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Euro is off to a memorable, curious start in Lithuania

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Lithuanians have never been so preoccupied with calculations as during these New Year’s early days. Though, officially, the changeover from the national currency litas to the euro has been smooth, but, on the retail shop level, there has been many aws and ohs of excitement and exasperation.

With the shiny, mint-fresh euro coins jingling in the pockets, the mood, however, is overwhelmingly festive – Lithuania has just made another leap towards the good old snotty Europe!

Little personal experience shared by many

I still cannot forget the face of a shuttle bus driver, in the palm of who in early January 1 morning hours I squeezed in a single one euro coin instead of strewing handful Lithuanian coins for the fare. Perhaps still too sleepy, he was about to drop the copper the usual way into his coin holder, but what he felt between the fingers apparently seemed just too little for the ride.

Then the middle-age driver opened up the palm all of sudden and, having seized the coin, raised it and before giving it a serious scrutiny raised it as if a unique, just unearthed finding. Then there was this unusually prolonged delay before I got my change, in the euro, scooped up and checked attentively. And the handing it was clumsy – the whole scene more intrinsic to a rookie driver.

A few hours later, when standing in the line in a grocery store, there was ahead of me a spry but elderly lady sporting a neatly put high pompadour. She was obviously fretted, insisting she was supposed to receive a bigger change from the cashier. The latter, a patient young girl, was point to the flip side of the coin showing vytis, a Lithuanian coat of arms, and then explaining that it belongs to the euro, not the litas. With nearly half the queue joining the cashier in giving a lesson on the euro design, the crabby woman left the cash register dumbfounded and hushed.

This is my personal experience from the first day of the euro in Lithuania, all of which, I am sure, can be shared by thousands of others whose first-hand acquaintance with the euro has perhaps ranged from being quite funny to awkward, to nerve-wracking, to sentimental or uplifting.

Lithuanian resort coped with euro’s first night well

But the army of euro dealers in Lithuania on the New Year eve –from drivers, to waiters, bartenders and to cashiers- had definitely been well prepared for the changeover.

The bustling Lithuanian resort of Palanga on the Baltic coast that night has not been an exception.

«I have been casting a really keen eye on what was going in many Palanga restaurants, cafes and hotels that night and did not see any frustration over the swap of currencies. On the contrary, there was everywhere sort of elevated mood everywhere: both the customers and restaurant and hotel staff were eagerly checking out euro bills and coins and trying out local ATMs. There was the lingering mood of fun and curiosity,» Darius Miklovas, president of Palanga’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, told BNN.

He said local businessmen had prepared well for the night, euro currency-wise:  had stocked with the euros their registers.

«And in case of the depletion the reserves during the night, the restaurateurs and hoteliers would find some amicable solution with the customers,» he pointed out.

The association head insisted that the resort, swarming with thousands of guests on New Year’s Eve, has passed «the euro exam» beyond the expectations.

With the revellers left, the resort is resuming its sleepy mode for the time of year and is enabling the businesses to sigh with relief: «Well done!»

Though most of the menus showed prices still in the euro, but the vast majority of Lithuanians preferred settling bills still in the litas during the festive night in Palanga. The foreigners, though, opted for the euros.

But some admitted there has been «some confusion» with the swap, especially in the wee hours of 2015.

«It was pretty confusing to do the math, multiply by 3,4528 or divide by as much. Frankly, I was happy when the customer would say he or she would use credit card,» a cashier at a major grocery chain store told on January 1, 2015.

With a pouch of coins to local supermarket for euro bills

Giedrė Bielskytė, spokeswoman for Rimi Lietuva, a major retail food chain in Lithuania, says that the retailer has spent «hours», apprenticing the staff to deal with the euro.

«Even in handling the tiniest peculiarities, for example, how to handle the bigger than usual number of customers who would show up in stores with large-nomination litas bills. People sought to get the change in euros that way. We instructed our cashiers that in that sort of cases, when, for example, receiving a 200-litas bill for a loaf of bread, the cash handlers were supposed to change it to four bills of 50 litas and give the change in the euro only from one of the changed bills,» the spokeswoman told Lithuanian media.

Renata Saulytė, her counterpart at Maxima, the largest Lithuanian food retailers, noticed that many people with large amounts of Lithuanian currency coins were stopping by Maxima stores in early New Year’s hours in hopes to get the scrap changed to bills.

«We had the glut in coins as many people would come in with pouches of saved litas coins and ask them get changed to the euro. But that was not a very widespread thing», the retailer’s communications specialist said.

Not the currency matters, but the quality

The exaggerated reactions to the currency are of the generational character mostly. With the elderly often uneasy about the new currency, the youth has been increasingly upbeat about the transition – either at a local bank machine when trying to grab euro bills sliding out of the slot and crumpling it, yet fresh from the mint reel.

«We have not had any setbacks in the swap as we had learnt all the lessons from the adoption from the Latvian experience a year ago,» Nidas Kiuberis, a major shareholder of Coffee Inn, a coffee shop chain in the Baltics, told BNN. He added: «Personnel had been well trained for it and the clientele we have in other coffee shops has been euro and our personnel-friendly».

In anticipation of the euro, the coffee shop chain had delved in the tiniest peculiarities of the changeover. Even, for example, foreseeing a possibility of depositing the change on the coffee sipper’s loyalty card.

Unlike many other businesses, which rounded up the prices upward, Coffee Inn has tweaked some of them downward for the sake of «an cosier number» and marketing.

Facing the huge rivalry in the market, the chain has focused on bettering the quality of the products and service.

«We have sent some of our barristers to as far as Colombia to learn the secrets of good coffee-making. I see the competition only stepping up in 2015. Look, there are plenty of indie coffee shops ready to throw the gauntlet against the major brands», the entrepreneur noted.

Delays in post offices registered

It seems that the bulk of the Lithuanian population has changed their home savings in litas yet before New Year- most of the largest banks’ affiliates were semi-empty during the first days in 2015. But local post offices, meanwhile, have been swarmed with clients, most of whom were seniors.

As of Saturday, January 3, 2015, residents of Lithuania have exchanged about LTL 40 million (EUR 11.6 million) in post offices of Lithuania, said Inga Dundulienė, the head of the Network Service of Lietuvos Paštas (Lithuanian Post).

She said a total of LTL 30 million were collected on Friday and about LTL 10 million over three hours of Saturday.

In her words, currency exchange in some post offices was stalling due to delays of collectors.

«Collectors failed to deliver the money in some areas. It is not that we were unable to perform the operation but we had to wait when we did not have enough cash», she said.

Some 330 post offices across Lithuania will be exchanging the litas to the euros free of charge until the end of February. Currency exchange services will also be provided by the country’s banks and credit unions.

To handle the extra workload, Lithuania Post will hire 75 employees throughout the country, the company said.

All employees of Lithuania Post have undergone special apprenticeship ahead the euro introduction.

Central Bank governor: «Changeover was smooth»

Vitas Vasiliauskas, the governor of the central Bank of Lithuania, said that there have been no major difficulties in the process of changeover to the euro.

«In technical terms, changeover to the common currency is going rather smoothly,» Vasiliauskas told a Lithuanian daily.

He added that e-banking had not recorded any technical difficulties over the festive weekend and people continued to exchange cash litas to euros in banks and post offices.

According to Vasiliauskas, the largest amounts exchanged were LTL 87,500 for an individual and LTL 156,000 for a company. The smallest amount was a mere LTL 0.21.

With the resurfaced speculations that the economically-stricken Greece might exit the euro zone, the governor of Lithuania’s Central Bank was trying to defuse the concerns, saying that a possible withdrawal would have no major impact on Lithuania.

«Frankly, I think the impact on Lithuania would not tangible because our economic relations with Greece are definitely not well-developed,» the governor told the Žinių Radijas radio on Tuesday, January 6.

The euro zone as a whole would feel a greater impact, but it is strong enough to withstand potential problems, the chairman of the Bank of Lithuania’s board said.

«I think the euro zone is much stronger now than it was in 2011. No doubt, there will be an impact on the euro zone itself, but I’d rather not speculate now about what happens if it happens. Let’s wait and we’ll see. The euro zone has proven more than once that it has the inner strength to stand up on its feet in the face of even bigger crises,» he said.

Lithuanian President: «Borrowing will be cheaper now»

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė also was trying to infuse confidence in the euro, saying that its weakening against the U.S. dollar is beneficial to Lithuania as its products become more competitive in third countries.

«In any case, (eurozone) entry now and the fluctuation of the euro exchange rate is probably more beneficial for Lithuania at the moment, because our competitiveness in third countries increases, as do export possibilities for our producers,» she said at her annual news conference when asked if Lithuania joined the eurozone at the right time, given the single currency’s troubles.

The president said that the euro will make it possible for Lithuania to borrow more cheaply and will help attract new investment.

The euro-to-dollar exchange rate fell to 1.1843 on Wednesday morning as investors waited for the latest euro zone inflation data.

The euro introduction in Lithuania has not been missed out by CNN, which noted that despite recent troubles in the euro zone, «Lithuania has taken the plunge» and adopted the euro, removing one more barrier for tourists and travellers to come and explore the Baltic state which is « a vibrant mix of east and west Europe», according to CNN.

The American broadcaster has drawn up a list of suggestions on best options in spending one’s hard-earned euros in Lithuania – from checking out a quaint little bookshop taking up the premises of the 16th century-founded Vilnius University to taking a hot air balloon ride over Vilnius. The CNN story says Vilnius is one of the few major cities in the world that allows balloons to fly over it.

Euro forgery cases reported

With the euro in the circulation for over a week now, the police have reported the first euro forgery cases.

An allegedly fake 100-euro bill was seized in Panevėžys, north Lithuania, on Monday, January 5, when an employee wanted to deposit company’s money in a bank, according to the Police Department.

In a separate incident in Jonava in the central part of the country, a young man, trying to buy some chewing gum, sought to exchange a counterfeit 50-euro bill in a shop but a saleswoman refused to do so amid suspicions over the origin of the note. The check turned up the bill was faked.

Also in Jonava, on Sunday, January 4, a man turned to the police after selling a computer game to a stranger on Sunday and receiving 14 20-euro and one 10-euro banknotes. He checked the money on Monday and the 20-euro banknotes seemed counterfeit. They were taken for scrutiny.

One more incident in relation to euro forgery was reported from Šilutė, а town 35 kilometres away from the seaport of Klaipėda.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.2070


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