Changeover adds frisson of excitement to the chore of the bureau de change

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The stop at the bureau de change is rarely the first highlight of anyone's holiday, but there was a palpable hum of excitement surrounding the Heathrow currency conversion desks.

The stop at the bureau de change is rarely the first highlight of anyone's holiday, but there was a palpable hum of excitement surrounding the Heathrow currency conversion desks.

Tourists on their way to the Continent peered at length at the digital display boards as they tried to figure out how far their sterling would now stretch.

Across the airport, the euro's presence had mushroomed. The till at La Brioche Dorée displayed the new tender as did the price tags on scarves at Accessorize, while the Rough Guide to Heathrow Airport booklet listed the 12 countries in the eurozone.

For most British travellers, yesterday was their first chance to take a good look at the new notes. As they left the bureaux de change, they carefully inspected them, passing them to friends for discussion on the aesthetics, the embossed figure for the blind and the anti-counterfeiting features.

"Yuk" was one airport worker's succinct comment. "I don't like it. We have different cultures and different economies and they are just trying to make us all the same. Just think – the Greek drachma had been around since 600BC," she added.

Johanna Doubtfire, 32, an English teacher travelling back to her home in Portugal, agreed. "I think they are horrible, ugly. They look like Monopoly money and the coins feel like plastic," she said. Her 58-year-old father, Peter, was somewhat more sanguine. "It will be the same as decimalisation. It will be confusing for older people but the young will get used to it."

But the euro inspired a favourable response from most. "It is very exciting," said Salvo Sciannaca, an Italian accountant, resident in Maidenhead and dropping his son off for his plane to Germany. "It will make life a lot easier because I travel a lot. At the moment I have coffee jars packed with different coins."

James Calderwood, 65, a retired surgeon from Belfast, agreed. "It is hard to know how much money you will spend on a trip. This makes it easier because you can just keep it for the next one." He was less enthusiastic about the prospect of Britain following the eurozone countries and joining the single currency. "A lot of financial matters hang in the balance. It depends whether it is going to be good for the economy," he said.

Staff at the bureaux de change held differing opinions about whether the currency would make life easier or more dull. Others wondered whether less currency-changing would mean fewer currency changers. "They have reassured us their will be no job cuts but at the end of the day we just don't know," one admitted.

European travellers arriving at Terminal Two yesterday had already had an opportunity to acclimatise. Bags of sample euros sold out overnight in France and Germany a few weeks ago and customers queued for them at banks.

Ilonka Schneider, an American living in Germany, said: "The only way I could get mine was because my neighbour is a banker." She had brought hers over for a fellow teacher to show her class.

"I like them because I travel a lot but everything has got more expensive in Germany because they have been rounding up the prices. I think it is great that the British have stuck to their guns. It would be very difficult for the English to lose their pound," she said.

Yet Chantal Brosse, who was returning to France, was completely unmoved by the knowledge that her homeland had now lost the franc.

"Bof" she said with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders when asked about the impact of the euro, her face conveying bemusement at the suggestion that anyone should be bothered. Her son, Eddy, explained: "It is different in the UK. It is an island thing. On the Continent people have felt more European for years. We have been preparing for a long time. It is just accepted. Here people are scared. They see the euro as some kind of threat."