This Europe: Return to the lira makes for a very profitable Christmas

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The Independent Online

So much for sentiment: in the eleven and a half months since its replacement by the euro, the Italian lira has vanished so completely it might never have existed.

So much for sentiment: in the eleven and a half months since its replacement by the euro, the Italian lira has vanished so completely it might never have existed.

Gone the proud etchings of Caravaggio, of Bernini and Maria Montessori that adorned the rather small, plain notes; gone the dizzying mental arithmetic – all those hundreds of thousands to buy pizza or a tank of petrol – that bedevilled every Italian holiday. In their place, a nagging exasperation at the way the price of just about everything seems to have exploded since the euro came in; partially offset by the comfortable sense of security, for this sometimes insecure nation, that comes from sharing a currency with solid neighbours such as the Germans and the French.

But although the lira has long since vanished from the supermarket tills, billions remain stashed away in people's homes: some 4 per cent of the total in circulation was never surrendered. So when Marco Pizzi, a retailer outside Milan with a chain of shops selling shoes and clothes, noticed that his customers were not splashing out on Christmas presents to the extent that he might wish, he hit on a crafty incentive: last Thursday he switched back to the lira.

Since then he has been attracting the customers his competitors simply could not reach: the teenage girl who found a 10,000-lira note at the bottom of a drawer, the young boy who brought in 50,000 lira in 100 and 200 lira coins. And if the lira won't stretch, you can top it up with the new stuff. "We've had a real boost in sales," he claimed.

Mr Pizzi's inspiration was the town of Kropp in Germany, where recession-hit shopkeepers have been accepting deutschmarks for months.

And although the lira was officially de-recognised on 28 February, the banks are still willing to turn his earnings back into real money. "Yes, I checked," he said.

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