Let's be franc

A French franc

KAI RYSSDAL: It wasn't a bad day for the dollar on the foreign exchange markets. Down a bit against the Japanese yen, but stronger against the British pound and the Euro.

You know, it's only been five years that there's been a Euro. And some in Europe might be having buyer's remorse.

France did more than anything to make the single currency happen. But a recent poll shows more than half the population now thinks abandoning the franc was a mistake.

During winter clearance sales in one small town in the center of that country, the franc is still legal tender. John Laurenson reports now from Le Blanc, France.


[Ambience: Shopkeeper speaking in French]

JOHN LAURENSON: A shopkeeper gives the price in francs and the customer lays down those once-familiar, colorful notes with their portraits of Cezanne and Eiffel, the man who built the tower. The French franc is alive and well and living in a town called Le Blanc.

SYLVIE MOUENN-LOCCOZ: [Speaking in French]

This was the idea of Sylvie Mouenn-Loccoz, the head of the local shopkeepers' association who runs the clothing store across the street. She says letting people spend francs they still have lying around has doubled her business.

When the sales are over, she'll take them to the Bank of France, which has pledged to exchange francs for euros till 2012 — if the European currency lasts that long.

For some, it's a pleasure to be using the franc again. At the bistro in the main square, most wish they'd never given it up.

FRENCH MAN: The changeover from the French franc to the euro has been a catastrophe. Before, a loaf of bread cost 3 francs. Now it's a euro, which doesn't sound like much, but it's more than twice the price! And the franc was ours, like the French cockerel. It's our tradition that we've lost.

FRENCH WOMAN: When we had the franc, I managed to put a bit of money to one side, though I'm not on a big salary. $22,000 a year. Now, I can't afford to.

FRENCH MAN 2: We're sinking with the euro. For me, it's the currency of an occupying power, nothing else. That's going to cause all kinds of trouble one day.

FRENCH WOMAN 2: The euro is the stupidest thing that ever existed. I'm for our franc, and I think it would be very good to go back to using it again.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, most French people are now hostile to the money they use.

Jacques Myard, one of the few members of Parliament that always opposed the euro, is happy the majority now sees things his way.

JACQUES MYARD: French people react in a good way because they see that euro did not really achieve what has been promised, you know. They have been told that there will be growth, that of course, it will help to create jobs. And they see there is no jobs created, they see the growth is still very slow, and they see inflation.

But according to the national statistical office, inflation has been running at less than 2 percent for the past four years. What's going on here is, for most people, the steep rise in the price of staples like an espresso in a cafe or a loaf of bread, has been offset by the fall in the price of goods such as computers.

But for poorer people who buy fewer computers, that doesn't work. And it's these same people who increasingly see the euro as part of a surrender of the nation's power to protect and provide for them.

GERARD MERMET: Euro is a symbol of a lack of independence.

But Gerard Mermet, who publishes a yearly survey of trends in French society called "Francoscopie," says the French don't appreciate the benefits of the euro.

MERMET: With euro, you don't have to pay exchange fees when you travel abroad in Euroland. There is no possible devaluation in the future.

This, says the opinion polls, is not getting through to 52 percent of the French people. Back at Le Blanc, they love the French franc more than ever.

In Le Blanc, central France, this is John Laurenson for Marketplace.

SHOPKEEPER: Deux, quartre, six, huit . . . neuf cent cinquante.

FEMALE CUSTOMER: Merci, Monsieur.

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