For the French Catholic church, these copper and nickel coins offered a golden opportunity.
As we enter 2011, the euro is entering its 10th year as circulating currency. This doesn’t promise to be a good year for the euro, whose foundation is threatened by financial crises in Greece and Ireland. Soon to be followed, say the cynics, by Spain, Portugal and Italy. And to hear some of them tell it, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Monaco, the Vatican and East Timor.
All this talk about the euro got me thinking about its introduction back in 2002. I for one was disappointed that the new currency had one and two-cent pieces. Who needs coins of such negligible value that clochards won’t even pick them up in the street? But at first there was a good reason for the small change: consumers were concerned that merchants would take advantage of the transition to surreptitiously jack up their prices, for which reason most of the Eurozone countries imposed a requirement that all fees, prices and charging rates be converted very precisely from the old money to the new.
Of course, this meant that a lot of goods had very odd price tags: “Sale! This week only! Two for €63.47!” Which reminds me of Barcelona, my other favorite city after Paris, where there are big bold-type notices in all the Metro trains solemnly informing passengers that anyone caught smoking will be fined €40.05. I always presumed that this was a conversion from the former Spanish specie, but doing the math, I find that €40.05 equals 6,663.75929982 pesetas – not exactly a round number. So it must have been a bureaucratic decision. Now there’s a committee meeting I would love to have witnessed: “I don’t know, chief, I think €40 just isn’t quiiiiiiiite dissuasive enough…”
But my favorite reaction to the euro came from the French Catholic church, which was afraid that the changeover would ruin its budget. It seems that the most common contribution to the Sunday collection plate in the old days was a 10-franc coin. This was worth about €1.50, so the new currency offered no single-coin equivalent. The one-euro piece looked (broadly and generally) most similar to the old two-toned 10, but was only worth about 6.50 francs. There was also the two-euro coin, worth just over 13 francs. Fearful that a mass phenomenon (rimshot) of giving one-euro pieces would cut their usher-borne revenue by a third, the church’s decision-makers mounted an information campaign, plastering the entire country with billboards that showed a 10-franc coin and a two-euro coin separated by – what else? – an equal sign! Thus apparently granting themselves a temporary dispensation from the eighth commandment (ninth for most Protestants) by bearing several sulfurous metric tons of false witness against every single one of their neighbors.
Apparently their campaign worked, and frankly who can blame them? It’s a fact of life that we all have to render unto Caesar. And I certainly can’t cast the first pierre, having at one time or another tested the tensile strength of most of the items on Moses’ Top Ten. (Not all of them, Honey!)
But what if the cynics and skeptics are right and the euro does collapse, forcing France to revert to the franc? The church would face another threat of a 30 percent dip in collections if parishioners went back to the old tenner. My suggestion would be to revive the very same campaign, but with a two-euro coin, the equal sign and a 20-franc note. Voilà – a 50 percent windfall!
And then what if the euro is resurrected? And dumped again? In fact, a few transitions back and forth could be very advantageous for the French dioceses, ratcheting up the contribution base a bit more every time. Hmmm. This gives me an idea for a little business venture. I’m going to found a religion. And become more active in politics.
© 2011 Paris Update
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.