Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Budapest and the fate of the Euro

Coming to Romania this time I took the oportunity of a cheapo flight from Prestwick to Budapest, with the rest of the journey being a near-10 hour train ride.
It was a beautiful day and I quickly made my way to the Keleti station. Hungary is clearly some way ahead of Romania, but the people did not seem to me to be either as happy or welcoming.
I had some time to wait in the queue for international tickets, largely because there was an earnest young American trying to sort out what seemed to be a round the world train ticket starting from somewhere else. He was travelling with what I assume was his girl-friend, but if so, they were the most serious lovers I have ever come across.
I finally got to buy my ticket. A single and a return were the same price - about GBP 40.
I had time to kill and was delighted to see a row of chess sets with people playing for money.
I used to be quite good. The games could be for any amount, but Eur 1 was a standard bet. After I won two games the person I was playing ( who clearly felt hard done by) refused to play any more. So I gave him his Eur 2 back and added two more. With a big grin he indicated I should play another player. This other was clearly a much better chessplayer, but I managed to win one and draw one before losing one. But they were really good games and all the other boards stopped and watched, and broke into applause at the draw - even if I hate to say so, it was quite an interesting stratagem that my opponent pulled.
There was much back slapping and hand-shakes and I indicated I needed to catch my train.
The trip was fine, but I doubt I will bother to go this way again. It is a long way and not very interesting. Watching the sun go down over the Hungarian plain was fine, as was the moonlight glinting on the Danube later on, and the meal was excellent, but oh dear, it was a long trip.
The most exciting part was when we stopped for the border crossing. Seats were removed in my compartment and lights shone through heating ducts, and I saw odd people being taken off in handcuffs, and barking police dogs take down an escapee. All great fun as long as you were not on the receiving end.
I finally got to Sighisoara about 4am, and my excellent Alin, despite being told not to, was there to pick me up and take me to the flat. By the time I got to sleep it was time to get up and set off for the usual round of meetings.
But the most interesting thing of all was the need to change money into Forints. I was instantly reminded of the old days when travelling through France to Switzerland entailed endless changing of money and the final insult was always the shrapnel of various currencies one had left.
All that has changed with the Euro across most of Europe. We have been very lucky not to be in it, but for the ordinary traveller it has been a boon.
Where things have been different, and why the Euro block is suffering stresses and strains is because of the difference in attitude of the participants.
The Germans were always going to react with discipline and correctness, and stick to the rules they had insisted on as the price for giving up the D-mark. The French, however, regard it with a disdain bred of their belief in their own total superiority. The Italians, of course, paid absolutely no attention to anything and completely ignored what they were supposed to do. The Irish did what they do at every opportunity - opened an Irish Pub everywhere and had a massive party. The Spanish used the cheap money they had never had before to build build build, having no understanding of what this meant.
As a result, I would not be surprised if some or most of the existing participants drop out - politically it will be impossible for the Italians and Irish to impose restraint, which in both cases would lead to a huge downturn.
I would be sad to see a return to the old ways of carrying various currencies as one traipsed around Europe.
Perhaps the Romanian system is best. Everything is quoted in Euros, and if necessary paid for in Euros, but then gets settled in Lei at the prevailing rate of exchange.
Definitely the best of both worlds.


Winchester whisperer said...

What's the Romanian for "Check mate"?

kinglear said...