensive communications campaign."

For the vendors in Campo dei Fiori, however, the euro changeover remains a bewildering prospect.

"Me, I don't understand anything. We'll see how it goes when the time comes," says Mario, a florist.

Clearly they have yet to be convinced that the euro will help their businesses and make lives easier.

See also:

23 Oct 01 | Business
Dutch plan euro giveaway
08 Oct 01 | Europe
Sorry saga of Euro showpiece
05 Oct 01 | Business
ECB calls for more euro bills
02 Oct 01 | Business
Blair sounds a pro-euro note
29 Aug 01 | Business
Euro launch lifts security firms
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