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The Euro and Me

By Dian Vujovich

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be in Italy. Great country. Great food. Great everything—almost.

The exchange rate for my greenbacks into euros was pale in comparison to what it once was: Instead of slightly around par (that would be back a million years ago), today something costing $1 here would run $1.47 there. So unless money is of little concern for you, shopping for the prudent is pretty much out of the question—even though it was awfully hard to pass up a couple of Furla handbags I saw in the duty free shop at the Milan airport and knew I couldn’t find around here.

But exchange rates are exchange rates. And although our dollars aren’t buying as much as they have in the past, that’s certainly no reason to stop traveling to Europe. Visiting there always affords me with a lesson or two. This time the lesson that hit home centered on that exchange rate.

We can read all about exchange rates and how the entire world’s economy is pretty much in a funk as a result of the global economic mess going on, but until you speak with people living in other countries—in person—and ask about their lives, you really can’t make much of a money connection. At least that’s how it seems to be for me. Sure I knew my money wouldn’t buy as much but what I hadn’t put any thought into was how a fluctuating euro impacted the people and their lives who live in the 16 European Union’s member states that use it as their currency.

While bemoaning the exchange rate with my Italian driver, who incidentially has owned a successful limousine service for nearly 30 years, he responded with: “It’s not good for good for us either. Things are much better when 1 euro and 1 dollar are close to equal in value.”

He’s right. Then we talked about how housing prices had fallen in the village he lived in, the rising costs of things and the falling number of American tourists visiting Italy this summer. Perhaps more importantly, how his business has changed because of the euro —it was off, too.

I’ve been a reluctant fan of the euro since it was first introduced a decade ago. What I’ve seen it do for people in the countries using it is increase their cost of living on everything from food to housing while doing little to up their pay. Yes, it has created a common currency and I’m sure an economist or two will write to tell me all the good it has done, but the average guy or gal hasn’t seemed to come out ahead. Or for that matter, even equal.

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