18th October 2008

There's a village in the Var region, on the southern Mediterranean coast, which has recently made a surprising change. Shops there are accepting francs as currency again. The trend was begun by baker Nathalie Lepeltier, who says that people still have a lot of old notes at home, and the last series of franc notes can be exchanged at the Banque de France until 2012. Apparently all the businesses in Collobrieres, the village in question, are now taking part in the experiment and Mme Lepeltier has agreed to collect all their francs and to send them to the bank. I can't imagine that happening in the UK - too much chance of the collector disappearing abroad with all that cash, I'd have thought! But then I'm an English cynic and have lived a bit. Anyway, all the shops in Collobrieres now have pictures up showing the notes that are allowed: the last series which includes 500s with a picture of Pierre and Marie Curie, 200s with Gustave Eiffel, 100s with Cezanne, 50s with Saint-Exupery and 20s with Debussy. All said they didn't like the Euro notes anyway - all those pictures of buildings no-one's heard of. They much prefer the colourful personalities pictured on the old notes. Apparently four out of 10 households in France still work out their budgets in terms of francs, then translate painfully. Some still even think in ancien francs, the currency that went out in 1960 (when a hundred old francs became one new one). Although elsewhere in the EU they have euro 'cents', it's actually still 'centimes' in France now, avoiding confusion with the word for 100. The name of Madame's Collobrieres shop, Le Pain de Jadis, actually means 'the bread of yesteryear'. It made me think of the current Hovis advert on English TV, with scenes of wartime neighbourliness. When times are hard, take people back to an airbrushed past when everything was good, neighbours actually spoke to one another and everyone was content with what they had. Trouble is, the dream soon fades when you're faced with the hard reality of the present again, but it's nice while it lasts.
P.S. Don't miss Part 2 tomorrow of the Bruno serial.

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