Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pesetas

I first learned about the Euro in 1999 when the Europeans (originators of the Euro) invented themselves a digital currency. In 2002, it hit the markets and ever since there's been a Euro Zone, and I can go from Portugal to Andalusia and back again without having to make any currency conversions.

The Germans had it easy. Two marks bought them one Euro, so they switched systems in typical German fashion very quickly. The French were more stubborn about things. To this day, they have a law that forces grocery stores (and other places where Euros are used) to include the price of everything in both Euros and francs on the shelves and on the receipts.

The Spanish, however, do both and neither. They don't mess around like the French do. If the ham now costs 2 euros, well that is what they are going to talk about. However, the Spanish are seemingly incapable of understanding large sums of money in anything but the monetary system they have been using since 1869 when Spain joined the "Latin Monetary Union" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Monetary_Union

So when you tell a Spaniard that your new Seat (Spanish car) cost 15,000 Euros, he is dumbfounded. He just can't grasp how much that could possibly be. To deal with large sums, the Spaniard converts the Euro value into the much less valuable Peseta. So instead, with a straight face, he prefers to tell you that his car cost a mere two million, four hundred and ninety-five thousand, seven hundred and ninety pesetas. Just to keep things simple.

The Spanish insistence on complicating big numbers with even bigger ones is even more problematic, however, because they don't have a cool 2 to 1 conversion rate like the Germans do. Instead, numbers like 24,000 need to be multiplied by 166! That way a BMW's price makes sense. In clean, solid, traditional pesetas.

This mathematical nightmare leads to me never really believing a Spaniard when he tells me how much something costs.

Ben: How much does an apartment cost in Barcelona.
Spaniard: 66 million pesetas.
Ben: What the hell are you saying?
Spaniard: A euro is 60 pesetas...no, 160...no. Si. 160. So that means about 300,000 euros.

This average Spaniard just divided sixty-six million by 160 in about 3 seconds. As a result, he was off by more than 100,000 Euros.

What makes them lack even more credibility, however, is the fact that unlike the French, the official price is no longer quoted in the old currency. To to get to the sum of 66 million, at some point in the past they had to multiply some number like 400,000 by 166. Given their rapid division skills, I doubt their abilities to mulitply on the fly. So I am never really sure they know how much they paid for their apartment. They thought they were getting a place for a mere 66 million, but it actually cost them 500,000 Euros.

So once the original Euro price has been muliplied on the fly by 160 and then divided again by 160, I get told how much something in Spain is worth, even though it wasn't bought nor will it be sold for that price.