History Repeats, Again!

History Repeats, Again!
History Repeats, Again!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abandon the Euro!

(In the spirit of international misunderstanding, "The Expat's Pajamas: Barcelona" is currently free on smashwords !)

I was in Granada, Spain when the first euro coins arrived on January 1, 2002. Anyone familiar with Spanish bureaucracy would have been amazed by the lack of chaos during the currency transition.  The ATM's were well stocked with notes, the vendors were ready with euro-to-peseta calculators, and many of the coins had been minted as far back as 1999.

The only problem I saw was a shortage of new coins to make change for the 50-euro notes spewing out of the cash machines. In the shadow of the Alhambra, we made economic union with mixed currencies until the banks re-opened and filled our jingling pockets with images of Cervantes and King Juan Carlos.

When the New Year’s holiday ended, I observed British tourists frantically spending pesetas and euros on duty-free Brandy de Jerez before leaving Spain.  Their kingdom, of course, did not embrace the euro, and still hasn’t.

This was a good decision.

The UK’s official reason for not joining the original twelve member states in currency unification was that as a major banking center, they didn't want to cede control over their economy to Brussels. 

I'm sure there was more to it than that.

I know the British derive great amusement from watching befuddled tourists trying to fathom why two pence is larger than two quid, but that’s not their only reason for holding fast to the pound sterling.

If the euro took hold in the UK, British citizens would quickly realize that a Big Mac (and just about everything else) in London costs double what it costs in Paris and probably quadruple the price in Portugal. Everyone loves British beef, but that hardly justifies such gouging.

Some sterling enthusiasts feel it would be improper to have images of Queen Elizabeth mixing in people’s pockets with Leonardo’s spread-eagle naked man on the Italian euro coin.

While Lizzy and Leo might make an immodest pair,  I think the real objection is over slang.

On the continent, the arrival of the euro killed a rich vernacular. On that fateful first day of January, many  popular terms for money simply evaporated.  Before the euro, a Frenchman could refer to “ten franks” as “dix balles.”  A Spaniard could refer to “ten pesetas” as “diez pelas,” and a Greek could refer to “twenty drachmas” as “xyoihm.” After the new currency invaded, many countries saw their mother tongues shrivel as euro-speak took over.

The euro would be devastating for slang in Great Britain. Here’s simple proof: which expression is culturally and linguistically richer? Which phrase is more rustic and evocative?
             (a) “Two quid-bob a pop for your bangers, kippers, rashers and mash, Guv’nuh,” or
             (b) “Three euros for that Big Mac, sir.”

I rest my case. The euro would be a death sentence for the English language.

The British were wise not to lose linguistic gamut by switching to the sterile uni-currency.  There may be light at the end of the euro tunnel, but for the moment the English language emerges victorious.

In the haste to unify continental markets, a rich lexicon of financial slang was relegated to history.   Is it too late to recover? Should the EU ditch the euro and bring back the franc, peseta, drachma, and lira?

OK, maybe not the lira, but you get my point. It’s not too late to save the slang.

(In the spirit of international misunderstanding, "The Expat's Pajamas: Barcelona" is currently free on smashwords !)