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Things They Do Better Here

ATM machines.

They’re everywhere. Even though most businesses in London do accept credit cards; using one is not as smooth a process as it is in the US. First of all, the credit card processing machine isn’t integrated with the cash register at most bars, convenience stores, food joints, etc. They bring out this little handheld machine that works on radio I imagine (of course they have only one; for all I know, they’re rationed by the Royal Hand-Held Transaction Units Group.) Second,  UK-issued credit cards have a microchip embedded in the upper-right corner of the card. Most of the minions first try to slide my card into the slot on the bottom of the device that is designed to read that chip. When that doesn’t work, because my card doesn’t have the chip, the synapses have to work overtime to process the difference in cards and realize that they will have to swipe the card down the side of the machine. (If I try to point that out ahead of time, a blank stare ensues.) That roadblock, combined with the fact that the majority of the service industry folks in the UK seem to come from countries where English is not a first language usually causes an unnecessary delay.

All that to say that ATM’s are important for smooth daily operations. It’s a lot easier to just carry some cash. There are machines at most major street intersections, train stations, convenience stores and basically everywhere you might need one. Also, there is apparently such competition that the machines do not charge any additional fees which is a nice touch. (I still end up paying a fee from my bank, plus a % charge for the currency conversion, which is quite irritating.) The final customer service feature that I really appreciate is that the machines are programmed to give you useful denominations. I’ve mostly been drawing 50£ at a time and when I do that I’ll get a 20£ note and 3 10£ notes. I’ve never been to an American machine that is so friendly. Many will dispense ONLY $20 dollar bills and you can only get a $10 if you are lucky enough to find a machine that will dispense in non-$20 increments, and even then it’s only the one.


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