With The URO to Manchester.



When visiting a strange country we have always had to go out and buy foreign currency. But, no more. When we visit friends in Germany or any other country in Europe we use the same currency: the EURO. Except of course, when visiting Great Britain. Last summer we were on a Friendship Force exchange to Manchester.


By going to the UK we had to go back to that old custom of buying foreign currency again. Losing on the deal is normal, and we would come back with pockets full of these strange coins - pennies. No bank would accept them when we come back, so we and numerous other travelers are stuck with them. Through experience - we travel often - we have learned that the best thing to do is just leave them all behind or throw them away.


So, when we came to Manchester, the old rules came with us. We changed our money to pounds and then had to work out what everything really cost. The conversion calculators in our head had to be re-used. We discovered an astonishing fact: everything in the Queens' country was almost double the price at home.


We were glad to make new Mancunian friends. As soon as we met them we knew they were good company and we would spend some grand days together. The first place we visited was Dunham Hall and gardens. When we toured the house we joined a wandering theatre group. The play, performed in different places throughout the mansion, was called 'The Bareback Countess'. It showed the problems that arose when a simple circus girl, known for riding horses bareback, married into a house of nobility. The distance between the classes in the nineteenth century was well illustrated. - And our English improved.


We also traveled through Manchester City center and learned about the great influence of Manchester United. We got a good impression about this second greatest city in Britain, once the wool and cotton center of the world, competing with the Flemish. Quite some history: from the oldest English library to Stephonson-rocket and Rolls & Royce meeting at the Midlands. We also find out about the public transport system, which is much better than back home, but, as Belgium already has some cities where the buses are completely free of charge, we did find it quite expensive. A special sightseeing bus took us all the way to the football stadium. The sole purpose of these sightseeing tours seemed to be to explain and recount the history of this team as though it was fundamental to our knowledge.

We also noticed the great difference between England and Wales where we visited the international folk dance festival. (Here Eastern-Europeans were invited to use the Euro at losing rates of 0,50 pound per Euro). Wales seemed to be dubbed a strange country within. Then the supremacy of the English was shown: the Chester clock tower only carried three faces so the time could not be seen by the Welsh. Was this information too much for them? The Welsh seem much closer to the Flemish than to the English: suppressed regions should hold together! Europe of the regions.


Everywhere bright open-minded people greeted us and, since all the members of the Friendships Force are known to open their houses to strangers, they are very much receptive to all other cultures. But here they had some strange conservative idea that by keeping the pound they would contribute to something. Why? We were pleased to embrace the EURO and get rid of the three purses (containing BFR, DEM and DFL) we had always needed to carry. So why can't Englishmen see the great advantage of having one single currency?


The English don't seem to understand the great impact of the EURO and the new economy it creates. We don't have to change money anymore and lose out in the process when traveling. We can now easily compare the prices of goods in other European countries. Crossing the border to buy the things that are cheaper in the other country has always been second nature to us but now it has become even easier. The economic system is based on information: everybody is making money by knowing something more than anybody else. Even the government is making money by selling something at more than it is worth (TAV). The EURO can now start breaking down the differences between countries. It will take years to get rid of different prices within the EMU, but we know the UK will be later in joining than all the rest and will remain more expensive longer. The only way to make money is by knowing something the others do not. This great injustice will be broken and allow everybody to gain by lower prices. No more monopolistic countries. (Or one USE?).


Everyone in Manchester, from the Conservative party members (of course) we visited, to the folks in Chester and Llangollen, wanted to keep the pound. In Llangollen, a British Union Jack figure reminded us of this by wearing the slogan 'Keep the pound' and making a day's work of it. But we suspect this is just a last muscular spasm derived from a long gone economic stability, derived from the English wool industry and its history of monopoly against the Flemish weavers. We do not understand however that anybody could feel so bad about it that one spends all day to defend the pound.


It is true that the pound was once an international exchange item; as were the Roman coins. But the dollar took over as the international transfer symbol in the 20th century and remains so in 2002. Since all countries compare their exchange symbol against the US-dollar, the pound has long lost its symbolic meaning. Only the isolation of a single and distant island, even further away from reality than Ireland, can explain why they think the EURO is not a great thing. Why, even McDonalds is already used to compare a country's wealth. A currency is just a mere transfer paper. The pound nothing to be proud of, an ancient relic.


As Friendship Force members we know that ancient traditions are sometimes very strong, but we also know that all over the world all people are fundamentally alike. A big step has been taken in most European countries to switch to the Euro. Another difference between people has been conquered. No one in this world, whether he believes in the pound or another God is better than any other. So why not join the European Monetary Union for this is surely best for us all? It won't be just the French, or the Germans who will decide on its strength but the common interest of all of Europes'people.


This again was confirmed on our return home. We found a great way of comparing the price of a basic need of travelers all over Europe: the Beer. The beer prices in 10 European countries were published in a Belgian newspaper. Nowhere in Europe, apart from Portugal, is the beer cheaper than in Belgium. A Belgian pint (33cl) costs an average of 1.40. Even a cup of coffee is relatively cheap. Visitors to Belgian cafes are, on average, spending half the Euros spent by their counterparts in Germany. Belgians can drink twice as much beer as the Germans for the same outlay! In this comparison no one even bothered to mention the UK. When these prices were published England was left out! But we now know how much they lose out. A dinner for four in Manchester (90) had cost us twice as much as the same meal (66) in Belgium. Who is profiting from these differences?


We know that the so-called English supremacy has long been based on the belief that the English are better than anyone else. But didn't everybody in Europe used to think that? The French and even the Germans still consider themselves better, where as a hundred years ago these nations didn't even exist. We know the English Queen is still head of the Commonwealth but why are so few Europeans aware of the Commonwealth Games? Is it a kind of World Series as Americans see the world of sports? Do the British still see the world as a place linked by the Queen? Empire thinking is over in this century of the World Wide Web, where the world seems to have become a village. Not even the US will stay the ruler of the world forever. Why should the Queen, who's ruling power has long gone?


Does the great universal symbol of a coin, showing the head of a monarch, or a paper issued by a national bank really carry the value of its people or does it only symbolize the dependency of the commoners to the rulers? Or is it a symbol of the difference between haves and have-nots ?


We have had another great Friendship Force experience in Manchester. Let us bless the introduction of the Euro and try to convince everyone to consider and sell a new concept with vision: when are we going to get a single currency for the whole world???


Jvk, 19/08/02