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Pain vs. gain of euro switch

A Brussels shop owner makes room in his cash drawer for euro notes and coins alongside Belgian francs  

By CNN's Jim Bittermann

PESSAC, France (CNN) -- "Nothing hurts worse," an ancient Roman historian once wrote, "than the loss of money." And from the boot of Italy to the Irish isle, some Europeans are feeling the pain.

The Greeks are giving up their drachma, a currency they have used for nearly 3,000.

In Italy, multi-zeroed lire are disappearing, as billionaires become millionaires and mere millionaires join the hoi polloi.

The Germans are trading in their proud deutschmark eagle for a chubbier euro one -- which some think looks like a bird on a high tension wire.

Europeans look back at the currencies that helped define their countries. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (December 31)

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The question of design is important to Europeans, whose currencies have long reflected their history and heritage, their art and literature, their invention and politics.

"If you see the new bills of euros they are nothing for us, they are very ... how you say ... sad," French currency dealer Gilles Jaillet says.

The new euro notes offer just bridges and windows that are meant to be ambiguous in origin so they cannot be identified with any particular country.

Perhaps because when you handle money a little nationalism rubs off, the creators of the euro have always hoped that when Europeans handle it, a little collective identity will be left behind.

If so, the euro will be a success no matter what the exchange rate, because the real value of a currency is the strength it symbolizes.

"Money is something you have to touch, you have to live with, to realize the value and above all the symbolic value it has," says Italian euro consultant Luigia Sommo.

But more than a symbol, money is power. And by sharing a currency, Europeans are sharing power.

If the continent can cooperate on such an intimate matter as money -- one of the most private subjects there is -- the euro may, in the end, be further proof that the nations of Europe have evolved beyond the wars and conflicts of the past.

Antonis Masaoutis holds boxes with old drachma, left, and new euro coins at his father's tractor shop on Crete  

Americans sometimes forget that it took nearly a half-century after they stopped killing each other in the Civil War before they were ready to cooperate in the establishment of a central bank and a common currency.

Europeans have taken about the same time after their last continental conflict to get to the same point.

And so as they turn in their francs and marks, pesetas and guilders, citizens of the eurozone are unquestionably giving up a little of their nationality and individuality.

It may be missed in some quarters, but in the end Europeans could be richer for it -- and not just in the monetary sense.




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