Marks or merks, it's all sterling currency

Abandoning the pound shouldn't be a cause for grief; there are some classy alternatives around

Share
Related Topics
If the Germans don't want the ecu to be called the ecu, I quite see their point. It was always an ingenious - very ingenious - way of keeping the money French: I see, from an old coin catalogue, that an ecu d'or au soleil of 1615 would set you back, these days, about £500, but that, oddly enough, a demi-ecu of 1643 costs roughly the same amount. There was also such a thing as a quart d'ecu and a twelfth-ecu, an ecu aux lauriers, and in the 1790s a constitutional ecu. So for the French, whether their sympathies were royalist or revolutionary, the idea of the ecu would be comfortingly familiar.

And this very familiarity would revive in the Germans that ancient sense of inferiority to the French. Whereas if, as suggested, the unified European currency were to be called the euromark, this policy would be easier to sell inside Germany. Well, I mean, talk about stating the obvious. Of course the Germans would prefer that the mark should continue, and continue to be called the mark. And they might receive some support in Scotland, where I see that, at least during their Eighth Coinage (under James VI in 1601) there was such a thing as a "quarter thistle merk".

There is a great deal to be said for the word mark - mark of quality, mark of esteem, mark of respect. When the Milk Marketing Board was abolished, it was replaced by a thing called Milk Marque, a term that clearly had been market tested and was found to have some association with quality.

And I think most people would like their money to appear to have quality. A couple of decades ago the German mark could be roughly estimated at four to the pound. A decade ago the calculation was nearer three. The other day a Berlin bank gave me 2.1, and they didn't seem very keen to argue about it.

I thought - just for a moment - of demanding to see the manager. I thought of making a scene, pulling rank, reminding the good fellow who won the war, pointing out the dire consequences if the Berlin airlift had failed, and so on.But this wasn't exactly a central Berlin bank. It was a small suburban affair. And I realised (just in time to save my dignity) that I would probably be treated to some rather suburban arguments in return.

Then a further thought struck me: suppose this rather suburban bank was actually giving rather a good rate, that they simply hadn't yet heard the news about the free fall of sterling. Or suppose they'd given me a special, generous rate of 2.1 simply because they didn't want to embarrass me in front of the rest of the queue.

I know that our economy is "the envy of Europe". I know this because our ministers often repeat it.But my observation is that, while our economy is indeed the envy of Europe, our currency is not. I wonder how many people would object if they went into work one morning to be told: from tomorrow you will receive your salaries in German marks. Certainly they would want to know how their new salaries had been calculated. But how many would object in principle to being paid in German money?

Of course it may be that in a certain country at a certain period, a great deal of national pride is invested in the currency. The prime example would be the former West Germany itself, which dated itself as a society from the moment of currency reform, which took care to keep its currency out of the meddling hands of politicians, and which grew alarmed, at the time of reunification, above all for the future of the currency.

And we might say that the United States has a feeling for the dollar that is bound up with a sense of nationhood and self-respect. This is demonstratedby the handsome, permanent, immutable look of the dollar notes in their various denominations. The dollar is, in currency terms, a classic.

At the other end of the spectrum, take the Ethiopians, among whom nationalistic pride could hardly be more developed, or more inflexible. And yet for centuries the Ethiopians were happy to use the Maria Theresa thaler, because they thought it a very good currency. They could cope with the idea that some very good things came from somewhere else, and were worth adopting.

The British take nationalistic pride in many things - empire, royalty, language - but do they really take such pride in their currency? I know people have been shouting about the Queen's head on the coinage, but are they shouting about the coinage or about the Queen? We change the coinage, and we fool around with our banknotes, so often that it is hard to believe anyone remembers what it all looked like in "the good old days", whenever you would like to locate them.

We talk about sterling qualities, taking sterling as a byword for reliability. But this is a dead metaphor. Nobody wants a currency based on the value of silver. Besides, the metaphorical force of the word sterling might well derive from the sterling standard as applied to wrought silver, our knowledge that British tableware has kept over the centuries to a particular level of purity (925 parts in 1,000). Our currency has nothing to do with sterling standards in this sense.

A bus driver pointed out to me the other day that the pound coin I had given him was a fake. He didn't seem outraged. He said with tired patience: "If you want me to explain the difference, I will." He was used to being handed fakes, just as the women at the check-in desks are used to holding up notes to the light to check for forgeries. In another society, I have often thought, the mere act of publicly doubting the customer's honour would get them run through with a rapier. But we have learnt to live with the idea that our cash is full of fakes, and is to an extent debased. So we have adjusted our idea of personal honour, and do not normally take it as an insult when the cashier does a routine check.

In the same way, we have got used to the idea that our own currency is inappropriate for certain transactions. It is no betrayal of your country to travel with dollars in your pocket in parts of the world where the dollar is simply a recognised means of exchange, just as one took Maria Theresa thalers (the word dollar is supposed to derive from thaler) to Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as it was.

I doubt that people would be at all upset, in the long run, about adopting a European currency, if they felt itwas going to be more reliable than the one they had. So I personally would welcome a currency based on the German mark, but called, perhaps, out of deference to the French, the marque. Or, out of deference to the Scots, the merk.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker