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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 09:46 GMT
The euro falters at first post
Palermo cafe
Nerves: Cashier talks euros, but takes liras
UK-based Italian journalist Paola Buonadonna returns to her home country to witness the birth of the euro.

Day 4, Palermo: 2 January

It's not often I'm accused of failing to spend enough money, so perhaps I should savour the moment.

cafe waiter
The waiter brings coffee...
But the new currency in my pocket remained for the whole of yesterday a mere curiosity, without any purchasing value at all.

Palermo's main cafe, where I was sure I could buy my first cappuccino with the euro set the tone for the rest of the day.

The waiter duly asked which currency I wanted to use.

He left, came back and told me, somewhat sheepishly, that the lady at the till was feeling a little "fragile" and would I spare her nerves by paying in liras?

Cafe waiter
... and offers to take euros
When I got to the till myself I witnessed a scene worthy of Sicily's greatest playwright, Pirandello, the master of the absurd.

The cashier would recite the charge in euro, pocket the liras and inform the customer of the value of the change in euro.

Barter option

If the Ministry of the Interior had placed any hidden microphones in the cafe they would have believed the changeover a success.

Claudio and Marta
Failure: No euros yet for Claudio and Marta
But not a single euro was exchanged there!

My sister and my brother-in-law, my travelling companions, remain unable to even get any euro notes out of the cash machines and are getting tired of my joke that only my British bank card has joined the single currency.

Marta is also worried about how exactly we'll pay for things and feels a return to old-fashioned barter is on the way.

"Would a chicken do for a packet of cigarettes?" she mused.

"And where does one find a chicken?"

Our good Palermitan friends Franco and Rita took us out for lunch.

Extra grace period?

They're not that worried - they think Italy will get an extra period of grace and we'll be able to use the lira for another six months.

Franco and his credit card
Plastic friend: The credit card ends currency angst
It's not that they want to, you see, they just know their fellow Italians too well.

Franco had to pay by credit card in the end.

But at the end of this first, peaceful day of the new year and the new currency even Claudio, my eurosceptic brother-in-law, had a smile on his face watching the euro-celebrations on TV.

Perhaps he was thinking of what Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the Leopard, once said about Sicily - and it applies to the rest of Italy too: Sometimes everything must change to keep things the same.


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30 Dec 01 | Europe
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