The euro is a wonderful idea - but what should we call it?

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The Euro in our pockets is still more than five weeks away but in common with many of the other 304 million eurolanders I am already suffering from euro-shock.

The Euro in our pockets is still more than five weeks away but in common with many of the other 304 million eurolanders I am already suffering from euro-shock.

Euro-shock is like "future-shock" or "Mick-Jagger-is-now-almost-60-shock" – an abrupt realisation that the world has moved on and the old certainties are dissolving. Euro-shock, number one: at the end of my daughter's fourth birthday party the other day, the clown-magician we had hired, Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) presented his bill in francs. Our only remaining cheque-book was denominated in euros.

Arc-en-Ciel knew how to produce a white dove from a flaming salver. He had no idea how to transform francs into the single European currency.

With him standing beside me, still wearing his red nose, I called up the calculator on my computer and divided his bill by 6.55957. I had a sense of having floated into a parallel world, a world in which everyone wore red noses and the familiar, reassuring franc no longer existed.

Euro-shock, number two: at a small town in Normandy the other night a large, yellow video-dispensing machine had been constructed in the super-market car park. The sign on the side of the machine said "Videos from One Euro". There was a large euro symbol – € – which looks like the love child of the dollar sign and the sterling sign.

For a moment, I thought I had passed through a hole in space and tumbled from La France Profonde into Lancashire or Vermont. Video-dispensing machines and large euro signs may be tolerable in Paris. In a small town in Normandy, they seemed a ghastly intrusion, a brutal affront to everything that I sentimentally adore about small-town France.

I have discussed these euro-shocks with French acquaintances and found many other people have been having them: moments when they realise that the euro is not just something that they have read about in the papers, in the way of most previous euro-rows and events, but something that is real and coming soon. As real as money. As soon as 1 January.

Here is an odd thing. The more pro-European you are the more brutal the euro-shock you are likely to receive.

The euro is a wonderful idea. It has, despite the carping of les Anglo-Saxons, been an extraordinary success. It may be weaker than intended against the American dollar but, within the 12 countries of euroland, its three years of virtual existence have been a triumph of political calm and economic steadiness.

But no one told us raving pro-Europeans that we were going to have to use this funny money. Or rather, they did, but we were not paying attention. We were too pleased with the concept of a single currency to imagine how life would be on 1 January 2002.

Those who dislike the euro will probably cope better than those of us who think the idea to be wonderful. This theory applies, I suspect, to nations as well as individuals. The Germans, who have mourned for the mark, will adapt to the euro perfectly well.

The British, who have raged against the single currency, will, if the Government ever comes to a decision, abandon the pound cheerfully and pragmatically enough.

I suspect that it is the French, who have absent-mindedly adored the idea of the euro – giving it approval ratings of 60 per cent-plus – who will wake up with the greatest sense of disorientation and loss on New Year's Day. In the past couple of weeks, French private bank accounts and pay slips have switched without much warning into euros.

French newspapers have carried protests from people who say that, staring at the impossibly low euro figures, they feel "psychologically destabilised" and six times poorer than they thought they were.

I was surprised, meeting a group of students the other day, to find that young French people were also nervous at the coming of the euro. "What are we going to call them?" one young woman said with genuine anxiety in her voice. "We never talk about francs, we always say ' balles' (the French equivalent of 'quid'). But we can't say " balles for euros. It wouldn't be right."

She has an important point. Money is familiar, comfortable stuff. Most nations have a nick-name for their money. The Spanish are not losing their pesetas but their " pelas". The Irish are not losing the pound but the "quid". Some Germans still say " kröten" (toads) but most insist on calling the mark, the mark.

The European Commission and European Central Bank have missed an important pub-lic relations trick. To counter the effects of euro-shock they should have invented a common European slang name for the common European currency. How about the "Delors"?

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