It was bad enough when they started opening McDonald's. But now more than a dozen of Europe's most heavily touristed countries
have actually stopped issuing their own money. Just like that they've gone and taken away the thrill of finding the new and
the different at border crossings.
Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, Greece and seven other members of the European Union, plus five other countries
-- all their currency looks the same now, all of it "euros" of identical size and design in dull shades of red,
green and blue.
Once upon a time, if you'll pardon the expression, you could count on a wide variety of funny money in those countries,
the opportunity to visit far-away places with strange-looking currency, as my wife Gerry and I have been doing for more than
four decades. But there'll be no more absurdly oversized foreign bills to cram into our U.S-sized purse or wallet. No etchings
of national heroes striking heroic poses to admire.
No more plotting how many pesetas, escudos, lira, marks, francs, drachma, punts, guilders, shillings or markkas we might
manage to get for our dollars. No shopping for the lowest exchange rates and fees. No spirited multilingual discourse with
shifty-eyed money changers.
Sure, the adoption of a common currency may very well do wonders for the peace, progress and prosperity of EU members
and Europe generally. But I speak here for travelers. What my wife Gerry and I and the others among us seek is diversity,
excitement. We do not seek boring uniformity.
Already we yearn for the old pre-euro days. The days of French francs picturing impressionist Paul Cezanne and other legendary
artists, for instance. Spanish pesetas portraying Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortes. Portuguese escudos depicting other
explorers whose names and exploits we also recall fondly from our days as high school scholars. Vasco da Gama, Prince Henry
the Navigator. What heroes! What names!
We got a bit of classical history, too, with the likenesses of Athena and Apollo and other mythological figures on, what
else, Greek currency. Ah, so much there was to see on the old bills, so little now, so many differences among the old, no
differences among the new.
Europeans aren't all pro-euro, either. Listen to Maurice Druon, an honored seigneur of the august Academie Francaise:
"Euro is a hideous word ... that makes one think invincibly of a belch." Monsieur Druon cited Albert Camus' sage
observation that "to misname things is to add to the misfortune of the world."
Across the border in the German town of Gifhorn, a crowd wearing mourning suits and black top hats held a funeral procession
for their nation's once revered Deutsche mark, tossing German coins into a grave as the town band played a requiem for the
But what of the unity among Germany, France and others that the euro is supposed to foster?
Hah! scoffed a Frenchman in Schengen, the frontier village where EU nations reached the accord that led to the euro, "Germans
can't tell the difference between a good baguette and a rotten one ... how are we ever supposed to unite?"
Three EU members, the ever-sensible Danes, Swedes and British, have refused to switch to the euro. But the Brits, alas,
previously abandoned what had been the greatest monetary adventure available to travelers anywhere. In Britain now, it's simply
a matter of pounds and pence, 100 pence equaling one pound, as 100 cents equal one dollar in the United States.
But, my, it was different in the good old days of the 1960s when we were twenty-somethings traveling abroad for the first
time, relying heavily on the extraordinarily helpful "Budget Guide to Europe" by Howard and Adelaide Stein.
"British currency," the Steins explained, "is simple once you've the hang of it: There's a Farthing that's
no longer in use; two Farthings make a Haypenny and two Haypenny a Penny. Two Pennies make Tuppence and there's no such coin,
but Tuppence and a Penny make Thruppence, which is a twelve-sided coin the English don't like to spend.
"Two Thruppence make sixpence, which may be called a Tanner, and two Sixpence make a Shilling ... A Shilling is written
's' and called a Bob, Pennies written 'd' ... Two shillings make a Florin and a Florin and Sixpence make a Half-crown. There
is no Crown -- only the Queen has that. The smallest note is Ten Shillings, called Ten Bob ... Twenty Shillings make a Pound
... known as a Quid. A Guinea is a Pound plus a Shilling, but there's no such coin or note."
No more Farthings, no more Tanners, Shillings, Bob, Florins, Half-crowns, Quid or Guineas. But neither are there euros
in Britain. Nor any in money-wise Switzerland and sensible Scandinavia, home of krones, kronas and ores. Or in eastern Europe,
where there are yet rubles and forints, dinars and zloty and more.
Vive la difference!
Copyright © Dick Meister