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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 13:28 GMT
Euro 'revolution' stalls in French south
Mr Espi holding a tray of cakes
The patisserie: Francs still used for most transactions
By BBC News Online's Sheila Barter in Perpignan

Day One of the euro revolution in the south of France, and you'd hardly know it had happened.

A cash machine dispensing francs
Cash machines have not all switched to euros yet
Prices in francs, payments in francs, change in francs, even cash machines still distributing francs...

But there is also an unmistakeable air of excitement - like Christmas morning, as children rush downstairs to see what presents they've got.

On a grey, damp New Year's Day in Perpignan, the first citizens of the revolution are on the streets early.

Map of France
The Catalan city is as far away from Paris as you can get without leaving the country.

It rises from France's Mediterranean coastal plain, the snow-capped Pyrenees behind it and the Spanish border just a few kilometres away.

Search for euros

A shy smile as the man walking his dog stops beside the hole-in-the-wall to talk to a complete stranger.

"Is it in euros?" he asks with evident excitement, as the customer takes his cash.


People will get used to the change in time, but for now we can carry on in francs

Flower salesman Jean-Pierre Rigaud
Well no, as it happens. The electronic switch-over which was supposed to magically turn francs into euros at midnight has not happened, not here at least.

The dog walker moves on, without his first sighting of the euro, but still with that smile of excitement on his face.

And the bank customers move on, in search of a post-revolutionary hole-in-the-wall.

Across the street in Espi's patisserie, an elderly woman pays with her cakes in francs with the exact money, only to realise she will get no euros in change.

The queue laughs with her as she feigns disappointment at missing out on her first taste of the new coins.

Flowers for francs

"Only a few customers have paid in euros," says patisserie owner Jean-Francois Espi," but we are all set for euros and francs."

Jean-Pierre Rigaud and his wife Nicole
M Rigaud knows the price of everyday items in euros
His goods are priced in both currencies, but francs remain the currency of nearly all transactions.

Round the corner, at Jean-Pierre Rigaud's flower stall, just off the Place de la Resistance, he proudly displays a till full of euros, and the calculator given to him by his bank, which shows transactions in francs and euros.

But nearly all his flowers are priced only in francs, and he says it will stay that way for now.

Signs displaying euro prices are not obligatory, he points out, neither is giving customers their change in euros.

"I went to bed, woke up, it's just another day," he says.

"People will get used to the change in time, but for now we can carry on in francs."

Teething problems


The UK - always willing to take the benefits but not to take the risks

Perpignan teacher
Many shoppers make the point that a single currency will make travelling cheaper and easier - unless they go to the UK, of course, which seems universally resented for its latest demonstration of euro-wobble.

"The UK - always willing to take the benefits but not to take the risks," one local teacher told me as he bought bread.

But some effects of the new currency remain to be seen.

Old people - some of whom still think in pre-1945 francs - are now facing the second change in their lifetimes.

Despite special role-play sessions held for them in advance, confusion remains inevitable - along with the possibility of fraud.

Like those recalcitrant cash machines that continue to pay out francs, parking meters still need to be fed in the old currency.

A rolling programme will switch them gradually to euros, forcing motorists to come prepared with either currency. There is a risk that people will run out of franc coins as the switch-over gathers pace.

Young lag behind

But these problems are greeted as minor challenges to be overcome in the name of the revolution.


I buy two ficelles a day - that's six francs, or 90 cents

Middle-aged man
So a final test. Can these pro-euro revolutionaries of Perpignan actually think in the new currency?

Well yes, as it happens. Flower-seller Mr Riguad, in his 50s, has a list of prices of everyday goods ready to recite.

Another middle-aged man sipping coffee in Espi's passes the same test.

"I buy two ficelles (small loaves) a day. That's six francs - 90 cents," he says, without a moment's hesitation.

It seems to be Perpignan's younger residents who fail the test.

"I am going to make my first purchase in euros later today - my newspaper," says a twenty-something local resident.

Does she know what her newspaper will cost in euros?

"Non!" A baguette? "Non."

For Mr Rigaud at the flower stall, the euro is no big deal. But there is something worth getting excited about .

On Friday night, Perpignan take on the Welsh side, Llanelli, at rugby.

"A chance to beat the British - now that is something," he says.


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