Declaration of Britain's first eurozone causes note of discord

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The Independent Online

Currency issues can be tricky at the best of times in Llangollen, a valley town so faithful to the Welsh language that every cashpoint customer is greeted with the instructions " Rhown y cerdy I mewn I ddechrau [put the card in first]". So perhaps the town's international music eisteddfod – always a popular draw with continentals – which began yesterday was not the occasion to tout itself as Britain's first eurozone.

Currency issues can be tricky at the best of times in Llangollen, a valley town so faithful to the Welsh language that every cashpoint customer is greeted with the instructions " Rhown y cerdy I mewn I ddechrau [put the card in first]". So perhaps the town's international music eisteddfod – always a popular draw with continentals – which began yesterday was not the occasion to tout itself as Britain's first eurozone.

The local evening newspaper did its best, with a banner headline screaming " Croeso [welcome] to the euro". But a large number of the town's businesses were very far from welcoming, rejecting euro notes on the principle of loyalty to the pound and the practicality of having to handle its would-be successor.

By lunchtime, scores of the foreign visitors who had come to Llangollen confident that their euros would suffice were queuing at the post office's bureau de change to exchange them for sterling. If Llangollen were the scene of the first skirmish in the battle to save the pound, the euro went away very much the loser.

Staring at the bureau hatch as his turn finally arrived, Antonio Lucia, a Sicilian dancer, was confronted by a Conservative Party "Keep the pound" poster. " Escusi, change, change!," he called before jettisoning 50 euros for a little over £30. "Nothing for the euro," the 29-year-old said, disgruntled with the exchange rate.

"He went into a shop for a cheese sandwich last night and his euros were refused," said his companion and translator. "The shops will only take his cards and Visa."

Llangollen's population of 3,500 swells to 100,000 when the annual eisteddfod bandwagon rolls into town. Its motto is "where Wales meets the world" but that doesn't stretch to the currency, as far as post mistress Wyn Mayne-Flower is concerned. "The eisteddfod is being used for political purposes," she said. "We won't accept the euro."

At the local newsagent's, Janella Hughes, 45, was refusing the euro because of the complications. "It's not practical for cans of lemonade and packets of crisps," she said. "We don't have the systems to deal with it and there are too many small items which would mean handling coinage."

Though civic leaders' claims that 70 per cent of businesses are taking the currency seemed wildly inflated, it was not a universal tide of euroscepticism. The most enthusiastic europhiles were Vida and Arthur Hardy at the town's other newsagent's – one of the few businesses taking euro notes and coins.

"We can take the notes to the bank and there always people going abroad, to take the coins," said Mrs Hardy, proudly demonstrating her ready reckoner sterling-euro conversion chart and the separate till she has created for her new currency.

It all left Goshen Elzmann, a 57-year-old German tourist – who'd travelled with sterling, not expecting to find a eurozone – feeling plain muddled. "I've spent a lot of time in England and still feel more comfortable with sterling than the new euros," he said. "I really don't care which I spend. Money's money when you don't have enough."

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