Those who have read my previous blogs know that I have a more tech related focus on the things I post about. Every now and then though it’s something to do with a personal life experience (such as a gig or sporting event). This post is mixing the 2.
Last weekend was my girlfriends 25 birthday (Happy birthday Kate!). To celebrate, we decided to go for a long weekend in the most romantic city in the world, Paris. We looked forward to eating as many croissants as humanly possible along with some fantastic sights, food and the rest of it. What I personally wasn’t looking forward to was using the € currency. It’s pretty annoying fiddling around with notes and coins in another currency, and with modern technology so readily available I asked myself if it was even required?
So here was the challenge – From when my flight landed to when I departed, not withdraw or spend 1 cent in physical money. Instead, live by my credit card.
Firstly, the financial advantage was pretty obvious. I used a Nationwide Credit Card which has a 0% commission policy on foreign transactions and no charges. This meant I’d get a better exchange rate than any £ to € cash conversion (including “wastage” which is the extra cash you come back with in €). This was backed up my a Nationwide Flex Current Account card which is a debit card containing the same benefits (in case I needed a backup). I also had my NFC equipped phone which, unfortunately, is still pretty useless.
Lucky for me, this task was easier than I thought. All travel tickets for the metro system had machines which took card. All food establishments naturally accepted card. All shops also tended to allow for cards. Some smaller gift shops and coffee shops had a min 5€ transaction requirement which was fine seeing as a few croissants and a couple of coffees would easily reach 12€ in Paris these days (eurgh!)
In fact, even the silly gift shops by the Sacre Ceur took card for a mini Eifell Tower, as well as the Catacombs for the 4€ entry fee! (Which, though rather grotesque, was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life…! See the pic below!)
BUT, it wasn’t a complete success! We had a few meals in our short weekend, and one thing was very quickly realised. Restaurants would not take “tips” in the form of card payments. Their machines didn’t ask if you wanted to tip, and due to only being 2 of us, our bills didn’t reach the level where 15% was automatically added. In fact, when I asked one waiter to add on 10% to the bill as I handed me his card, he told me it’s not possible, and soon after waived cash as we left the place shouting “cash” at me…!
The odd thing about that situation is the waiter seemed to be trying to make out I was the ignorant one for not having any cash! I personally believe it would be rather ignorant to expect a customer to carry just the right amount of cash around specifically for tipping purposes!!!! Ok, tourists usually have cash, but what about entrepreneurs who are flying all over the place? Imagine trying to manage the currencies all the time? This is the entire point of having one card that you could take to multiple countries for all payment purposes. Even taxi’s took card!
The service in the restaurants we went too weren’t great anyway – The sound of our english accents seemed to turn even the friendliest of waiters into frustrated people who would rather be looking at their nails than making eye contact, so we didn’t feel too bad about not being able to tip, even if we did offer at every meal. The other issue was the street sellers would be unable to take any form of card payment for small items. I actually question the reason for this? You’ll think to yourself “well, it’s just one guy on a street, how can he take card payment?”. The 2 main options are:
1) Mobile phone credit card processing applications (many IOS and Android apps available to take instant card payments and email receipts)
2) Paypal using a phone or other device
This would allow people who don’t have cash on them to still purchase their items.
Finally, there’s NFC technology as I mentioned earlier. Currently there are several types of cards (Visa, Mastercard, Amex) and 3 types of global accounts (checking, savings & credit). That’s a lot of card types. NFC brings this all together into one device. Your mobile phone. NFC readers are getting cheaper and becoming standard for all modern phones. Put this together with a mobile phone application payment processor, and you could in theory take any card from any country simply by having your phone tap on a pad. People that worry about security should remember that with a mobile phone, someone can perform an incredibly detailed identity theft (due to email & other accounts being linked( which is why you should *ALWAYS* have a PIN code on your smartphone! Having the PIN protects your identity on your phone, thus in the same way, it would protect your financial details.
In summary, I would count this test as a success. The only failure was the inability to tip the fairly rude waiters we had, so maybe there was some form of higher power dealing with that side of things for me. Cheers big man!
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