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First Sale: A Kilo of Litchi Nuts

January 01, 2002|From Associated Press

ST. DENIS, Reunion — The euro became legal tender with the arrival of midnight Monday on the French island Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The mayor made the first purchase, buying some litchi nuts.

Reunion, an overseas department of France, welcomed the new year--and thus the euro--three hours before the French mainland and two hours before Greece and Finland led the 12 euro-zone countries into monetary union.

Euros were transported to the island, to the east of Madagascar and 5,800 miles from Paris, by boat and plane, to be ready for circulation today.

The moment was celebrated by the mayor of Reunion's main town, St. Denis, on the island's northern coast.

"I hereby give you my first coin," Rene-Paul Victoria said as he made his first purchase with the new currency, buying a kilo, or 2.2 pounds, of litchis for 76 euro cents at a fruit stand.

French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking to residents of Reunion in a television broadcast, forecast a smooth transition.

"I believe everything has been very well prepared," Fabius said, "and the changeover is being carried out in good humor."

In the town of St. Gilles-les-Bains, a restaurant owner was still waiting for his first customer to produce a crisp new euro bill.

"So far, it's only been credit cards," said Jean-Pierre Plantey, owner of the Saint-Gilles restaurant. "The second I get my first payment in euros--no matter what the amount--I'm hanging up the bill on my bar."

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