New kid in town too hot to handle

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AMJAD, THE smiling man in the Bureau de Change, laughed out loud when asked if he was selling euro travellers' cheques. "No, no. Come back in 2002," he said.

Given that the bureau is called Eurochange and that it is sited on the busiest shopping street in Britain, it seems that not everyone in this continental outpost has embraced the euro programme. Other attempts to complete our euro shopping list on Oxford Street were variously met with furrowed brows, nervous smiles and much head shaking before eventual - partial - success.

Even the man at the American Express bureau on Regent Street seemed momentarily thrown. Yes, they did have euro travellers' cheques, but we were the first people to have asked for any. Other curious members of staff gathered to stare at the exotic pieces of paper as the two 50-euro cheques were issued.

And that was the easy bit. Starting small, we tried to buy a copy of the latest George Michael CD from HMV. The sales girl's confident demeanour visibly fell away when one of the cheques was proffered. She ran for the phone.

"Err... we are going to take them but the computers aren't running yet," she said. "You could use them at one of our airport branches."

As Heathrow seemed a bit of a hike we decided to approach the Division One music shop. "What am I supposed to do with this? Roll it up and smoke it?" said the owner, Johnny Chandler, when presented with a euro cheque. He didn't say "groovy" but he did, however, check with his bank what trading with euros would entail and discovered several pitfalls for the small retailer.

He would be charged pounds 4 to process a cheque for anything below 300 euros (pounds 6 on more than that) and, without a euro account, it would be treated as a foreign currency.

It was time to go back to Amjad. Would he change our euro travellers' cheques for sterling? A call to head office revealed that this, too, was a no-no for Eurochange.

The prize for pragmatism went to Hussein Mohammed, a director of A&M Electronics on Tottenham Court Road.

"At the end of the day ,we are here to take money, and I don't care what denomination you pay in," he said. "We already take all kinds of currencies - from Norwegian krone to Italian lira. This is now a fact of life. Either you live with it or be out of it."

He even quoted us a "special discount" euro price for a widescreen television (1,400 euros). But as the 100 euroswould make little impact there, it was time to move on. Again.

John Lewis was more than happy to take the cheques at a rate arranged through its in-house bureau de change. Yet as this would involve paying commission, it hardly seemed in the spirit of a "single" currency.

It was Virgin Megastore that was able to conduct a real euro transaction, but then only after we returned the following day so that its technicians couldcomplete the necessary computer alterations.

A triumph of sorts. But perhaps Amjad's idea of waiting another three years was the best advice of the day.