- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

PARIS (AP) Europeans got a first look at their new currency yesterday, with the appearance of euro "starter kits" in three countries meant to familiarize citizens with their new money before it becomes legal tender on Jan. 1.

From early morning, people lined up at banks, post offices and tobacco shops, curious to see and hold Europe's newly minted money, which will replace 12 national currencies on Jan. 1. The packets filled with coins were being sold in France and Ireland, and given away in the Netherlands.

Reviews were mixed.

"It's exciting," said Marc Russell-Jones, who bought his plastic bag of euro coins at a Paris post office while mailing Christmas cards. "It's been intangible for so long. It's nice to finally have it in your hands."

But not everyone agreed.

"If you'd asked me yesterday if I'd miss our coins, I'd have said no," said Mike Morrissey, from Ireland, as he held a few euros in one palm and some Irish change in the other. "Now that I've felt the euro in the flesh, I'd say yes."

The kits, which contain eight denominations of coins, are being distributed two weeks before the euro's official debut to help people acquaint themselves with the currency. Notes will not be available until Jan. 1.

Euros will circulate alongside national currencies for a period of between one and two months, depending on the country. After that French francs, German marks, Italian lira and other national currencies within the euro zone will cease to be legal tender. Central banks will still exchange national currencies for several months afterward.

The rest of the 12 countries adopting the euro will start distributing the starter kits plastic bags filled with coins today or Monday.

While some embraced the day as a historic moment for the future of Europe, and others rolled their eyes at the changeover, the masses were clearly curious.

In France, there were immediate concerns that the 50 million kits distributed around the country would not meet the demand. The kits in France hold coins worth about $15.

In Amsterdam, people thronged post offices, departments stores, gas stations, supermarkets and photo shops to eagerly collect free sets of euro coins.

About 14.9 million euro kits, paid for by the Dutch Finance Ministry, will be given to every Dutch citizen above 6 years old until Dec. 31. The package contains a sample of every euro coin and is worth about $3.50.

In the Irish capital, people formed confused, enthusiastic lines at Dublin's main post office.

"The crowd was unbelievable," said Brian O'Connell, a security guard at the capital's General Post Office, who bought two packets.

Euro coins have one side that is common to all countries, showing the numerical value and a map of Europe. The other side varies according to each country, with specific national images.

"There are so many different coins and they all look the same," said Aldila Goncalves, who bought five packets at a French bank along the Champs-Elysees as Christmas gifts for her children.

"I anticipate making a lot of mistakes," she said.

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