A Taste for Continental Currency

The Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan, owned by avid travelers Arianne Bennett, above, and husband Scott, has reached out to transatlantic visitors.
The Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan, owned by avid travelers Arianne Bennett, above, and husband Scott, has reached out to transatlantic visitors. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 17, 2008

The Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan has for years served as a last stop for both the late-night reveler and the jet-lagged European traveler.

Now the owners of the Mediterranean sandwich shop, themselves avid travelers to the old country, have taken an extra step in welcoming transatlantic visitors. They accept euros.

Scott and Arianne Bennett are joining a number of businesses in tourist-heavy areas that have begun accepting the euro and other foreign currencies.

Experts may debate whether this flirtation with foreign currencies marks the decline of the dollar as the international standard for trade. But for the Bennetts, it was simply a matter of not turning away travelers who had yet to visit a currency exchange or bank.

"When European travelers landed here, and they have not had a chance to change their money, there was not much they could do," said Arianne Bennett, 38. "We don't take credit cards."

The new "We Accept Euros" signs also fit neatly into the small shop's general montage of black-and-white photographs of Amsterdam's canals, Coca-Cola posters in Dutch and flags of the Ajax of Amsterdam soccer team.

Few practical changes at the store have been made to accommodate the currency. Conversion sheets are kept near the store's cash register for employees manning the counter. Dollar prices on the menu are converted at the register, and change is returned in dollars. The couple's local Bank of America branch accepts deposits of the foreign currency at no additional charge.

The trend of accepting the euro seems to be catching on in the District. Claude Taylor, a 44-year-old photographer who owns a studio in Dupont Circle, began accepting euros last week for prints of his travel photography.

"Obviously, there are a lot of Europeans in D.C. normally," Taylor said, citing the city's embassies and international organizations. "There are probably more Europeans visiting in D.C. now because of the weakness of the dollar and the strength of the euro."

The Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp. is marketing the District as an alternative to New York for long-weekend breaks. The group is courting Europe, Britain in particular. International travelers account for about a quarter of all visitor spending in Washington, the corporation said.

In New York, several businesses in tourist-favored neighborhoods have also begun accepting the euro. The dollar has been trading at historic lows against the euro and last week declined even further. On Friday, one euro was valued at $1.57. By comparison, a euro could be bought for 89 cents when it was first put into wide circulation in participating European Union countries in January 2002.

Nevertheless, the dollar is still the primary choice for global reserves and for pricing commodities. Kathleen R. McNamara, a professor of political science at Georgetown University who studies the euro, said the embrace of the European currency by U.S. businesses and celebrities is largely symbolic.

"But I actually think symbols are important," McNamara said. "And I think that when you have so many instances of high-profile celebrities or businesses welcoming the euro, it should make American policymakers think twice about how much longevity the dollar is going to have."

Located on the 2400 block of 18th Street NW -- in the center of Adams Morgan's main night-clubbing strip -- the Amsterdam Falafelshop is hardly a bastion of international trade. The sandwich shop offers a spare menu of falafel sandwiches, fries, soft drinks and "virgin" brownies, as opposed to the cannabis brownies sold in Amsterdam coffee shops.

The couple opened the shop in fall 2005 after several trips to Amsterdam that began in 1998.

The introduction of the currency at the store gives the Bennetts an avant-garde sense of pride.

"We have your global economy right here," Scott Bennett, 56, said last week with a broad grin. "Literally, right here."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company