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Euro notesRemember all the political talk about the debasement of the dollar? If you’ve been following exchange rates lately you’ll understand that debasement, like the looming inflation that was about to devour the American economy, has been sort of … weak. Like nonexistent.

Wonkblog (Washington Post) posted an astute analysis of the Euro/Dollar situation and came to the same conclusion I did. If you want to go to Paris (or anywhere else in the Euro Zone), now may be the time to do it.

Wonkblog reporter Matt O’Brien wrote: “Next summer is looking like the best time to take that European vacation you’ve been thinking about. That’s because the euro has already fallen to a 12-year low of $1.06, and should keep falling for at least another year. In fact, it shouldn’t be long until the dollar is worth more.”

He’s right – it looks like there’s some chance the Euro will reach the holy grail for American tourists — parity with the dollar. That’s only happened once before, very early in the life of the Euro, and there are still far-sighted people traveling on the Euros they bought then.

Here’s the link to Matt O’Brien’s good article. Don’t miss it. Paris will be nice this summer. I’ll see you there.

I WRITE ABOUT PARIS, but this story is true there and absolutely every other place in Europe: You go to the restaurant, and all around you the locals are paying with plastic. They push their card into the small wireless machine the waiter brings to the table, key in a PIN, get their receipt, and leave. No signature required, and it’s fast.

Waiters machine

A typical European restaurant card reader

You, on the other hand, have to wait while the waiter looks quizzically at the card for its chip (puce in French), then slides its magnetic strip through the slot on the side of the machine just like you do at home. Then you sign the receipt.

The chip, or puce

The chip, or puce

Which is more secure? If recent history is any indication, the European restaurant or shop is far more secure. The New York Times’s Bits section said today that British counterfeit and stolen card fraud has dropped 60 per cent over the last decade, while the same figures on the American side of the Atlantic have jumped about 50% in the same period. (The total is now about $160 million in Britain and $3.2 billion here, but that doesn’t mean much because the economies are of very different sizes.)

The European chip won’t prevent the bad guys from stealing your information in all cases, but if they do steal it they won’t be able to copy the card or use it elsewhere.

The new cards are coming in the United States. Businesses have resisted because of the cost, but card fraud has increased 30 per cent in recent years, so that by itself if a major incentive to upgrade. (Check Home Depot the next time you’re there — new machines, with the ability to handle the new cards. Did its major hack have anything to do with that?)

Another big incentive is that as of October next year the financial cost of card fraud will shift from the issuers to the merchants, if those merchants have not upgraded their equipment.

(By the way, there’s no fuss about a tip because it’s included in the price. The servers receive a salary. They will appreciate it if you leave a little spare change on the table in recognition of a good job, but it makes very little difference to their income, which is one of the reasons people frequently spend their entire careers working in restaurants.)