Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Euro and popular demand; thanks so much!

Because some of you liked my piece about Normandy yesterday (see link at the bottom of the post about DDAY), I thought I'd publish this one's an oldie, I hope you find it a goodie:

The Euro and the Café  by Z (written while living in Paris, in 1999)

As an American living in France, the Euro isn’t a huge disruption in my life.  It’s worth just a bit less than our American dollar, so it works for me!   There’s some romance gone from France with the disappearance of the francs, and sure, I’d just learned to pronounce the nasal “ncs” in “francs”, but nobody asked me when they decided to get rid of it!   The best part is no more dividing everything by seven to go from French francs to its worth in dollars. My husband kept reminding me his salary wasn’t paid in dollars so the value in dollars didn’t really apply to us but it always mattered to me!  Without an American dollar value in my head, everything might as well have been paid for with old E Ride tickets from Disneyland.  The problem is, since the demise of the francs, everything suddenly seems much more expensive.  Had we been paying $12.00 for cold chicken and $4.00 for a cup of mint tea at the cafe all along?  Maybe I was worse at dividing by seven than I thought.  Today, I had my very last hot mint tea in a restaurant in France.   Four DOLLARS for a teabag and some hot water?  Gone are the days when I figured anything worth a seventh of what it said on the menu was cheap.  The Euro’s close to the dollars, so I’m not confused anymore.  But the waiters at my local café are.

The Euro came into use on January 1st.  We were in our local bistro for our morning coffee January 2nd.  Much had changed.   Jean Paul, Mayda, Jean Claude, Brigitte, and the two waiters behind the counter, weren’t smiling as the usually do.  Yes, we heard “Bonjour!”, but it didn’t have the bounce in it this time.  They were not as busy as usual that morning as this was January and the French hadn’t returned from their ski trips and the reduction in the number of American tourists was most greatly noticed over the holidays, but the wait staff at the café was otherwise occupied.  It was the Euro.

Until February 17th, the French can still take francs, but most are giving Euros in change.   I say “most” because our other corner restaurant is giving back francs, whether it’s legal or not doesn’t seem to bother them or the authorities, which is nothing new for Paris.  Our favorite Le Victor Hugo café is giving change in Euros for francs, and the wait staff is not happy.   Suddenly, along with balancing little trays with four dollar mint tea on them, they’re also carrying tiny calculators, clutching them like a paycheck, like if it weren’t for that thing in their hand, they might as well have not come in. 

Jean Paul, who usually discos himself around the café greeting strangers and good customers with almost the same verve (frequent customers like us get kisses and compliments with our greetings!), was suddenly not even smiling.   He took one look at us, pointed to his calculator and said the whole thing was OVERBOARD!  JUST too much!.  Mayda looked tired for the first time, and Jean Claude was having enough difficulties managing his hangover without having to worry about making change, too. (The image here is the Place Victor Hugo, and I could see the fountains from my apartment windows if I leaned out and looked to my almost hurts with pleasure from just seeing Christmas, they shut the fountains off and put decorated Christmas trees there instead...just beautiful!)

Jean Claude started working at Le Victor six months ago.  It was positively startling to have a new waiter at our local, having become used to the same people over 2 ½ years, rather like suddenly finding an extra brother one morning at the breakfast table.   It didn’t take long for us to warm to him, all we had to do was see his way of giving change which, when he first came, was still in francs.   You see, Jean Claude wears the obligatory long sleeved white shirt, black vest, black bow tie, and black pants, but it’s his vest that’s the best part.  Jean Claude’s vest has several long horizontal pockets across the front, around his belly.  The first day my husband paid him for our coffees and croissants, he took the money and suddenly his fingers started flying across his vest, bringing out coins from his pockets in rapid succession….some coins from one, another coin from around the other side.   We watched and realized that each pocket had different values of francs in it, ten francs coins in one pocket, ½ franc in another.  And he managed this pulling at his vest quicker than one could manage one of those metal change boxes that we have in the States where you push the top of each section and the coin comes down.  The man played his vest like someone playing an accordion.  He knew exactly what each pocket had without a downward glance.  Well, with the change to Euro, Jean Claude still wears his vest, but it’s not the same.  At first, I saw him grab for a coin then immediately grab a coin from another pocket and check them against each other for size. They’re very close in size and many values are the same color, so it’s hard to tell.   Today, I noticed Jean Claude’s wearing his glasses all the time.  Now he needs only to look carefully at the number written on them.  Things are different. 

That first day of the Euro was the first day I’d say that staff looked stressed.  There have been days when the place is so full you can barely walk through, but Mayda walks up the steps to the second level seating area carrying three hot dishes and still smiling brightly as usual.  I’ve been there when Jean Paul had a table full of foreigners who’d left their smiles at home, and still Jean Paul, though teasing us about them from behind a column, mimicking their long faces and refusal to fall for his charms, remained full of laughter and good humor.   But, not the day the Euro hit. 

“Look, Madame Star!” (that’s his moniker for me because I wear dark glasses, and who would protest that name?  Except that, when he yells that, everybody looks up to see who's come in and it's only ME!), “Look at these awful things,” he said, holding out a handful of coins, affording me my first look at a bunch of them all together in one place.  “This is terrible, it’s too difficult.  And it’s not French!”   Not to mention it looked less like real money and more like the shiny, foil-covered chocolate candies the French give their children at Christmas, I wanted to add, but my French doesn’t go that far.  

The rest of the time that morning, while we sipped our coffee, one or the other of the staff  would stop at our table between duties and bemoan the Euro all over again, holding the calculator up in the air and shaking it,  making faces, or simply rolling their eyes as they walked by.   

It’s been a week now since the Euro befell the European Union and the press says all has gone superbly well.    I’d say it’s been less than superb at our neighborhood café, but it’s getting better.  We were there for lunch today.   Other than the fact that you can see them squinting to see which value coin they’re giving you back, and they’re still huddling together in little meetings about what the change for a client comes to, they’re getting used to it.  Jean Paul was almost back to dancing himself through the cafe today and, in a week, Jean Claude will have memorized his vest.

As for me, I’d say it’s the first time in my life I’d have rather continued to divide by seven.  At least then, I may never have awakened to the fact that I was paying four dollars and change for a cup of tea.  (end)


Bob said...

Oh, my, Madame Star. That's a great story, and you write so well. Perhaps you really are a star, Hollywood and all that.

Brooke said...

I remember reading that a while back! It was nice to read it again.

Silverfiddle said...

Great story indeed. I left before the big transition, but I went back a few times after, and all my German friends were still griping about how every store and vending machine took advantage of the transition to round up all the prices.

cube said...

Madame Star, I love your name and I love your story. Thanks for sharing it.

It harkens back to the brouhaha over changing to the metric system here in the US. I have no problem with metric because of my science education, but there were folks who looked upon it as the end times.

Change is a part of life. Imagine how boring it would be if it was always the same.

sue said...
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sue said...
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Z said...

I so appreciate your taking the time to read this piece, everybody. And glad you enjoyed it.

Sue, never ever mind about typos; we all know we're all extremely literate and stuff happens.

THanks for your remarks, too. It was an absolutely amazing time there, it really was.

Pris said...

Z, great story. Looks like you've gone from Blog Goddess, to Madame Star!! How neat is that?

Cube, change may be a part of life, but we all have our comfort zones.

When that metric thing was being pushed on us, I sewed alot at that time, because it saved us money. Drapes, curtains, clothes, you name it.

When you're used to a certain method of doing something, and suddenly you're told you can't use that method any longer, it throws you. I didn't switch, however some pattern makers did.

Funny, I wasn't bored at all using the old measurement system. I was comfortable, and knew what I was doing.

Btw, I didn't see it as the end times, I saw it as an unnecessary pain in the neck.

Then, there was the "new math" being introduced into our schools. It was confusing for my kids in elementary school, as it was for most.

They could arrive at the correct answer using the traditional math process, but oh no, even though it was right, it was wrong because they didn't arrive at that correct answer, the "new" way.

Now maybe I'm crazy, but if one arrives at the correct answer, isn't that what matters?

Anyway, at least at that time eventually "new math" went the way of many experimental unnecessary processes.

The joke is, by the time my children were in HS, they were allowed to use calculators, which doesn't teach them a math process at all.

We've seen many societal changes, like out of wedlock births, polarization of groups of citizens, multiculturalism, a huge percentage of school drop outs, and on and on.

While I don't see tradition as boring at all, at this point, a little boredom would be a relief.

christian soldier said...

Thank you for the h/t my friend-
I am serious about us (Patriots) getting together and organizing while having fun--
We could sing (I'm a trained singer - didn't know if you knew that)
We could paint-
We could all talk/ and have a glass of wine w/ diner :-)
Will be posting Carol's Travel every Monday-


Joe said...

I lived 3 1/2 years in France when I was in 9th grade (about 120 years ago...or so it seems). In those days there were about 4 1/2 Francs to the penny.

I spoke broken French and amused everybody with my American accent (which, of course, I could not detect).

We lived in a little vilage called Marlotte at the edge of the Forrest of Fountainbleau.

In never met Jean Paul that I know of, but met many like him.

In Marlotte, you greeted everyone you encountered, whether walking, riding a bicycle, in a store or wherever, with a hearty "Bon Jour!"

When I got back to the U.S. and greeted people with a fervent, "Hello!" or "Good Morning," I got some of the strangest looks!

I still greet them, and I still get the looks.

Great story!

Z said...

Pris! Thanks! Actually, it was FROM Madame Star to..."Blog Goddess" (LOVE THAT, thanks!)
In Europe, they have hard paper coasters for the drinks and the waiter Jean Paul, my FAVE (who offered us his mother's home in Nancy if the terror got worse in Paris, imagine?)drew me on the back of one of's a prized possession!
He'd yell "HELLO MADAME STAR" when I'd be sitting outside with a friend or Mr. Z having a coffee or glass of wine, and it was so embarrassing because anywhere in the vicinity would break their neck to see who the STAR was (only ME, in my big sunglasses!!)

Carol...that would be fun!
And you are SO welcome; good luck with your feature.

Joe, that's GREAT, I didn't know you lived in France. The area you lived in is GORGEOUS, isn't it...forests, old
My French got fairly good, too (I had NONE going in) but never perfect.

And yes, as long as one remembers to say BONJOUR, the French think you're polite and will welcome you. It's when Americans stroll into a shop and ask "How much is that?" before acknowledging their existence that it's met with a little French disdain .
The odd thing is, I could hear my accent and shuddered (tho better than some AMericans, according to Mr. Z, who spoke fluently) but the French actually said they find it CUTE!

sue said...
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Leticia said...

I remember this story. Glad you did a re-post.

I loved living in Germany. Not sure if I would like it now, but in the 80's it wasn't too shabby.

Z said...

Leticia, it's not that different than it was......many more foreigners sapping from the economy, but mostly, it's doing very well.

Ducky's here said...

Speaking of foreigners, be sure to catch the story of Obama's illegal uncle taking a DUI bust in Framingham, Ma.

They hooked him up and handed him to ICE. He has a 20 year old immigration warrant outstanding.

Z said...

Ducky, I did see that story. It's sad, no matter whose uncle he is.

beamish said...

You'd think after a few hundred years, the French would by now have stopped holding their children back from greatness by forcing them to learn French.


Z said...

you should be so lucky, beamish.

Rita said...

Wonderful story. I feel like I've just taken a quick trip to France. Oh how lucky you were to have such wonderful memories of your time there.

Anonymous said...

Good story.

I'm still not used to the euro when I go back. I have to look at every single coin.

To show how smart the EU bureaucrats, they created coin sizes that are confusing.

This Euro was such a mistake.

I'd go to soccer game 20 years ago for 50 francs. Now you have to pay at least 30 euros. Last time I went to see a Champion League's game I paid 150 euros.

The European lefty bureaucrats have made a popular sport a luxury. A symbol in itself.


Z said...

Yikes! I saw 20 comments when I went on line this morning just now and thought "that's a LOT this early in the morning"
I forgot the comments come with an old post:-)

darn, but I sure liked reading them again :-)

Rita, it was the best four years EVER.

FB...they rounded things up at first and everything was so much more expensive.
I think this is one of the things when Mr. Z was wrong and I was right; I hated the Euro (and the EU) and still do...and it looks like I was right about the EU particularly.

Anonymous said...

I think that Mr Z, and even myself when I was in college, bought the EU as a tool of peace. That was the first goal and it was a very good one. But it should've stopped at that. And not a centralized bureaucracy on top of countries with so many cultural, political, economic and fiscal differences.


Anonymous said...

You know what's funny about the EU and people behind it?

Despite the fact the European elite's anti-americanism, they want a "United States of Europe" based on some kind of federalism.

Even the European Bank is copying the Federal Reserve.

That's maybe why they're going down the drain. This central bank system is a serious problem. And a scam.


Z said...

FB, Mr. Z also looked at it as a way for Europe to better compete in the world market...

Good point about the US of Europe!

Lisa said...

Madame Star. What a delightful greeting Z.
Another great post by Z.
I had taken a pharmaceutical course and it's all metric. I am not a math wiz but we had 2 women in the class one from Ireland an one from Yugoslavia who for obvious reasons had no problem with the math.
I did ask the one from Ireland about the health care because my neighbor's family lives there and she sad her cousin had to wait a year for a bypass operation.
Can't even eat out for 2 at a diner type restaurant for under 70.00 and gas is 7.00 a gallon.
So anyway when I told her about the wait period he had to endure she said "Yeah but its' free".

That's free?

Jan said...

"At least then, I may never have awakened to the fact that I was paying four dollars and change for a cup of tea."

My philosophy, too: What you don't know, won't hurt you. :)

(If only.)

I remember this great story, but I never tire of reading these accounts of your personal experiences.

Kid said...

I really enjoyed reading this one. I can imagine what it was like !

Z said...

Kid, "BLISS" isn't enough of a word for what four years in Paris was like.
Someone said the other day "I'm jealous you got to live there"
I said "I don't blame you!" :-)

Jan, thanks SO much! xxx

Anonymous said...

"a little boredom would be a relief..."

Wonderful thought...I think we've all earned that for ourselves. I know that I'd surely welcome it.

Z said...

Imp, I'm thinkin' you'd LOVE to be a LOT more bored for a few days than you've been lately !

Welcome back to geeez; you home yet?


Anonymous said...

"Welcome back to geeez; you home yet?

Thanks and nope...not yet. But I'm clearing the decks, books and everything else one day at a time.

Im certain you know what I'm talking about?

I'll still be away from home another week at least.

Right Wing Theocrat said...

Hope they didn't throw the calculators out because they'll need them again, for when the Euro is dismantled in either an orderly fashion or torn up by force.