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All across the United Kingdom, Brits are breathing a sigh of relief today that a “hard” BREXIT (British Exit) from the European Union will not occur on Jan. 1, 2021. Such an exit from the group of 28 countries making up the European Union would have resulted in trade barriers, travel restrictions, tariff issues and general chaos. You might have seen recent pictures of the thousands of “lorries” (trailer trucks) backed up on the roads to Dover awaiting auto ferry passage across the Channel to Calais because of new French COVID-19 restrictions? Well, that would have been nothing compared to the trouble that an unresolved trade agreement with the Union would have caused Great Britain. While the final BREXIT “divorce” papers signed in Brussels totaled over 1,200 pages, one area that did not have to be addressed was currency, as England never bought into the euro, always keeping the pound sterling as their medium of exchange.
When the 12 founding members of the European Community signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, it provided the foundation for the current European Union, also known as the Common Market, and paved the way for the creation of a single European currency, the euro. Perhaps more than anything else, the new common currency facilitated the four freedoms of movement of goods, services, people and money across member countries.
Since then, an additional 16 countries have joined; however, eight have decided to keep their own legacy currency. These are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Their reasons varied, but most simply wanted to use their own currency as a way to maintain financial independence on certain key issues such as national debt, controlling inflation and freedom to devalue the currency in certain situations.
For many of us, however, sailors in particular, the creation of the euro was just another step in the gradual elimination of many of the unique features of the nautical life, at least in Europe – specifically the elimination of “funny money.” While the subject of money is hardly a laughing matter, especially in these hard times, “funny money” was the name sailors gave to the leftover foreign currency that collected in their pockets and locker drawers after visits to overseas ports. It was not a term of opprobrium; rather, just sailor “patois” for the francs (France), escudos (Portugal), pesetas (Spain), lira (Italy), drachma (Greece), deutschemarks (Germany), etc., that was left over after departing European ports. Alas, these and many other forms of currency ceased to exist with the advent of the almighty euro. Of course, the same “lingo” still applies to leftover money in the Pacific Fleet: won (Korea), yen (Japan), baht (Thailand), dollars (Singapore), pesos (Philippines), etc.
Someone said, “A sailor and his money are soon parted,” and there was certainly truth to that.