Skip to main content

The Euro, Café, and Personal History

Photo by Fotosipsak of iStock Photo
While living in Spain, I learned volumes about history by talking to individuals whose stories will never appear in a history book or program.

I'll never forget hearing a friend tell me what it was like to survive the poverty of the posguerra (the years immediately after the civil war) in southeastern Spain. "A neighbor of ours slaughtered a hog," she told me, "and  shared it with my family. I hadn't eaten in a week, though, and after eating the meal we made from the hog, I threw it all up, and was soon hungry again." 

I happened to be in Spain during another transition, though not a violent one. It was an economic transition, the coming of the euro. I remember vividly the public service announcements on how to calculate the value of pesetas to euros. In fact, Doña Letizia herself presented many of those PSAs in her pre-princesa days.

I dreaded the change. A conversion formula of 1,68 pesetas per Euro was not something I could figure in my head. In spite of the contrasting rims, the denominations on the euro coins were harder for me to differentiate from each other than the former Spanish coins had been. It was too easy to drop the wrong amount in a machine or give erroneous change to someone. Yet, these problems were mere discomforts compared to the major problem the Euro stealthily brought to Spain's economy.

Photo by Kenni Caraballo, of iStock Photo
With the change to the euro, countless businesses and corporations raised prices. Pre-euro a delicious, rejuvenating cup of Spanish coffee cost 50 pesetas. Suddenly, it cost 1 euro; technically 1,68 pesetas.  Soon, it was 1,5 euros in many places, and friends in Spain tell me now you can pay more than that for coffee. 

Take that little coffee price maneuver and transfer it to: food, utilities, housing, transportation .... and remember that--¡surprise!--salaries did not share this rounding-up move that accompanied the euros Spaniards now had to spend.  Salaries stayed static. 

I can't speak to what happened in other European countries, but I'd have no trouble believing that rounding up of prices and expenses happened in other euro zone countries, as well.

When I hear reports about the euro zone, cynicism rises within me. Yes, people in their respective countries voted to join the euro zone, but these votes were based on information regarding increased future prosperity and security. The opposite is what took place. My cynicism also remembers NAFTA. Much of the information regarding NAFTA was like the information regarding the euro: much more projection and conjecture than proven, dependable information. Watch one half-hour of news from Mexico and ask yourself what in the world did NAFTA do? For that matter, watch the US economic news, and ask the same question.

I pay close attention to economic news (I'm a big fan of Nightly Business Report, Marketplace, and The Economist) and try my best to understand the "big stuff," the financial trends, bank bailouts, exports / imports, trade deficits and surpluses, but I didn't need to know any of that to know that the euro was going to be a big problem for lots of people, such a big problem that it now affects economies far outside the euro zone. All I needed was to buy a cup of coffee that, from one day to the next, had jumped 30 percent in price.

Strangely, the euro now looks to be as difficult to digest for many Europeans as that plate of pork was for my friend in those terrible conditions many years ago.


Jeff Damron said…
A fantastic essay, Ysabel. I cancelled my subscription to the Economist recently for 2 reasons - (1) each issue is so jam-packed with information I never read more than a tiny fraction; (2) my issue typically arrived only a day or so before the next issue hit the stands (if only there were "stands" where I live). But it provides a worldview that is hard to get anywhere else here in the US. I try to compensate by listening more to BBC news on my car's Sirius radio. The reporting is good in the Economist, on BBC and NPR, but the "news" itself is seldom good it seems.
Yes, I have put myself on a news diet. I like the Economist, because it tends to put economic conditions in a broader context, and I simply enjoy the good writing. Still, there are article in there that make my eyes glaze over and I think, so what? all this will be different by the next issue! Ha!

Glad you liked the essay.

Popular posts from this blog

Mil Cosas

Mil Lubroth was an American artist of Polish and Russian descent who came to settle in Madrid, where her chic, short name took on an extra meaning. In castellano, Mil means a thousand. Just right for an artist whose work could never be "pinned down," or categorized by any one theme or direction.

To experience Lubroth's work is akin to hearing a chorus of voices from Sheherazade's 1001 nights: it is to see and feel a thousand things united in one intriguing and beautiful visual journey. If you are anywhere near Madrid during October, invite yourself to a banquet of Mil's "mil cosas" atAnnta Gallery. The exhibit that opens October 5th is the first retrospective of Lubroth's work since her death in 2004.

Spanning 50 years, these works reveal an artist who was never less than mature and skilled in her work. There is no sign of awkward beginnings, improvement over time or deepening development. Here is Minerva, beginning her artistic trajectory fully f…

A Cat, a Dog, and Shakespeare: The Perfect Sunday Afternoon

One reason I keep paying a cable bill is to be able to watch Turner Classic Movies. I had just finished a batch of Sunday chores and was resting a moment on the couch, wedged between Chatterly the cat and Gypsy the dog (an Australian Kelpie), and saw that TCM was about to air Julius Caesar, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, and produced in 1953. 

I read Julius Caesar for the first time when I was in sixth grade. It was a great time to read it, because it seemed fresh and real to me, even though some of the centuries-old English was challenging. 

The movie made me wish that Joseph Mankiewicz had directed more of Shakespeare's works for cinema. The balance the movie strikes is oh, so totally just right. It does not go so far into cinematic territory that we lose the work's theatricality, but travels far enough by camera that it provides a sense of seamless reality only a movie can create.  The casting was brilliant.  James Mason was at his best as Brutus, and he carries the film on h…

Booked on Sugar

Sometimes the television remote control finds the channel for Destiny. I believe I was indeed destined to see Marc Aronson'sand Marina Buddhos's presentation to students at the Brooklyn Public Library based on their recent book, SugarChanged the World. Their program certainly changed my world. While written for a youth audience, this is a book that adults will enjoy, and naturally, a great book for parents to share with their children.

I often wonder at the parallels between drug addiction and food addiction in our culture. I know I'm not alone in this. You can't miss the similarities:  "Betcha can't eat just one.  Crave the crunch. Do you dream in chocolate? Hershey chocolate is bliss."  And, as noted in my earlier posts on  Super Bowl ads, when you see a man "snorting" Dorito crumbs .... well, I rest my case.

I've also thought about how quickly we "judge" people with substance abuse problems while the US clearly suffers from foo…