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Last Hours of the French Franc - 2002-02-17


France bid farewell to its national currency, the franc, Sunday. As of midnight in France, the euro will be the only legal currency for all transactions.

The French franc spent a quiet last day as legal tender in France. It made only rare appearances at a sampling of coffee shops, restaurants, train stations and outdoor markets around Paris, as French counted out their last francs for purchases.

But most French have quickly adapted to their new euro notes and coins, despite a few complaints. At a coffee shop at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, Jallal Brunoire said he believes the euro was not only good for France, but for Europe as well.

"Because I believe the dollar should not be the only strong currency in the world. So the euro is a good thing," he said.

Like many Parisians, Mr. Brunoire has spent all his francs. But for those who haven't, French banks and post offices will continue to accept francs until June 30. After that, the Bank of France will accept French franc coins for another three years, and bills for another decade.

France is hardly the first of the dozen euro-zone countries to fully convert to the euro. Ireland and the Netherlands made the leap earlier this year. The rest are to follow no later than February 28.

In France, the departure of the franc ends its long and rocky history as the country's legal currency. The first coins made their debut in 1360. But they disappeared three hundred years later, when France switched to pounds. After the French revolution, the franc came back to life. And after World War II, the franc witnessed a third transformation, as the so-called "new" franc, worth a hundred times more than the old.

But today, few French appear nostalgic about their currency. That includes Marc Nadel, a dentist in Paris.

Mr. Nadel also has no francs left. He said he has no problems with the euro. Because it is worth more than the franc, he said, it makes prices appear cheap.

A survey published in France's Journal du Dimanche newspaper found only 43 percent of those polled expressed regret at the franc's disappearance. Nonetheless, the French Ministry of Finance gave the franc a rousing good-bye Sunday night, with a light show in Paris featuring both the euro and the franc.

The few who do mourn the franc's passing can find solace on Bastille Day, France's national holiday, on July 14. That's when citizens of the Normandy village of Franqueville-Saint-Pierre plan to unveil a monument in remembrance of the old franc.