New year gives Europeans first glimpse of new currency

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

PARIS -- From bakeries in Paris to newsstands in Vienna to cafes in Rome, Europeans tried out their new currency Tuesday. But many shops were closed for New Year's, and most customers wound up relying on their old familiar money for at least another day.

Most people got their first glimpse of the crisp, rainbow-hued euro bank notes when they stopped at automated teller machines on their way home from New Year's festivities. Others were handed the new bills as change when they went out for breakfast.

"It's funny to pay in francs and get this back," said Evelyne Patou, a customer in a Paris bakery.

The euro, a decade in the works, became legal tender with the dawning of the new year. It is perhaps the most concrete evidence of Europe's transition from a divided continent to a team of nations working toward the same goals.

The 12 European Union nations that adopted the euro are parting with currencies that have long histories -- such as Greece's drachma, which stretches back 2,600 years.

Things seemed to be running smoothly on the first day.

Reaction to the euro varied by country. In Belgium, people were eager to get their hands on the new money. Banksys, which administers most cash machines in Belgian stores and gas stations, noted a record number of withdrawals from midnight to 1 a.m. Tuesday -- 600 a minute. In Finland, hundreds of people lined up outside Bank of Finland branches in the morning.

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