When counting in francs is an instinctive reflex

In January 2002, in stores, all product price labels had a dual display: a large box for euros, and a small one, below, for francs. Twenty years later, the reference to the old currency has disappeared from the shelves. But not at the head of the French: 51% continue to convert prices before making a purchase, according to a Yougov study for Moneyvox in 2021. For Christiane, a 75-year-old Alsatian, it is “An instinctive reflex”.

According to the academic specialist in the history of money Jean-Michel Servet, “This reference to the franc does not translate an identity or nationalist claim”. Rather, it is a benchmark, a tool for comparison. “It’s like being abroad and not knowing whether 100,000 rupees is expensive or not”, notes Caroline Corbet-Rolland, 56-year-old English teacher.

No wonder: in history, each change of calculation unit has been accompanied by a period of learning. “For the meters, liters and kilos introduced at the end of the XVIIIe century, it took fifty years before the French really used them ”, says Jean-Michel Servet, who was a member of the European Commission working group to prepare for the changeover to the euro.

“For everyday products, no problem: consumers have recorded their value in euros”, he explains. The conversion rather concerns occasional purchases such as clothes, decoration … Or the restaurant: “When I eat a pizza for fifteen euros, I say to myself: ‘100 francs a calzone, oh yes anyway'”, says Caroline. “From 50 or 100 €, I convert to realize. It puts things in perspective ”, Christiane testifies. “Continuing to count in francs allows you to better control your expenses, confirms Jean-Michel Servet. Those who convert often have a more constrained budget. “

The youngest are also concerned. “I do it without even realizing it”, says Camille Pantano, 36 years old. During the changeover to the euro, she used to do the math for her grandmother, a “Reflex” who has not left him. Except that today, she no longer converts out loud: “People were kindly laughing. When you work in marketing, counting in francs is out of date. ““In the years 1960-1970, speaking in old francs had remained common, recalls Jean-Michel Servet. Today, the reference to the franc is individual. It has lost the collective dimension that all currency has. “

Real estate agent in Poitiers, Meidhi Guillemain believes that “5 to 10% of customers still refer to the franc, especially those over 65. And even, for those over 85, to the old francs ”, which disappeared more than sixty years ago … At the Audi dealership in Saint-Martin-des-Champs, in Finistère, “Customers do not convert, at least not openly, explains the sales assistant. With the sums involved, it would be necessary to take out a calculator. “

Anne and Bernard Banquart have been running a bar-tabac for more than twenty years near Lille. “On the morning of December 14, 2001, we were the first – along with the banks – to distribute the € 15.24 for 100 francs pouches”, remembers Anne. Today, Bernard is more sullen: “When I sell a beer for € 3, it’s 20 francs. Before, it was 10 francs. It hurts my heart for customers. “ A little music that comes back often: “Life has become too expensive. “ Some products purchased frequently soared in 2002 because of rounding, explains INSEE. But overall since the changeover to the euro, prices have increased less quickly than before. Between 2002 and 2016, inflation was 1.4% per year on average, according to the Statistics Institute. It was 2% between 1986 and 2002, and even 10% after the war and until the mid-1980s.

But Jean-Michel Servet does not want to underestimate this feeling. “We tell people that the prices have not increased, but they can see that they are going up”, he notes. More than everyday consumer products, it is above all constrained expenses such as rent that weigh more and more in the budget of the French.

“Households have kept the last known price in francs anchored in their memory”, notes INSEE. However, the latter would also have continued to increase without the change of currency. “The 32% increase in the price of the baguette since the changeover to the euro appears strong but it corresponds to an average annual increase of only 1.9% per year”, note the statisticians. Joëlle Richir, who has just sold her bakery in Lillers in the Pas-de-Calais, noted it however: “With each increase in the price of bread, some customers calculate what that means in francs …”


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