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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Paris gets to know the euro
Paris - the Place des Vosges
Paris: Pain au chocolat, and euros in your pocket
By James Coomarasamy in Paris

It's a typical Parisian scene - a customer buying a croissant and a pain au chocolat at one of Paris's oldest bakeries - except for the fact that the change is given not just in francs but also in euros.


Many people have had black money because let's say you have a painter and you don't want to pay the tax...

Pensioner, Anne-Marie
Here on the Rue Montorgueil Parisians are getting their first taste of life with the new currency - or at least a fake version of it.

It is a pilot scheme organised between local shop owners and the chamber of commerce.

"It is kind of a sport practice," says Charles Compagnie of the chamber of commerce.

Euro boutique

"They are taking a little bit of their time to try to remember what is going to be the look of the currency - the notes, the coins - and to try to remember that one coin is going to be of a certain amount".

Rue Montorgueil
Rue Montorgueil: Putting the euro through its paces
The principle is simple, every time you buy something, you get your change in both currencies, learning the shape, feel and value of the euro as you go.

"It is a great idea" says one customer, as he counts the coins in his hand. "You get to know the currency. It is very practical".

A walk down the street takes you to the euro boutique - a shop that is part of this euro-learning experience and a place where you can spend those strange coins.

Charles took me round.

"The people, when they get their change in the euro currency, they can come here, get some information about the euro, get a video-game on the euro and also use their euro currency - the change they have got - to buy some T-shirts, caps and things like that," he explains.

Black money

All very well, but not everyone is impressed, including a pensioner, Anne-Marie.

Poster advertising the Montorgueil euro experiment
Montorgueil is heading for the euro, but not all shoppers are impressed
"I think it is going to be so difficult when we get the euro. I don't think it is a very, very special idea," she says.

She says the shop may show people what a euro is, but it doesn't address many of the practical problems of the currency changeover - among them the estimated tens of billions of francs emerging from under mattresses - a phenomenon known in France as woollen stocking or bas de laine.

"You start know seeing people taking out notes of 500 francs. You see them everywhere. Many people have the bas de laine," she says.

"Many people have had black money because let's say you have a painter and you don't want to pay the tax - this is very French, you know".

Economic irrigation

One plumber in Normandy he told me he had noticed a boom in cash payments from most of his customers, desperate to get rid of this off-white money.


We fear in France that activity will slow down now, so it will be better if people spend some money

French economist Henri Stedignac
It is not clear what problems this cash injection will cause, but experts say this euro inspired economic irrigation is a good thing at a time when France's economic prospects are being revised downwards.

Henri Stedignac, head of a government economic think-tank, says it is a good thing that people would be spending more over the coming months.

"As you know, we fear in France that the activity will slow down now, so it will be better if people spend some money to buy things at the end of the year," he says.

But for the moment the goal is to get them spending more at this bakery on the Rue Montorgueil.

As "e-day" draws closer, it is hoped this kind of scheme will be repeated in other parts of France where people are hungry for information about the new currency.

Europe Today is the World Service's specialist programme for European news - about Europe, from Europe. It's on air at 1700 GMT (1800 CET) from Monday to Friday, on 648 KHz (and on FM in many European cities - check our website for frequencies).

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See also:

18 May 01 | Europe
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13 Apr 01 | Europe
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23 Mar 01 | Europe
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