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Frank Koerner

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Making Sense of the Euro Crisis
By Frank Koerner   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011

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An economic crisis can take many forms.


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                       Making Sense of the Euro Crisis

                                                                Frank Koerner

On a very personal basis during a recent trip to Munich, Germany, I was confronted with the present Euro currency crisis. I do not mean that the threatened bankruptcies of several national banks (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy) affected me directly.  Further, I am no financial wizard on Grecian monetary policy. It’s all Greek to me.  I also do not mean to imply that I was foolishly chasing windmills trying to solve an imaginary problem. My problem was very real. Nevertheless, I must admit there are more and more annoying issues, which formerly I would readily accept, but now try to ignore, while they increasingly become more and more annoying. Why my Euro consternation?

The first problem encountered in the Eurozone is where to place the € sign. Is the symbol before the number like our $ sign ($ 100) or is it after the number like the Mexican Peso (100 $)?  There seems to be no rule. I saw it both ways.

The second problem is the size of the bills. The problem created is quite understandable and not a biggy. They are different sizes than US money.  Euros are short and wide. All bills tend to stick out of a standard American wallet. Remedy? Wear a security wallet equipped with a belt chain.

The third problem is more perplexing. There are just too many different coins in the system. There are coins for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, 1€, and 2€. The paper notes (5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500) then begin. Further confounding the issue is the size of the coins. The 2€ coin is only 2.5 mm wider than the 1€ coin. The two coins are of bi-metal construction, each with a round circular center. The center circle of the 2€ is bronze, the outer rim silver-colored…. “gold in the middle”. The 1€ is the reverse….silver-colored center, “gold” outer rim. The 50 cent piece is only 2 mm larger than the 20 cent and of the same metal. The 10 cent coin is 2.5 mm smaller than the 5 cent, but has double the value and a different metal color. The 5, 2, and 1 cent pieces all are copper. The 5 is 2.5 mm bigger than the 2. The 2 is 2.5 mm bigger than the 1. Multiplying the complexity is that there are separate coins for each country (17) in the Eurozone. Thus, there are 136 different versions of the coins. It is not necessary to be able to tell the country of origin because all Euro coins are valid everywhere within the Eurozone.  It can be confusing to differentiate. Most people know their own national designs, but not necessarily those from all the other states. For persons outside the zone, it is even more difficult.  You have to know coins by their size and color. Not so easy. Tarnished bronze looks very much like tarnished copper.

The coins’ sizes and colors are not engrained in my psyche. In the hustle and bustle of buying things, I would fumble embarrassingly for the proper change by searching for the coin numbers. Often, I felt under pressure from the impatient folk behind me. Rather than fumble in the change purse, I would empty the purse contents on the counter and invite the clerk “to take what he/she needed”. It worked.  Everybody was honest. Another method was to buy using small denomination bills (5s and 10s). The downside was that my “change” purse grew with every purchase. There did not seem to be a lot of concern for small change anyway. I watched a woman buy some fruit from a street vendor for €3, 37. The clerk said €3, 35 clearly to avoid a pennies creation event. Rounding upwards to a higher price was never done, thereby avoiding a sale price increase. I saw this “downward rounding” often.

The length of my stay was not sufficient to learn all the coins to facilitate rapid coin exchanges, but I did slowly improve. I began to be able to make exact amount purchases, but only if I immediately had the right change. On my trip’s last day, I purchased some pastries for €3, 02. I gave the clerk the exact amount, as I had the 2 cent coin. I felt satisfied. I was departing on a win. However, my elation lasted only briefly for I had given her a 5 Eurocent coin, which left me again with 3 cents back in change. The gal had the option of giving me that amount with a 2 cent and a 1 cent or with 3 ones.

My time in München expired before I was able to master the mystery of the coins. I could only shake my head in resignation. My one month, unsuccessful Euro experiment had been trying, but at least I had succeeded in trying to make a lot of cents out of the challenge.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Frank Koerner

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Reviewed by Ronald Hull 11/19/2011
That certainly seems to be a bit confounding. Why in the world so many coins? Probably to please all the politicians involved. That is the problem with Europe. Even when they tried to cooperate, old rivalries intervene.

My own experience with currency occurred on a rapid around the world journey where I stayed in cities as little as four days. I remember trying to buy something in Thailand with a paper rupee (I think) with the vendor refusing to take it because he was looking for a baht coin.

Before my trip, I struggled to write my signature with my paralyzed hands on many American Express travelers checks. Finally, I paid 3% for a fifteen hundred dollar cashier check from Citibank to buy my ticket home. While in Thailand, like travelers checks were accepted that the local country stores in the upcountry. However, the only Citibank in Bangkok was a four-hour drive away. When we finally got there and heavy traffic, they charged me 6% to cash the check. I wish I could say more of those travelers checks.

Speaking of travelers checks. My signature on each check was very unique because of the difficulty I had writing them. When I was at the airport to leave the Philippines, I tried to cash and travelers check for money going home. The cashier said that my matching signature that I wrote in front of him was not mine and therefore I couldn't cash the check. I said, “Now that I've signed this check how in the hell am I going to get it cashed?”

The cashier replied, “Go over to the domestic side, they'll cash it for you.”

I had to go through several checkpoints to get to the domestic side. To my relief, the domestic cashier signed it without any question even though I didn't sign it in front of him.

After my paralysis continued to reduce my ability to handle small things with my hands, I had difficulty handling coins. I found that it was a simple solution to just say, “keep the change.”

Some clerks were quite happy with my generosity.

Ron



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