Friday, September 21, 2007


The week's shopping has been marked by two overwhelming emotions: the thrill of the hunt and the frustration of being an American abroad. It has been rewarding to put together a new home in, I think, record time. And, since about 95% of our new possessions came from the same place, everything looks very neat and coordinated. Finding the last few items on my list keeps me alert when I'm walking around town, which is always good. Every time I find something new, though, I have to buy it, and there's no telling what will happen.

We first heard about chip-and-PIN technology when we were traveling around the UK this summer. They have it in all their credit cards: a microchip that stores a PIN number so you have to know the right number and can't steal a credit card and forge the signature. Every credit card issued in the UK has a chip-and-PIN, and store clerks are always completely baffled that we don't have them. I've had to explain at least 50 times that we don't have that in America, and people always look at me as if I'm coming from Siberia instead of Florida. Chip-and-PIN is a fairly new technology here, but it has caught on quickly so that many stores won't take anything but chip-and-PIN. This rule is enforced differently at different stores and even by different people at the same store. At the local stationer's (like a mini-Office Depot), they pulled out a dusty credit card swiping machine with carbon paper. At a bookstore one day last week I used my credit card and just had to sign the receipt, then the very next day they sent me off to the cash machine and couldn't take my card at all. At another bookstore of the same chain, they took my card but called Wachovia to authorize it. IKEA charges 70p for a signing card; Waitrose sometimes requires photo ID; and you should see what we had to go through at the bank last week to get cash for our deposit on the flat! Thank goodness Andrew works there, or we'd be out on the streets.

But there is hope in sight. Andrew has an account through Barclays, obviously, and his Barclaycard, complete with chip-and-PIN, is in the mail. Now we just need to get me sorted out, and we'll be able to shop without a care in the world. Now, if only the chip-and-PIN came with free money...but Andrew gets paid this weekend, for the first time in four months. It's a good day!

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