Katherine Butler: Irish shopkeepers' eyes for a bargain
Dublin Notebook: My €200 gift voucher would have to be spent before barter took the place of commerce
Monday 11 May 2009
Ireland's economic collapse has been so swift, so spectacular and written about in such apocalyptic terms (with a certain relish it has to be said) on this side of the Irish Sea – that I had been expecting famine-style scenes. Things were so dire that in some areas of Dublin, shopkeepers were, it was whispered, selling teabags in ones. So after a bumpy landing at Dublin airport my first act was to hurry to Brown Thomas, Ireland's most deluxe department store. A €200 gift voucher left over from Christmas would have to be spent, I reasoned, before the Hibernian equivalent of Harvey Nichols closed its doors and barter took the place of commerce. Would I find the wind whistling through the Diane Von Furstenberg rails? The last few pots of Crème de la Mer marked down?
The picture was more nuanced than that. True, I was asked at least eight times by assistants with time on their hands if I needed help. And two ladies of a certain age were lamenting the plight of their respective offspring. "It's the young people I feel sorry for", said one. "We're fine – but what in God's name will they do?". But to put things in perspective, they were standing next to the €800 Roberto Cavalli dresses as they commiserated with one another.
In my home town a couple of hours drive from Dublin, victims of the bust have clearly been piling up faster. As I turned the corner into our street I found the tasteful wine shop run by a gentleman who had his own vineyard in France had been airbrushed out of history by a vulgar plastic sign over the door. "Two Euroland" it screamed, while a few doors away, the windows of the boutique that specialised in quirky and pricey Spanish fashion were boarded up and "Discount World!" stood where previously you could pick up stylish items of French country furniture and Belgian linen. All in the space of three months.
Chuck Feeney is a quiet US philanthropist born in New Jersey during the Great Depression, who is now said to be considering giving some of his vast fortune away to the country his ancestors emigrated from the last time Ireland was a true economic basket case.
The notion of a "secret billionaire" appearing with a cheque book seems too good to be true. Except, hang on. Ireland has had a secret billionaire for years now – Germany. If it is dawning that the protection (and largesse) of the EU is the country's best hope of weathering the tornado, then perhaps Irish voters will repent and vote through the Lisbon treaty in the autumn.
Banker is just the Trichet
Those in charge of Europe might also take heart from knowing that Jean-Claude Trichet is officially now a household name. My sister, a music teacher not previously noted for her knowledge of global economics, mentioned the name of the President of the European Central Bank casually over lunch as if he was the manager of her local branch. And everyone present nodded solemnly in recognition.
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