Lithuania’s currency (mis)adventures

by Nijolė Petrošiūtė. Translated and edited by Elena Lesieur.

On 1 January 2015 Lithuania joined the Eurozone and became the 19th European state to have adopted the common currency. Lithuania can proudly claim to be a country with unrivaled experience in terms of changing currencies – citizens born before World War II have experienced this phenomenon for the eighth time! Nevertheless, the monetary changes of 2015 caused a large amount of confusion, especially amongst the elderly, despite their “experience” in the field. In her light-hearted article, Nijolė Petrošiūtė shares a few amusing stories about the adventures citizens went through after the new currency was introduced.

Commotion at the Post Office

The first place to have experienced a state of chaos was the post office, where Lithuanian citizens were strongly advised to exchange their litas. The queues resembled the bread lines during Khrushchev, and it seemed that people failed to understand that the former currency would still be accepted during the first weeks of January and that they could exchange it throughout the year. For some unknown reason they felt the urgent necessity to do it straight after New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the maximum amount that one could exchange was 1000 euros, meaning that… some people queued more than ten times to exchange the entire amount they wanted to! They of course did not miss the opportunity to complain about the “economic hardship” they were undergoing while queuing to exchange these substantial sums.

Money Buried Underground

An employee of the Raseiniai credit union, a town in central Lithuania, confessed that, if the country had not entered the Eurozone the money of some people might have… gone to rot. Apparently all sorts of banknotes had been brought to exchange points; some were mouldy, others gnawed by mice. After certain banknotes were checked for authenticity, the smell of mould would fill the entire room. One old lady brought her savings in… a 3-litre jar! When asked why she did not take the money out of the jar before coming to the bank, she replied that she had heard that if any air penetrated the jar, then it would fall into pieces. The woman was sure that the bank staff would know a “safe way” of getting her money out of the jar. Moreover, she also confessed that, after filling it with savings, she kept the jar buried underground. The old lady was unwilling to reveal the amount of money she had brought, but admitted that the sum was a “large, very large one”. Paradoxically, she wore particularly modest clothes, and looked rather poor. She was kindly advised by the bank employees to open a bank account and keep her savings there but the old lady refused, firmly stating that she would “stick to her old habits”.

Jars Full of Coins

Lina Masilionienė, an employee of a shopping centre in Panevėžys, the fifth largest Lithuanian city, admits that one of her worst fears came true – people attempted to transform local vendors into their personal currency exchange points. The reason for that was the fact that during the first two weeks of 2015 the litas were to be accepted at all points, but the change would have to be given in euros. “On the first day of January one lady wanted to pay for a bar of soap with a 500 litas note (equivalent of 150 pounds)!” Lina recalls. Other people wanted to get rid of the large amounts of loose change they had accumulated throughout the years, and brought entire jars full of cents. Lina remembers the story of another customer who tried to pay for an item worth 5 litas and 20 cents in 1 cent coins!

Confused by Unusual Coins

Dalia, an employee of “Maxima”, the largest Lithuanian supermarket chain, noted that certain people were suspicious if the euro coins they received did not have the Lithuanian coats of arms. These coins looked older and less shiny than the ones with the Lithuanian symbols engraved on them. As they came from other Eurozone states, they had, obviously, been circulating for a longer time and could not be in the same impeccable state as the brand new Lithuanian euro coins that had arrived straight from the mint. However, some individuals had difficulty understanding the goal of a common currency and refused to accept these “foreign looking” coins, claiming that they could not “be in such a bad shape after having circulated for one day”.

The Appearance of “Money Changers”

Numerous villages had to deal with “money changers” – frauds who claimed to be bank employees, ready to exchange people’s litas into euros with no need to queue. Thankfully, the population was warned not to trust them, and was advised to report to the police in case they came across people who would offer such services.

Adopting the Euro – Challenge Accepted

Such entertaining situations could probably not be avoided in this complex currency transition. All we can hope for is that, by the end of 2015, no jars full of litas coins will be left, and that each and every Lithuanian will be accustomed to the new currency. Practice makes perfect, or so they say.

The original Lithuanian version of this article can be found here: http://www.balsas.lt/naujiena/820681/pirmieji-euro-nuotykiai-lietuvoje/.

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