Middle East

New Currency May Change More than Prices

Euro Countdown

Have you ever whooped with delight because you looked at your payslip and thought somehow you had received a pay rise that nobody had bothered to tell you about? Only to be brought sharply down to earth when you realise you were looking at the euro equivalent and that you're being paid the same old salary as in the previous month? Or maybe you're one of those people who stupidly complained in a restaurant that you were overcharged, only to be acutely embarrassed when it is pointed out that you were looking at the euro amount. This has never happened to me but I'm sure it has happened to somebody.

This is the problem with the euro for Irish people - it gives the impression that one has a lot more money than is the case. The Republic is the only one among the 12 member-states of the euro zone where the currency is worth more than the euro, thereby making the conversion amount greater. So, many of us are going to wake up or go to bed—depending on how we celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1—with more money in our accounts, which is probably unusual for most people after a night on the town.

Some people are going to become millionaires overnight—well, those with 787,564 Irish pounds in their piggy banks. That amount in Irish pounds will bring you across the magical EUR1 million barrier. So get saving. You have less than two months. Imagine—a whole spate of millionaires overnight, without having to suffer the nerve-shattering experience of sitting through 15 questions on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

On the subject of game shows, it might be advisable to get on to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” before January 1st. Why? Because if after euro day, the million is EUR1 million as opposed to (pounds) 1 million, your winnings are going to be proportionately less than the pre-January 1st, 2002, winners. Unless, of course, the title of the programme is changed to “Who Wants to be a One Million, Two Hundred and Sixty Nine Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight euro Winner?”—the euro equivalent of (pounds) 1 million—but that title is not just as catchy, is it?

We may grumble about euro confusion. But spare a thought for our fellow Europeans when they wake up on January 1st. Imagine the momentary feeling of horror an Italian might sense, seeing mere hundreds rather than tens of thousands in his or her bank account. The lack of zeros after the principal figure could be very disconcerting indeed. So, to a certain extent, we Irish can count ourselves lucky—the appearance of having more money is always a much more preferable experience to the feeling of having your savings wiped out.

Of course, the euro will impact on every aspect of our lives. The psychological effects of the introduction of the euro could be enormous. Will pound shops become EUR1.27 shops or will they become euro shops? Gone will be the familiar chant of Moore Street fruit sellers: "Apples, four for a pound."

It could even impact on our speech. In time, the phrase "a penny for your thoughts" could disappear from use. If you use that phrase in 15 years' time to a 15 year old, he or she will probably give you that same puzzled look 15 year olds give you today when you talk about your record—rather than CD— collection. "What's a penny?" they'll ask you. "It's worth just over one cent in the new money," you can tell them.