I just looked at the DBD::mysql documentation, and there's a setting mysql_enable_utf8 that defaults to off. I've not used DBD::mysql, but based on the docs, it looks like you can just add the setting in the connect statement like this:
$dbh= DBI->connect("DBI:mysql:test;mysql_enable_utf8=1", "root", "");
++ for the OP: clear, detailed and didn't seem to miss any pertinent information.
When your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like your thumb.
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