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Currency Converters, Anagrams and Westlife: The Euro Used to Be Great

Our European editors look back at a time when a single currency promised to unite and protect Europe.

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The early noughties – what a chill time to be European. Most of us were tiny, Afroman's 'Because I Got High' was in heavy rotation and everybody seemed genuinely relieved that the millennium bug hadn't eradicated us all.

The noughties was also the decade that a single European currency came into play. The euro was a ballsy financial initiative that was met with equal amounts of excitement and scepticism from the proud people of Europe. Most were excited about the idea of a new currency which would unite us and protect us against exterior economic evils. Some were sceptical that the whole thing would go tits up and end in a shit-show of countries blaming each other for economic depression. Sadly, at the moment, one seems to have been more true than the other.


Might it be time to admit to ourselves that the whole thing may very well have been a bit of a flop? We asked our European offices to take a moment to remember a happier time – when the euro didn't just mean doom and gloom. It mostly meant chocolate, free calculators and embarrassingly naive marketing campaigns.


The Euro implementation period was a confusing time for Ireland. On the one hand, we were all happy about the fact that we wouldn't lose money to evil exchange rates, whilst preparing to irreparably scorch our pasty bodies in Mallorca. On the flip side, we were petrified of being robbed of our national identity. Which tricks did the evil European Union have up their sleeves this time around? We'd all heard about them attempting to outlaw curved bananas and fireman's poles.

Having never been a real winner at math, my main concerns centred around £1 all of a sudden becoming 1.27 euros. Would I have to pay more for a Mars bar just because I had the same coin as some lad on the continent? If so, why? All of the initial fretfulness quickly dissolved as soon as we held the coins in our hand for the first time and realised that the two euro piece basically made Sweden and Finland look like a massive penis attempting to terrorise the rest of Europe.

We were, however, lucky enough to be presented with an ad where Kian from Westlife explained the whole concept to us while fidgeting with a CD-case. The short itself is so retro that it's basically the infomercial equivalent of a minidisc.


These days, I am not particularly pumped about the euro. Given that the Eurozone seems to jump at every opportunity to label people moochers as soon as they fall on hard times, it's difficult to feel that unity that the currency initially promised. There's no point of us all "being in it together", if it's only for the good times now is there? That's something the Irish know all too well.



In the year 2000, the marketing team that was handed the – at that point still honourable – task of bringing the euro to the Dutch people developed a handy little acronym to help us remember the countries that would adopt the currency: DING FLOF BIPS, which roughly translates into THING FLOF BUM. A phrase that obviously makes absolutely no sense.

The government campaign to publicise the acronym was both intense and highly effective. However incredibly silly those three words were, if you lived in the country at the time, you'll remember them. The commercial was everywhere: Kids would even play a game to see who could name the countries the fastest.

Later on, when we actually got the euro and more countries started introducing it, DING FLOF BIPS wasn't really relevant anymore. In 2011, almost two years into the euro crisis, the Dutch Language Society thought it was appropriate to let the Dutch vote on a new euro anagram. The options included COBI'S SMS: PIN FF GELD [which translates into COBI'S SMS: PLZ PIN CASH]; SMS DING FLOF BICEPS [figure that one out for yourself]; CD, GSM OF FLES IN BIPS [CD, GSM OR BOTTLE IN BUM] and BEGIN SF-FILMS OP CD'S ['START SF-MOVIES ON CD'S']. With 26 percent of the vote, SMS FF BONDIGE CLIPS [PLZ TEXT CONCISE CLIPS] was declared the winner.


Obviously, by the time this was put into place, no one could have cared less about anagrams.



Back in 2002, Italy was pissing itself with excitement for the euro. Probably because our currency had always been weak compared to the other European ones. Italians hoped for some kind of redemption in a shared economic bond with our neighbours.

One of the memories that sticks out for me is my granny's anxiety about it. Having to change her entire financial world was terrifying for her. Thankfully, Berlusconi took a moment off figuring out what a bunga bunga party ) would cost in the new currency and sent us all a shoddy "euro converter" – a blue and yellow mathematical contraption that cost nowhere remotely near a euro to construct. I remember my grandmother cautiously fiddling with it for a moment and then stashing it away in her drawer with the same care you'd afford a precious heirloom. I think she was convinced it would save her life one day.

The government also produced a very strange advert that featured three old men laughing and having a great time discussing the euro exchange rate. I think the vibe they were going for was: "If these old people can wrap their heads around it, then why can't you?"

Personally, I think the euro has been good for Italy. A lot of people are blaming it for both the Italian economic situation and for their own financial woes, but they should really just blame the economic crisis. Without the euro things could've been much worse.




My attitude towards money was pretty relaxed when the euro was implemented. Probably because I was 10 and couldn't have cared less about it. I remember myself and my classmates enthusiastically collecting coins from various different countries – I wonder how many years it took before those collections were spent on cheap Stella and johnnies.

My parents gave me the starter pack that had one of each of the currency's denominations in it. They said that it might become something special one day. Judging by the financial crises we've seen, they might be right. Back then, everyone seemed obsessed with the idea of going abroad and buying random stuff simply to use this new currency. That was the purpose of the euro and, in retrospect, it was a cute one. Personally, I still love the currency, as well as the idea of a united Europe and I have zero interest in returning to the old Schilling.



The euro wasn't that big a deal for most of us though the prospect of traveling and not arriving home with pockets full of useless coins was pretty exciting. We'd no longer have to cue up to exchange money. That said, traveling to previously cheap countries, like Greece, wasn't quite as fun as it had been. You could no longer, financially speaking, make it rain in the same way you used to be able to.

To avert our attention, the German government produced a pro-euro video that depicted just how multi-cultural the currency was going to be by showing a scantily-clad woman playing a violin in some poorly animated ancient Greek ruins and an Irish kid playing a flute in a meadow. The video climaxes with a single euro coin flying into what looks like the world's shittiest rooftop gak-fest.


Some people were really excited about all of this. For those with a massive interest in the new-fangled currency, 'starter kits' ) were the ultimate collectables. Thirteen years on, those starter kits don't quite spark the same naive enthusiasm that they used to and these days, it's quite easy to spot some of the euro's more obvious failures. The currency may have meant slightly more expensive sausages for Germany but it meant prices skyrocketed for the Greeks. We should take responsibility as the drivers of the European ideal. You can't just start something that big, only to spend all your time fucking it up from the inside.



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Right before the introduction of the euro, my brother came home from work with this small basket he'd been given at work. In the basket was 15 euros (roughly 100 Francs) in various denominations that had cleverly been arranged as a bouquet. I thought the currency was beautiful but as an 11-year-old, my main concern was whether the price of my favourite magazines and sweets would suffer from inflation. That and the tragic disappearance of the awesome 50 Franc banknote that featured both The Little Prince and a snake ingesting an elephant.

I was a bit too immature to care about the glorious era of European strength we were supposed to be entering, but I did love the euro chocolates that I was given at Christmas — which were way bigger than the stupid Francs ones. Everyone around me seemed joyful too, despite the fact they sometimes had to do quick calculations at the cashier desk. The most enthusiastic person in France though had to be the woman chanting in this French advert ("Calculating in Francs is not a difficult thing, but it's more beautiful to calculate in euros" ♪). Not too sure what that was based on but it certainly wasn't catchy.




I have a strangely good memory when it comes to stupid things. I clearly remember the first time I withdrew euros from a cashpoint: It was the 1st of January, 2002 and I was pretty excited about having a new currency. I am perfectly aware of how stupid that sounds in 2015 but I felt as if we were living in a historic moment – a step towards a bigger, stronger and more united Europe. But now, with all the suffering that the euro has caused my country, I feel a bit embarrassed to be saying these things.

It is kind of sad to watch the old advertising campaign that the government crafted to convince us that the euro was the greatest thing in the world. The ad was based around the most typical Spanish family you could imagine, "Los García". They danced and sang as if they were in some stupid musical. "The euro gives us stability," say the three old men before starting to tap dance. The video is full of the same unjustified happiness that led us to the economic crisis years later. I bet a lot of Garcías were evicted during that period. It's hard to remember exactly why we were so excited about it all, and, these days, looking at that ad is more sad than it is funny.

This week, I walked by that very same ATM that I withdrew my first euros from. The bank that owned it has gone bankrupt and the branch is now up for rent.



Watching this Greek ad from 2000, I can't help but wonder what's happened to the little girl holding the giant Euro coin. She can't have been much younger than me at the time, so our experience of the last month probably hasn't been too different: I wonder if her dad upped the dosage of his blood pressure pills in the run up to the Greek referendum, if her grandma had to queue outside a bank for hours in the 32-degree heat, or if she has been able to concentrate at work at all. How is she keeping it together after doing nothing but watch the news for three weeks? I wonder if she's even felt like hearing or talking about anything other than Greece's likely bankruptcy.


"A powerful currency means a certain future," comes the ad voice-over, like a slap in the face. I wonder if that little girl has also woken up every morning of July so far uncertain of what the day ahead would hold. I wonder if she currently feels scared, embarrassed, paranoid or guilty.

The truth is it's impossible to describe what the past month has been like for Greeks with facts and figures alone. The best comparison I can come up with is that of a relationship that's hit a rocky patch: Europe is the boyfriend you fell hard for, but who's been a bit of an asshole for a little too long. Greece is the once-exciting girlfriend it's become impossible to read – is she eccentric, or just insane?

"Our common currency is as stable as the European Union," intones a voice in the ad, and it starts to feel like the kind of love letters that get sent when people first start going out. Looking back on it now makes no sense, so I guess there's little use in analysing it. I just hope that girl has a hot boyfriend who's nice to her.


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