Focus: Greeted by yawns and rude puns

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE BRITISH-owned Virgin Megastore in Paris yesterday became the first French shop to accept a payment in euros. The customer was not a chance passer-by. Yves-Thibault de Silguy, who spent 141.94 euros (about pounds 100) on records, is one of the two French EU commissioners and the man responsible for the euro in Brussels.

Mr de Silguy, attending the photo opportunity at the store on the city's fashionable Champs-Elysees with his wife, Jacqueline, and daughter Stephanie, told The Independent that this was an occasion "to show that the passage into the euro is an almost festive occasion ... dynamic and full of gaiety".

The festive occasion was somewhat soured, however, by the launch in France of a well-timed publicity campaign for Virgin Cola. The company has made use of a rude pun on the name of the euro's predecessor, the little used and long-forgotten ecu. The slogan of the campaign runs "Apres les culs, le rot", which sounds in French like "Apres l'ecu, l'euro", but translates in English as "after the bums, the rot".

Jean-Nokl Reinhardt, president of Virgin Stores in France, was pummelled with questions about the slogan at the photo opportunity yesterday. The advertising agency which devised the campaign has also received scores of complaints. Mr Reinhardt said the slogan was "brainless and tasteless", and would not last long.

Mr de Silguy bought records by Otis Redding, U2, Johnny Halliday, the late comedian Coluche and collections of classical music and opera. He paid with a euro cheque and joked with the check-out assistant: "That seems quite cheap, doesn't it?" There are, to be exact, 6.5597 francs to the euro, as proclaimed throughout the store yesterday. Virgin had already costed all its merchandise in both currencies but the price tags in French francs still appeared in much larger and more prominent type.

The publicity stunt with Mr de Silguy was supposed to be the first retail euro transaction in France. Virgin was beaten, however, by a man who made special arrangements to pay for a meal on the Champs-Elysees with a euro credit card at five past midnight on New Year's Day. Few other customers seemed to be interested in the euro transition, most heading straight for the sales bargains on the first floor. A brief exit poll of customers received reactions ranging from "ah, that's what the cameras were for!" to "so what?".