So how does it happen that a Maltese holidaymaker who resides in Belgium ends up buying a set of four energy-saving bulbs to take back home with him from a supermarket while in Denmark?
It all began twenty years earlier some time in the 90s, at the time when the common European currency came into being and the Danes, for reasons best known to themselves, refused to switch to money that they could use all over Europe and not just in their own little corner. In the meantime, over that period, the Maltese holidaymaker had become used to not bothering to exchange any money whenever he went abroad on holiday. Even in countries where they don’t use the euro, you just stick a card into an ATM and pull out some cash. Even better, in advanced nations like those in Scandinavia, they hardly even use cash anymore and pay everything by card.
The difference from my younger days back in the 80s is mind-blowing . Then, you would need to work out how much money you would probably spend over, say 6 days. Going for a holiday would be an accounting exercise. Money for the hotel, for one meal a day, museums, attractions, meticulously added up plus 50% margin, just in case. Then, you go to your local bank, fill in an application form and hope they have the required foreign currency available. While actually on holiday, you have to be careful not to go beyond your daily quota, lest you end up with no cash. Once back home, you either call at the bank again to exchange back to your own currency or keep your residual currency for a trip back to the same country in a few years’ time, or sell your foreign cash to a tourist who is leaving your own country and thus avoid hefty bank charges.
Ah, such nostalgia. Those were the days…
Well, no. Not really. We were all younger, true, those of us who were already born, that is, but that’s just about it.
We have come a long way since then, although the people of various nations, even nowadays, for the pleasure of seeing their monarch’s image on their banknotes, still prefer to have to work out difficult sums in their heads to convert prices into their own currency while abroad, than share a common currency with the rest of the continent.
Coming back to the energy-saving bulbs. Nowadays I don’t carry much cash with me and rely mostly on Maestro and Mastercard. It was the same for Denmark, of course, but I quickly came to regret this while sightseeing along the Marguerite Route. You see, this beautiful country isn’t really geared for tourism, and this fact holds especially more in late October. You won’t find many pubs or inns in their villages and rural areas, and those few that you do find are generally either closed or not serving any food. You can’t blame them – there’s hardly any soul out there, except for the occasional Maltese traveller who ventures to Denmark once every 35 years. So, a couple of hours into the Route, feeling peckish and searching for somewhere cosy to warm up with a snack, I saw a blackboard next to a pretty little hotel, inviting guests to come in and have some delicious soup. Just what was needed!
But I had a premonition, and I was lucky that I didn’t leave the question until later: “Do you accept payment by card?”
“No, sorry. Only cash.”
Oh dear. No cash, no soup. This was in the middle of nowhere and certainly far from any cash machine. I had learned my lesson. We had to make do with some biscuits during the rest of the day, until I cooked a dish of spaghetti later in the evening at our rented Airbnb. I kept a lookout on my GPS for cash machines, and eventually found one and took out the equivalent of 100 euro in Danish krone.
Five days later, our last day in Denmark, I still had about 150 krones in my wallet. 20 euro. The following day these would become utterly useless as we would have left the country. I didn’t need to buy anything at all. I’m not the souvenir type. Neither did I have any intention of seeing the equivalent of 20 euro going up in smoke. I wanted to convert these krones without paying commission to any bank. I searched high and low in a supermarket in Tønder, the town where our charming Airbnb was situated, for an item that cost exactly 150 krones. An item that I would definitely have to buy some day in the future, and thereby not the equivalent of throwing money away. Yes, I was that determined to get my exchanged money’s worth.
A pack of four, energy saving. My money was well expended.
But why, oh why, so much trouble instead of having just one single currency throughout Europe? China is a big place and they get by very well with one currency instead of a different one every few million people. Same goes for the US. Why does Europe have to be different?
I can’t end this rant without explaining the featured picture above. It’s the “Men at Sea” keeping watch over the North Sea in the western seaport of Esbjerg, where we stopped to have a look a few hours before my final conversion of Danish currency into a tangible good at a supermarket in Tønder.