The Euro is Coming!

Wed 29th August, 2007

One very important change we all face on January 1, 2008, is the introduction of the euro. This will affect the change in our pockets and purses.

Fear of the unknown is always our greatest enemy, so any information on such an important aspect of our lives is welcome. Recently, a full-page advertisement on the euro appeared in the press. This was issued by the European Commission, The Ministry of Finance, and the Central Bank of Cyprus.

At last I thought, this might solve some of the mysteries surrounding our impending new currency.
Although to the credit of the sponsors the advert was published in English, somewhere in the translation process, its impact was lost

The heading “1,71 apple a day keeps the doctor away” was completely lost on me, as was any significance to the topic. I can only assume that quoting the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, was intended as an attempt at humour. First of all when an apple becomes 1.71, then apple becomes a plural, apples.

I may be guilty of being a little pedantic in my comments, and also for observing that one word was completely missing from the advert’s wording, and in addition there were two other grammatical mistakes. However, the authorities want the introduction of the euro to go smoothly, and the changeover to be efficient. So is it not too much to expect the information to be likewise?

Obviously the information was to sensitise us to the fact that 1.71 euros is equal to our current Cypriot pound. Just to make things easier (or more baffling), we are informed that one euro is worth the telephone number 0.585274 in Cypriot currency. At this stage of multi-numerical conversions, any help or guidance is in danger of being lost.

For many of us ‘of a certain age’, apprehension of any changes to a country’s currency is based on our previous experiences. In the early 1970s, the United Kingdom changed from its historic pounds, shillings and pence, and adopted a decimal currency.

The theory behind the conversion was indeed a good one; it brought us into line with other European currencies’ denominations. It is also far easier to multiply, divide and calculate percentages in units of tens, and hundreds.

The old sterling currency of twelve pennies made a shilling, twenty shillings made a pound, formed the foundations and introduction to mathematics at infant and junior schools. We were taught, with relentless tutorial instruction (often accompanied with blows from a ruler), our twelve times table, and progressed to the twenty times table. Apart from the currency, everything was sold in dozens (12s) or scores (20s). We became numerate by reciting parrot fashion our tables, until we got them right.

With hindsight, and in practice, the introduction of a decimal currency was in many respects, an exercise to rob us legally.

One new decimal penny was worth 2.4 old pennies. It became common practice (or should I say con-man practice) to give an item priced in any denomination of old pennies a new price tag in new pence. So we were paying more than double what we were before. It is strange that prices were always rounded up, never down. Something we must be aware of when Cyprus changes to euros.
So, bearing in mind all the experiences of changing a currency once, I, like many, perceive the change to euros with caution and concern.

How do we cope? The only advice I can offer is to keep it simple and do not be confused by telephone number conversions. Nor should we allow the sea of leaflets and adverts that we will receive drown us, otherwise we will be left confused and not knowing what we are doing. This will leave us easy prey for the sharks waiting for us, their cash tills open like massive jaws waiting to devour our money.

We still have a few months left to have a practice run, so make the most of that time. Many stores already have prices in Cypriot pounds and the euro equivalent. However, to date only the total in euros is shown on the till receipt, not against the itemised prices.

A simple exercise is to take a pen and paper with you when you go shopping. Make a note of the price stated on the shelves in Cypriot currency, and the equivalent euro price. When you get home, make sure the euro prices indicated on the shelves do in fact total the amount given on the bottom of your till receipt.

As a double check, and for those wishing to partake in cerebral gymnastics, multiply the prices in the Cypriot currency by 1.71 just to double check. Keep as many receipts as you can, this will enable you to make comparisons when the changeover takes place.

My advice is intended as an exercise in self-defence. You can be sure no one will ever take the blame for any over pricing, mistakes, or errors. Blame will be directed at computers, electronic tills, barcode readers, and anything else with a plug on it. We all thankfully are old enough and wise enough to know by now, that computerised systems only make a mistake if their human masters make the mistake first.

At the end of the day, we must never forget that we the shopper, retain total power at all times. If we find that we are being ripped off, do not go back to the establishment again.

The vast majority of people coming to retire here have pensions, and we have pension power. Many of my retired friends, already apprehensive of a change of currency, are already directing their pensions to sterling accounts in the UK. They have the opportunity to then choose when they transfer into another currency and wait for rates to be high. They are already preparing for battle, and the only weapon they need as an army, is the plastic card to obtain cash from an ATM machine. It could not be simpler.