European Times: Malaga - Spain tests the common currency

I DON'T know what Ernest Hemingway would have made of it. In the courtyard of La Consula, the villa where the writer spent most of the summer of 1959 and celebrated his birthday with fireworks and a wild champagne party, hundreds of children, off school for the day, wriggled in their chairs yesterday while a man in a suit told them how good the euro was and how easy it would be when they travelled to Germany.

Then a clown sang and made risque jokes about what to do with a melon, and the young audience, kitted out in T-shirts and baseball caps bearing the slogan "Euro communication campaign", laughed and clapped and swayed with their arms in the air. Meanwhile, the real party was going on down the hill in the village.

Churriana, an unpretentious suburb of Malaga bisected by the airport runway, was chosen to test drive the euro for four days in Europe's first experiment on this scale. All the shops and bars were prepared for the experience of conducting all their transactions in euros.

It was selected as an urban community with the feel of a village, because it has a representative mix of young and old and because the mayor of Malaga, Celia Villalobos, is a feisty and influential member of Spain's ruling Popular Party, which is passionately committed to the single currency.

How would this modest 12,000-strong community deal with the revolution in their spending habits more than two years before the coins are widely available? In the fish market, Julia was already laden with shopping. "Oh, it's easy, I have two separate purses, one for euros, one for pesetas. I thought at first things would be more expensive but I realise they aren't."

The fishmonger was swift in his calculations, whipping out a bright blue calculator programmed for instant conversions, donated to traders, protected from fishy fingers by a plastic cover. After handing Julia her change he gave her two tickets for a draw to win a free trip to Paris, a gift to anyone spending two euros. "If you're alone you can take me," he flirted, and Julia and her friends shrieked with laughter. Some 75 per cent of his day's trade had been in euros, he said.

I joined the queue at one of the village banks to buy a 3,000 peseta packet of 17.83 Euros - about pounds 12.50. Many in the queue were back for the second or third time, and this was only day two. I was handed a cardboard ready reckoner, with a moving circle giving euro equivalents of one, 100, 500, up to 50,000 pesetas.

Also queuing was Leopoldo, 45, who had come specially from his village 45km away. "It's something new and exciting. I`ll go and spend them in the town, have a drink, something to eat, get used to it, feel more European," he said. Eugenio, 38, from Malaga, was keeping his coins. "I'm not going to spend them. I want to keep them as a souvenir," he said. "They're of sentimental value because after Saturday we can't spend them can we?"

Close inspection reveals the words "Trial Euro" written round the coins. One euro equals 168.22 pesetas, I mutter, baffled by the complexity. "There's a trick," explained a helpful gipsy from whom I bought a "Churriana of the Euro" ashtray: "You just multiply by six and knock off three noughts. Three hundred pesetas times six, that's 1.8 euros." He was rounding up two cents, but then this was a street market.

Carmen Ruiz, proprietor of the haberdashers and underwear shop (knickers 2.82 euros) said her customers had quickly got used to it. Was business holding up? "Well, it coincides with the end of the month so people have their pay packets. That was obviously well planned."

Down the street, at the delicatessen, a customer asked for blood sausage. "With euros or without euros?" asked Diego, the boss. "With euros, of course," was the reply. "We've got to keep them moving."

It might have been a bit modern for Hemingway. He wouldn't even allow a telephone at La Consula, which is now a catering school. But the author of Death in the Afternoon would have relished Saturday's special bullfight: "The first great bullfight of the euro, with musical band", according to bright posters pasted down the street.

Julian, proprietor of the Cafe Maxi, seemed to have it in perspective. As orders for beer, fortified wine and dishes of pickled anchovies quickened towards midday, he fielded queries with aplomb. Was it compulsory to pay in euros? "Compulsory yes, euros optional." At moments of doubt, out came the big blue calculator.

"The problem is the lack of small change," he said. "I bought 20,000 pesetas' worth, but I'm short of one and five-cent coins. But it's not for long. These euros are like sardines aren't they? After three days they're no good any more."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine