Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Requiem for A Currency

On arriving in Rome the day Europe switched over to the euro, and how I got rid of my remaining lire

1 January 2002, A Tuesday

I am quite the Eurotrash. Last year I rung in the New Year under the Eiffel Tower. This year I am doing it in Rome. Well, technically the annual odometer clicked over to 2002 somewhere over the Atlantic for me, and I was trapped in a plane (they didn’t even serve us champagne or anything), but when I landed, it was new Year’s Day, and it was Rome.

Of course, first thing I did was start looking for some Euros. As of yet, I have only been able to catch glimpses of the new notes clutched in the hands of bewildered or bemused Romans as they drift away from their bank machines, staring in wonder and slight trepidation at this new reality they're slipping into their wallets to snuggle alongside the lira notes, all those extraneous zeros of which about to be retired forever.

I specify "Romans" because unfortunately the ATMs here seem only to be honoring Italian-issued bankcards today. I've seen (and joined) packs of panicked foreigners dashing from ATM to ATM trying desperately to milk some local cash out of them, to no avail. I even saw a young French couple get turned away from one, which struck me as odd since the whole point is that now there is officially no difference, in a fiduciary sense, between an Italian and a Frenchman.

Apparently, no one told the Italian ATMs that, and the poor French were turned away. It's nice to know the joyful snafus of European travel won't end, even as some of the old symbolic speed bumps between nations are getting smoothed over.