The toffs and the workers might rail against it, but the euro has friends in the Conran-loving middle classes
I first came to study in England in 1976. As an Italian who had lived in the US for ten years, I felt a proper foreigner. I was staying with a middle-class family in a sleepy suburb of Oxford; the Davises ate scotch eggs and drank Guinness, wore M&S jumpers and drove a Vauxhall. There were some concessions to the continent in the shape of a few staples - pizza, Abba, and the baguette; and a few to the American way of life - fast food, Hollywood films, pop psychology. Give or take a Pakistani corner shop and a Chinese take-away, though, theirs was a proudly homogenous culture, far more insulated than the American one I had left behind, or the Italian one of my childhood.
Later, I watched the Davises transform their lifestyle to encompass continental eateries and Seattle coffee shops, shopping malls that turn Brent Cross into a suburb of LA, and a television diet that stars Friends and Oprah.
The Davises were being wooed by two cultures and they chose an a la carte menu that offered the best of the old and new worlds. The Yankee courtship continues but, with the birth of the euro, the Davises and other middle-class families will be wholeheartedly seduced by the European model.
The euro, practical, hi-tech and cosmopolitan, is the perfect, shiny symbol of those middle-class values that people like the Davises cherish most. Brussels may talk of its benefits for all sections of society (lower interest rates, lower inflation, etc) but I think that in Britain it will become a class thing.
The upper classes, wrapped tight in delusions of grandeur to ward off the draughts of their country homes, can whine about the loss of sovereignty and great-nation status; the middle classes, though, have long been happy to exchange dreams of greatness for the charms of an easier life. They don't care much about patriotism; they do care about the hassle-free import of French wines and unencumbered journeys to Calais, Cagliari or Cologne. The euro, to a class suspicious of ideology, is not a foreign bogeyman threatening their nationhood; rather, it is an economic tool, a pragmatic step that will help them bypass the unpredictable currency exchange rates and ease their holiday in Amsterdam or their shopping trip to Florence.
Even the euro's architects - the faceless central bankers who inspire fear and loathing in the upper and working classes - are familiar figures in middle Britain. The bourgeoisie, who have staffed the City for decades and harbour none of the aristocratic snobbery against money lenders, or the working-class loathing for debt, regard the central banker as a professional like "one of us", mercifully motivated by profit rather than ideology.
The euro won't be seen or touched until 2002: it remains for now a virtual currency, a concept that may be inaccessible to the factory worker or the office cleaner (and to m'lord in his manor, no doubt), but generates high excitement in the computer-literate middle classes. They view technology as an ally in their campaign for upward mobility, and they pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of our rapidly changing world.
Where the working classes are still warmed by Sun headlines mocking huns and wops and frogs, the middle classes like to think of themselves as soaring above such prejudices. A currency without frontiers appeals to men and women who see themselves as sophisticated citizens of the world, at ease in Chiantishire as in Chamonix. The euro logo is perfectly designed to appeal to this image- conscious audience: in its sleek minimalism, it promotes the euro as Conran currency, a stylish symbol of cross-continental consumerism. More important, the newly minted coins - with their euroland map on one side, and a national icon on the other - will owe nothing to the florid designs of yesteryear, with their adaptations of national mottoes or monarchs for a bourgeoisie that no longer believed in either.
The euro's seduction of Middle Britain is well under way. Marks and Sparks, emporium of the middle classes, has become the first UK retailer to provide for customers to pay in euros; and Rover is considering paying euro salaries. Home-buyers will soon be able to take out a euro mortgage; and for people like the Davises, a euro bank account will become the ultimate status symbol. Come the referendum on the euro, the electorate will split, along class lines. I know where the Davises will stand.