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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Dutch spend their last guilders
A cafe in Amsterdam
The weekend was the last time to spend guilders
By the BBC's Geraldine Coughlin in The Hague

The Netherlands has become the first country in the eurozone to fully embrace the single currency.

From midnight local time on Sunday (2300 GMT), all transactions will be in euros and anyone doing business in guilders - such as my taxi driver whose meter still showed guilders on Sunday - risks paying a fine.

Dutch euro notes
Not doing business in the euro could mean a fine
It has been mainly the euro that has changed hands for the past two weeks with some shopkeepers even refusing to accept any more guilders.

The pragmatic Dutch were impatient to switch to the new currency - so they opted for a one-month changeover period, instead of two - as in the rest of the eurozone.

But retailers said the guilder resurfaced on Saturday as many Dutch shoppers got rid of the last of their old notes and coins.

Price rises?

The National Statistics Bureau found most retailers did not increase their prices in switching to the euro, but around two-thirds of Dutch people suspect that they did.

I regularly hear remarks like: "Don't you find prices have jumped since we got the euro?"

And I must agree - my weekly bill at the vegetable market has gone up by 10 euros all of a sudden.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Finance and the banking and retail sectors all agree that the changeover to the euro went smoothly.

Hiccups

The government wanted the shift to the euro to be as fast, smooth and problem-free as possible.

Dutch people sitting on a bench
The Dutch were the least sentimental about losing their currency
And it has been - to a large extent. There have been a few hiccups, however.

Such as the panic on the first Saturday in January, when the Dutch had to mint more euros to cope with a shortage.

And Rabobank's embarrassing "human error" that led to 250,000 standing orders being processed in euros instead of guilders.

The renowned "Holland Casino" at Amsterdam airport - which made a remarkable 24-hour changeover from the guilder to the euro - had to impose a transaction fee as some people were only using the casino to exchange cash.

Different weights

A problem I encountered was with the vending machines.

A Dutch TV documentary pointed out there was a variation in euro coin weights and measures in different countries. It posed the question: "Will all vending machines accept these coins of varying volume?"

After some machines rejected my Dutch euro coins on several occasions, I wondered whether these vendors do require some technical research.

The weights of the coins are a source of aggravation to one Hague retailer - he claims he is being short-changed when he brings his cash bags to the bank.

He calculates he should receive 167 euros for 1250 grams of euro coins - instead, he only gets 165 euros.

Market woes

The coins also caused some stallholders at Ten Kate-markt in Amsterdam-West to shut up shop in January.

They could not cope with the amount of guilder and euro change involved in the switch to the new currency.

Now back at work, they are busy choosing new nicknames for the euro coins. The well-known "Guilder Man" who sold "alles voor een piek" (everything for a guilder) now has to change his tune.

The euro cent coins are a sore point with the small shopkeeper - some have already decided to ban the one cent euro coin.

No regrets

Dutch people stopped using a cent coin 15 years ago - now the euro has forced the Dutch to adjust to life with eight coins instead of six as it was with the guilder.

The Dutch Central Bank says businesses may decide themselves whether or not to take the smaller coins.

But the decision on whether to pull the coins from circulation lies with the Dutch Finance Ministry.

Many consumers have already found a use for them - filling the space in their piggy banks left by the demise of the guilder.

People can still exchange the old currency at all banks for free until the first of April. After that, banks can charge a fee for the transaction until the end of 2002.

There is little regret over passing of the guilder.

Research shows that in the eurozone, the Dutch are the least sentimental about losing the national currency, which they have carried in their pockets for 700 years.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Europe
Goodbye to the guilder
26 Jul 01 | Business
Dutch relax over euro launch
05 Jan 02 | Business
Euro sweeps up old currencies
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