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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 11:58 GMT
Hitches dog the euro on day two
Belcacem Hasni gets an explanation from stallholder Frederic Piquemal
Angry: Belcacem Hasni seeks help with the new currency
By BBC News Online's Sheila Barter in Perpignan

They say there are three stages to any relationship: honeymoon, nightmare, reality.

Some of the people of Perpignan, after a New Year's Day honeymoon with the euro, appeared on Tuesday to have made a speedy progression to nightmare.

Maria-Gabrielle Brazes buying lipstick
Delighted: Mrs Brazes spending her last francs
Small change in the new currency has been hoovered up, as large denominations issued by the cash machines are handed over for small items costing less than one euro.

Some people have paid in francs only to be refused change.

Others have got rid of all their francs only to discover they still need them.

And on the motorways, long queues have been reported at toll stations as attendants quickly run out of euro change.

In the plush department store Galeries Lafayette, history teacher Maria-Gabrielle Brazes is buying lipstick to use up her last 32 francs.

Parking problem

She gets her change in euros, and with that, has said a final farewell to the franc.

Map of France
She shows me her empty francs wallet - and her new purse full of shiny euros. She is delighted with the new currency - and also believes it will boost Catalan identity for people on both sides of the French-Spanish border.

But others are not so happy.

In the parking bays outside the store, drivers must still pay in francs - no prices in euros are even quoted.

A driver comes to the machine to pay. Like Mrs Brazes, he has embraced the new currency so wholeheartedly that he has not a single franc left.


This new currency is for the rich, not the poor - it's too difficult

70-year-old Belcacem Hasni
His reaction is one of muted disbelief as he realises he has no way of buying a ticket.

Perhaps it is a free day's parking, he says. He has noticed that some of the other cars don't have tickets either, he adds, trying to sound convinced.

He decides to risk it and leave his car where it is. It seems a better option to him than doing the unthinkable - changing some of his new euros back into francs.

No change

In the main square, 70-year-old Belcacem Hasni is venting his anger on a group of friends, who have gathered round to try to explain the new currency to him.


Small businesses have been left to pick up the pieces

Taxi driver Armand Mougeot
He has caught the bus as usual into town, offered his usual 10 franc piece for the 6.5 franc fare.

Except that today the driver refused to give him change. He had pay the whole 10 francs to be allowed on the bus.

"It's the law of the jungle - the law of force," he says, angry and distressed.

"This new currency is for the rich, not the poor. It's too difficult.

"And to be refused change on the bus - that's not even legal."

Taxi driver Armand Mougeot is also spitting with fury, this time against the bank workers who have gone on strike, leaving small businessmen to wrestle with the shortage of small change.

Magic wearing off

"It's scandalous, disgusting," he says.

"The small businesses have been left to pick up the pieces. Once again the French Government has failed to do what it should have done."

Some local prices have risen since New Year's Eve. Cigarettes at one stall, costing 22 francs before the changeover, are now 23.40.

And at the local cinema, a sign pleads with fans of "Harry Potter et L'Ecole des Sorciers" to pay in euros to speed up the queue.

As the muggles struggle, it seems that the magic of the euro has already begun to wear off.


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01 Jan 02 | Europe
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