ECONOMY

Street verdict: Lovely baby looks funny

Whether tossing a euro into Rome’s Trevi Fountain or speaking glowingly about the «European dollar,» tourists across Europe took the continent’s new currency in their stride on Tuesday. Hours after cash machines began distributing crisp euro notes, tourists holidaying in the 12 eurozone countries joined locals for a first feel of the new currency. And, like the locals, their reactions were mixed. «It doesn’t look real. It’s small, isn’t it? It’s a funny color. It doesn’t smell like money,» said Irish tourist Kieran O’Brien as he withdrew a 50-euro note from a cash machine in Amsterdam. Yang Gonghuang, a Chinese woman living in Sweden, thought differently. «It’s so beautiful,» she said when she was shown a 20-euro note as she walked through drizzly central Athens. Yang repeatedly referred to the currency as the «European dollar» – a phrase likely to send chills down the spines of fervent European integrationists. But at least one American tourist pointed out similarities between the euro and the dollar. «It sort of works like the dollar, with cents and stuff,» said Sarah Mathews, visiting Greece from New York. «I haven’t gotten my hands on one yet but it will make life simpler.» Her compatriot Ray Sarver from Texas said Americans touring Europe will now be spared the pile of different coins they had to carry back home. «It’s better to deal with one currency when you’re traveling, less of a headache and less of small change to take back to the States,» he said, sipping coffee at an Athens hotel. Avoiding confusion Many tourists across the continent seemed secure in the knowledge they could avoid confusion in actually using euros by sticking to more familiar local money for the remainder of their trips. «I have my deutschemarks and my credit card, and for this day that is enough. I will change (money) tomorrow in Germany,» said Else Johannas, a German flying home to Frankfurt from Helsinki. Masayuki Akiyama, a Japanese tourist taking photographs of Milan in the early morning sun, said he knew euros were now legal tender but he hadn’t taken any steps to get hold of any. «I am going back in a couple of days’ time and I’ve been told I can still use lire and credit cards, so no problem,» he said. «If I am given change in euros, I might just take it home to show people, a modern souvenir.» Japanese tourists elsewhere appeared reasonably prepared for the new currency. At the Esperia Palace Hotel in central Athens, a concierge said the first people to use the currency had been a group from Japan – offering a 10-euro note for a bar tab. Tourists from Japan had been arriving for at least a month with euro travelers checks, she said, sometimes getting irritated that they could only be changed, until now, for drachmas at banks and bureaus de change. Meanwhile, holidaymakers from Britain, where enthusiasm for the new currency is slight, showed no great interest in the new euros, judging by one barometer. At the Gare du Nord station in Paris, the terminus for Eurostar cross-Channel trains from London, rail staff handling passengers’ inquiries said they had received no queries about the new currency. Tourists being tourists, however, it was not long before an age-old tradition got euro-ized. Rome’s glorious Trevi Fountain has long been a magnet for coins, thrown over shoulders to bring luck and a guaranteed return to the Eternal City. It was euro coins splashing in the fountain yesterday, with tourists vying to be the first to throw away the new European currency. Filming his American girlfriend in front of the fountain, John May, a Canadian tourist from Toronto, said he was in no hurry to obtain euros and would probably get them from a cash machine later this week when his lire ran out. «The euro will make travel in Europe much easier, but it’ll be a shame to lose the variety of banknotes,» he said.