People in Europe can finally get a feel for the euro, the common European currency. So-called euro starter kits went on sale in France, Ireland, and the Netherlands on Friday. Germany will follow suit on Monday.
Take a close look at the euro
As midnight struck in France, the first euro starter kits went on sale at kiosks and post offices. Thousands of people had stood in line in freezing temperatures. They wanted to be among the first to get their hands on the new coins.
The French paid 100 francs to get a plastic bag containing 40 new coins. They're worth 15 euro and 25 cents.
By midday, many kiosks in France were already sold out. Many people bought more than one of the euro starter kits because they thought they would make great Christmas gifts.
The country's Finance Minister Laurent Fabius assured the French that there would not be any shortages. He said the Banque de France had bought 50 million starter kits. And just to be on the safe side, the French also bought 100 million new 50 cent coins in Spain.
Euro and cents will be valid in twelve countries, regardless of where they were made. One side of the new coins looks the same in all participating euro countries. The other side of the coins, however, has a different design everywhere.
When the first euro coins went on sale on Friday, the final phase in the biggest money exchange in European history began. France's Finance Minister spoke of an historic day, saying that for the first time, Europe was making its ways into the wallets of the people. "People want to see and touch the new coins," Fabius said.
In Germany, the euro starter kits will go on sale on Monday. But some Germans were so eager to get their hands on the new currency, they didn't want to wait that long. They crossed the borders to France or the Netherlands to get the new euro coins.
The Dutch were the only Europeans to get some euro coins for free. Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm had sent vouchers worth 3.88 euro to all 14.5 million citizens. From Friday morning, the Dutch could redeem these coupons at banks, supermarkets and gas stations. They could also buy larger euro starter kits worth 25 Dutch guilders.
On Saturday, euro starter kits will go on sale in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain. The last countries to follow suit on Monday are Germany, Greece and Portugal.
National currencies will still be the legal tender until the end of this year. But come January first, 2002, people in the twelve European countries making up the euro zone will be paying their bills in euro. The old national currencies will still be valid until the end of February. But after that, the euro will be the only legal currency for 300 million Europeans.