In the Dordogne village of St-Cyprien there is a small petrol station, seemingly independent of any major chain. It has three ageing fuel pumps – and not much else. The forecourt retail phenomenon sweeping through the oil majors such as BP, Shell and Elf has by-passed St-Cyprien.
But taped to each pump is a piece of paper showing each fuel’s price in euros. In the nearby town of Sarlat-le-Caneda, artisans’ studios and street-traders’ racks are filled with objets d’arts and bluejeans priced in both French francs and euros.
By using a currency that will be increasingly familiar to the French, Germans, Dutch, Belgians – and well-travelled Brits – they use their euro prices to advertise their value-for-money. These tiny businesses are already gearing up for the January launch of the single European currency even though no euro cash will hit the tills until 2002 – and despite the curious fact that they are not all using exactly the same franc/euro exchange rates.
But they are preparing for the imminent launch of the next best thing.
Early in September, with less than four months to go, American Express unveiled the design of its euro travellers cheque. The company believes that it is the first euro payment device, and will be available in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 euros. Merchants will, of course, have to give change in local currency, and American Express says it will continue to sell travellers cheques in member currencies until the phase out of national banknotes in 2002.
The “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” tourists seem certain to find euro travellers cheques convenient, especially if continental merchants are already pricing in euros. The question is, how many tourists will try to spend them in Oxford Street?