'No tinc ni un duro': the pesseta still on Catalans' minds 20 years on
Cost of flats and cars were counted in the old currency for years after 2002, as idioms stemming from pessetes are still used
166.386. How to forget this number. It became the most important one for anyone living in Catalonia exactly 20 years ago, and a big chunk of the population still remembers it.
One euro was worth exactly 166.386 pessetes, and the exchange rate was crucial in the run-up to the switch to the new currency on January 1, 2002 – and also in the following days, weeks… and even years.
Luckily the math was not as complicated as it might sound, because roughly 500 pessetes were three euros and 1,000 pessetes, six.
What was clear was that 100 pessetes was not one euro, but €0.60 – even if some newspapers and 'tot a cent' shops, the equivalent to pound shops or dollar stores, pretended not to know and raised prices staggering 66 pessetes to one euro amid the confusion of the new currency.
So, despite calculators including a function to exchange one to the other, and holographic cards showing typical amounts in both pessetes and euros, switching to a new currency was very far from fast or smooth for Catalans.
Have a listen to our podcast, published on December 31, 2021, on the transition between the pesseta and the euro 20 years ago, including an assessment on the first two decades of the new currency in Catalonia:
"I remember that it was really difficult for me, as I kept thinking in pesetas. I would go to a store and change the price to pesetas to know the actual cost. And, even now, I still think in pesetas," says María Dolores to Catalan News.
Elderly people took more time to get used to it, as expected. "My grandmother still calculates prices in pesetas, but I have no clue about them. Sometimes she still says, 'this amount of pesetas is this many euros,' but I have no idea about them at all," says young Aina.
The radical change was indeed an ordeal for some – even in the mid and late 2000s, when people got already used to the everyday prices, it was very common to hear, "This flat costs 40 million pessetes" or "This car is worth 2 million pessetes." By this, everyone knew they were clearly expensive, and saying €240,000 or €12,000 was still hard to grasp and it even seemed lower than its real value – it is not the same to boast about having 'millions' in the bank than 'just' tens of thousands, thus acknowledging that now you will never be millionaire.
Exchanging pessetes into euros until the last day… 19 years later
Maybe that is why some people delayed exchanging their pessetes into euros until the very last day possible… 19 and a half years after the introduction of the European currency, that is, June 30, 2021.
Believe it or not, that day loads of people queued outside the Bank of Spain building in central Barcelona in order to do what they could have done any day in the previous two decades.
Thus, it is no surprise that a ridiculous amount of coins were never exchanged: according to Bank of Spain, coins worth €782m (or 130 billion pessetes) became completely useless on July 1, 2021 because they were never exchanged. Likewise, €793m in pesseta notes vanished for good the very same day, for the very same reason.
Pointless 1 and 2 cent coins
Another trauma 20 years ago was getting used to the new coins and notes – especially, because the beloved 25 pessetes coin, with its iconic hole in the middle, would disappear, and they would be as useful as Monopoly money.
"I used to play with pesseta coins as a kid. My grandmother kept coins in a bag, even after they became useless," says Aïda, who is in her twenties, to this media outlet.
Instead, everyone got coins minted not only in Spain, but across Europe, with a myriad of different designs. The original excitement of using a coin with a foreign design waned over the years as the public got used to it, but the feeling that the 1 and 2 cent coins are useless has been accompanying Catalans for two decades now. Indeed, official data shows that these coins are steadily disappearing in Spain, although the European Commission will only decide whether to completely get rid of them next year.
The 'Bin Laden' notes
The notes were also a novelty, with the €500 one drawing much of the attention – a single note was worth more than a monthly minimum salary in Spain at a time, and two of them equaled an average salary.
Soon after the euro became legal tender, the purple notes already had a nickname in Catalonia and across Spain: 'Bin Laden.' Yes – because, like the infamous then leader of Al-Qaeda terrorist group, everyone had heard about these notes, but no one had seen it.
Or at least, officially: at some point, a quarter of all the €500 notes in the EU were in Spain, as they were used for money laundering. To the extent that Spain ceased to print more of such notes in 2019 as an anticorruption measure. They are still legal tender, but their circulation is also declining as a result.
Duro, pela, rals: idioms related to the pesseta still in use
After two decades, thoughts about the pesseta have also significantly declined – but the old currency is so ingrained on Catalans' minds that its presence in language will probably last forever, even in the younger generations and those yet to be born, who never had to pay with the pierced coins and their 'siblings.'
For instance, 'no tinc ni un duro,' (I don't have even a 'duro') a very common Catalan idiom equivalent to 'I'm broke,' includes the word 'duro,' which means 5 pessetes.
'Això val dos duros,' (This is worth two 'duros') to say that something is cheap, 'vendre duros a quatre pessetes' (To sell 'duros' for 4 pessetes) to express a misleading deal or a failed investment, are other related idioms related to the popular 'duros', along with 'explicar sopars de duro' (tell dinners worth a 'duro'), meaning to exaggerate stories or to brag.
Rals, duros, and quilos are other words still used related to the pesseta, as well as 'pela', the Spanish old currency's most famous nickname.
So, no matter what the currency was, is, or will be, everyone knows that 'la pela és la pela' – or money talks!