Thursday, 20 May 2010

Defacing the currency

Many years ago back home in Suffolk, one of our occasional Saturday night destinations was a large bar on one of the US air bases. Three things were needed. Firstly, your name on the clipboard at the gate, where impossibly large black-and-white American police cruisers crouched, parked akimbo, with impossibly large real American policemen wearing pistols beside them. Secondly, ID that showed you were over 21 (we weren't of course, and they didn't examine it too closely) and thirdly, you needed dollars. In return, you got to see a decent gig by a band flown out from the US to keep the troops happy. At that age we happily absorbed the culture shock of moving into a US mid West small town in which everything was American from a mediaeval Suffolk village just a few hundred yards away.

Anyway, after one such outing I was left at Sunday lunchtime with seven one dollar notes and about the same number of pounds Sterling. I dropped into the Three Tuns, where an obese US technical master sergeant was a semi-permanent fixture, to see if he would change my dollars. He decided to be unhelpful, shaking his head and pleading regulations that forbade such exchange. So I shrugged, tore the dollars into small pieces and left them in an ashtray on the bar. Although it was a deliberate provocation, the strength of his reaction took me by surprise; his wobbly beetroot face yelled "that's US currency! You destroyed US currency! " and he advanced towards me so rapidly I thought I was going to have to take a bar stool to him. I faced him down, and back he went. As a lesson as to how to make a lifelong enemy from a nodding acquaintance in ten seconds it was salutary.

I learned that like their flag, Americans regard their currency as being imbued with sacred characteristics, and they are not alone. It's also a heinous offence to deface the currency here in the UK. But only Sterling, mind you; we can deface the Euro to our heart's content with no penalty whatsoever.

It's a small point, but an important one. The currency is an ever-present and universal reminder of national identity and often stands proxy for our loyalty to our nation. The Euro has none. I'll bet not one single European would be offended in that instinctive amour-propre way by the tearing-up of a few Euro notes, and not one European prosecutor will ever bring charges against you for drawing moustaches on the Brandenburg Gate or wiping your bottom with Venice.

A currency without a nation is an orphan.


Guthrum said...

I will tell you how committed the French are to the Euro, I have a French Bank account, with a click of the button online, I can get all my transactions and balances in French Francs.

Personally I see the Euro as a secondary currency and I see no problems in accepting it at UK tills if cobersions can be done that quickly.

Twenty years ago I pulled up at a garage on the Fench/German/Lux border they could calculate at the till the price of a full tank of petrol in a blink and would accept all three currencies.

From that experience I have never seen the Pound as anything as a medium of exchange that I have slightly more faith in than the Euro.

Merkel is however correct, if the Euro goes under so does Europa as a political concept.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"A currency without a nation is an orphan"

Precisely so.

Which is why "the colleagues" are now constructing a nation.

A nation which we will be forced to join, regardless of our wishes.

English Pensioner said...

The dollar has many advantages, the main one being that it is accepted in almost any country of the world; indeed it is often preferred to the local currency. It has small notes (not coins), the one dollar bill being a very useful tip in many third world countries where a Pound or Euro coin is totally unrecognised.
A second advantage is that no dollar notes have ever been demonetized, dollar bills issued 50 years ago are just as valid as ones issued yesterday. This is, of course very useful to those who don't trust banks and prefer to keep their money "under the mattress".
The Euro has a long way to go before it ever reaches that status, it is unlikely to do so in my lifetime even if it manages to survive that long.

Blue Eyes said...

"dollar bills issued 50 years ago are just as valid as ones issued yesterday"

Perhaps legally, but try exchanging one of the recent but not current $100 bills in a bureaucratic country (as I tried to last week) and you won't get very far.

Paper money is just a means for exchange. There are lots of reasons for not liking the Euro but blind patriotism is not one I hold close to my heart. Britain has trashed its currency many times over. Just because they are still called "pounds" doesn't mean we are still using the same money...

Anonymous said...

I remember in about 1997 when the Tories as well as the Labour party were all desperate to joining the single currency.

There was constant propaganda about it definitely NOT being a step towards the United States of Europe, and that it would have no effect whatsoever on the independence of the UK.
At that time in the one of the national papers there appeared on the front page on the same issue two articles. One defending the move to a single currency, and the other article reporting on one of the former soviet republics. Their finance minister was in this country negotiating the printing of their new bank notes.
The outstanding comment by that same foreign minister was. " A nation without its own currency is NOT an independent sovereign nation", which was why he was in this country to emphasise their new independence from Russia.

I don't think the editor was aware of the contradictory implications of what seemed an innocuous report on another nation, set against the lies it was supporting regarding our financial future.