Lira reigns as Italians wake to their new currency

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The Independent Online

With shops closed for New Year's Day, the first encounter with the euro for most Italians was their breakfast coffee and pastry in the café.

With shops closed for New Year's Day, the first encounter with the euro for most Italians was their breakfast coffee and pastry in the café. Television showed a few customers paying with euros, but in most cases the lira still reigned. The atmosphere in this fervently pro-European nation was curious and unhurried, though some people predict pandemonium when shops reopen today.

By midday in the busy Bar Rubini, near Rome's Basilica of St John the Lateran, few customers had paid in euros. "Many people are paying with Italian coins, often handfuls of 50- and 100-lire pieces," barman Paolo Rubini said. "The new currency will affect the tips people leave. The smallest coin has been 50 lire and people usually leave 100 or 200, but with the new money they could leave a cent and that's 19 lire."

At the Sweet Temptations cake shop, the manager, Viviana, said: "We are operating two separate tills to keep things as smooth as possible but each transaction takes a bit longer and that adds up when the shop is full. We've had a few euro clients but most paid with coins from the bank starter-kits. The other change in recent weeks has been people using plastic, even for small purchases."

The euro has also forced one of Rome's historic restaurants, Alfredo a Via Gabi, to begin accepting credit cards. The manager, Roberto Mancinelli, said: "Not taking cards, apart from saving us the commission, which is high, used to be a sign of exclusivity. "But as the euro loomed I had more and more requests to pay by card and I started to feel nervous about not taking credit cards."

Getting euros from an Italian cash machine has been a hit-and-miss affair. Many had exhausted their euro supplies, others had not been filled. Of five The Independent tried in Rome, two had no cash, two rejected the card and the fifth spat out 150 crisp euro bills.

Lira nostalgia has not abated. In Ascoli Piceno, lira lovers used 20,000 eggs in a piazza-sized cake decorated as a lira note, and in a beach town in Liguria a plaque marks the new Piazza della Lira Italiana.

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