The dilemma you always have when you come away is “how much cash should we take?” In the olden days you had to go to the bank and get travellers’ cheques (Google them kids, they were real) and find a bank on holiday and cash them in (but you also had to produce your passport, a DNA sample and ideally both parents (living or dead) as a form of id). Of course since the advent of the Euro, it’s a bit less risky. If you get too many and have some left (yeah, fat chance) then you can just put them back in the drawer and use them next time you pop over. (By the way, how is Brexit going? I’m just not sure which queue I have to go in next week at Heathrow. I’m a bit worried that if you have all left Europe in our absence that they might not let us back in and America won’t have us as I still don’t understand the rules of baseball and so we may just find ourselves stuck in limbo at Terminal 5 of Heathrow). In fact I once made a nice little profit on some Euros I bought one year and used the following year. Perhaps I missed my calling as currency trader.
But dollars are different. We haven’t been here for 4 years and I can’t see us coming this way for a while again, and you don’t want to take any spare back as that’s like having tiles left at the end of a game of Scrabble, so getting the correct amount is vital (if you are a bit OCD like me). Of course these days most places accept credit cards and we have a couple of those “don’t charge you anything if you use them abroad” cards, so we are fine. In fact we assume we will use the card for most things when we can and just use the cash for places where it is obvious they don’t take cards (like hot dog carts. Hmmm, hot dogs).
The problem is that it just isn’t that clear anymore who will and won’t take cards. We are staying in a studenty part of Philadelphia and I think they are sick of the students using cheques to pay for pints of milk, so a lot of places only take cash. Our last couple of meals out have been cash only. But not wanting you to feel embarrassed if you can’t pay, both restaurants had cash machines in them. So it is obviously less hassle and cheaper to have a box full of thousands of dollars in the corner of your restaurant next to the cutlery and napkins just waiting to be robbed than accept cards. What sort of a world is this.
The ones that take cards can be a bit alarming too. Contactless is just making its way over here. Now I think contactless is fabulous. If the assistant knows what they are doing, it is actually quicker than faffing with cash. On our first night in Washington we were stocking up at Trader Joes and I noticed they had contactless, so when the total popped up, I just touched. The assistant looked at me as if I had just performed some black magic. “Wow, you just touched it. That’s awesome. I’ve never seen anyone do that before”. Errr, yeah, that’s how contactless works pet.
They seem to understand the concept of chip and pin, if more the chip than the pin bit. On several occasions I have been told “oh you have a chip on your card, pop it in the machine”….and then I have to sign for it! In fact I have only been asked to use my PIN number twice since I’ve been here. I’ve signed bits of paper, signed tablets with my finger and signed terminals with a wand, but they still haven’t quite got the grasp of those four little numbers.
The money here is cool and confusing at the same time. With them still having one dollar bills, you can feel really rich with just a tenner in your wallet. There are dollar coins which vending machines sometimes give you, but we found out in Chicago that shop keepers really do not like them. One lady looked at me like I had given her a bag of dripping offal when I tried to use a dollar coin to pay. But with them all being the same size and (to me) the same colour, it really is a pain working out what exactly is in your wallet (and no it’s not a Capital One card. It’s actually a Halifax card which although not as sexy as an American Express black card, is considerably more cost efficient. Perhaps I missed my calling, I could be the next Martyn Lewis. Anyway, no offence to the Halifax, great card, but dull to look at. So I thought, but when I used it to pay for cinema tickets yesterday the lady said “hey, neat card”. I think she liked the shade of blue, and she looked like she knew about artistic things as she was covered in tattoos. I’ve lost my train of thought know, where was I? Oh that was it, more wine. No that wasn’t it. Hold on let me top up and I’ll try and remember what I was saying).
That was it! notes! they have too many of them to fit into your wallet (hold on, that contradicts what I just said before about feeling rich. Oh I had that opinion two paragraphs ago, I’ve changed my mind). When we were at the ball game the other night (get me, “ball game”. I’m nearly native. Perhaps they might keep me if we can’t get back in) the vendors literally had fists full of dollars (hmmm, I like the sound of that. I might use that as a film title in the future). You could see them trying to work out exactly what it was they had in their hands as they were giving out change. And that’s another thing….change (oh the red wine is taking affect now, I’m starting to rant).
You never seem to have the right notes at the right time. This morning we had breakfast at a local cafe (we had the seat next to the ATM. Funny how that is always the last one to be filled). The problem was that I didn’t have any small notes for a tip, so had to leave a pocket full of shrapnel (mainly, quarters, nickels, dimes and centimes. I’ve had those centimes since a school trip to France in 1981 and never found a way of getting rid of them. They look like cents, they’ll be fine. It’s not as if I’m trying to palm them off with dollar coins). 12 hours later, I can’t shut my wallet as I now have $13 in single bills. So tomorrow I will try and get rid of them, so tomorrow night when I try and tip the Uber driver (which is prepaid on a card) how many will I have then? Yep, none. It’s a feast or famine with these things.