Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Euro and Paris.....by 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 today......it'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 left.....it almost hurts with pleasure from just seeing it...at 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)