in Marginalia

Enzenberger’s 10 most popular, if mythical explanations for the coin shortage that took place in Italy from 1975 to 1979

1. ‘There was no metal left’ (bank employee, Venice, 1977).
2. ‘In Japan and Singapore, they made buttons out of our fifty-lira pieces, and that’s why the coins disappeared’ (theater critic, Rome, 1983).
3. ‘It’s the trade unions’ fault. They’ve ruined the whole country with their demands. That’s why the mint doesn’t work either’ (taxi driver, Milan, 1976).
4. ‘The foreigners who came for Holy Year took away our small change as souvenirs’ (the finance minister of the Italian Republic, 1975).
5. ‘It’s a conspiracy by the banks, which are making a huge profit at the expense of the little man’ (Communist trade unionist, 1977).
6. ‘Coins cost too much, and Parliament didn’t want to pay’ (assistant in shoe shop, Como, 1983).
7. ‘The 100-lira pieces were taken to Switzerland in huge trucks, and the companies there made watchcases out of them’ (La Stampa, 1976).
8. ‘The coins are just stuck in the vending machines, which aren’t emptied often enough’ (waiter, Naples, 1976).
9. ‘In the mind’s present facility it is impossible either to increase production adequately or to guarantee minimum conditions for the health and safety of the work-force’ (Senate Committee for Finance and Treasury Affairs, 1976).
10. ‘What do you expect? That’s just how we are…Siamo negati per queste cose (We’re hopeless at things like that). You can’t do anything about it. It’s all a mess, un paese di merda (a shitty country)…All these politicians and civil servants from the south. Actually, it was a mistake to throw out the Austrians.’ (vox populi, 1975 to 1983).

— From The Extravagance of the Italians written by Hans Magnus Enzenberger published in Granta 26, Travel issue, explaining the shortage of coins which forced residents and tourists alike to use caramel candy and chewing gum to pay for small items such as stamps and coffee. The coin shortage also prompted an Italian company to develop the world’s first prepaid phone card in 1976, a year after the shortage was reportedly solved. Better late than never. [See: Prepaid phone calling cards Italy].

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