Monday, April 23, 2012

The marvelous credit card

We bought a very thick book on our trip to England at the British Museum: "A History of the World in 100 Objects."
Inside, the author talks about the usual kinds of things one can see in this celebrated museum of objects owned, borrowed and a few stolen from countries around the world: the Rosetta Stone, the Mummy of Hornedjitef, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from Egypt, a double-headed serpent made of 2,000 tiny pieces of jade, the David porcelain vases from China, Hoe Hakananai's massive Easter Island statue, and valuable coins, pottery and figurines.
On page 646, however, the item featured is a simple credit card for the United Arab Emirates.
The King of plastics
Why would they include a credit card with such important items?
"Bank credit is, for the first time in history, no longer the prerogative of the elite," says the author. The credit card is the "ultimate symbol of economic freedom for millions, as some would see it, or, for others, of triumphant Anglo-American consumer culture."
You may laugh but the "proper" credit card became very important to us after we ran into several merchants who asked us if we had "chip and pin" cards.
Without a chip and pin (a microchip embedded in the card that only worked if the correct personal identification number was duly entered), our American Express, MasterCard, Discover and Visa cards were basically worthless.
Apparently cards with the magnetic stripe across the back were too easily stolen and used by thieves so most of the European countries (and Canada) have now gone to chip and pin versions.
Nobody had told us this.
Lucky for us, we had brought about 300 British pounds with us and my son paid us in cash for things we brought him from the United States (like Fruit Loops, Jello pudding mix and an iPad).
Thus, we got along OK except for the minor aggravation of being told our cards weren't welcome.
It's amazing how accustomed we are to whipping out a plastic card to take care of our needs.
I'm thinking the credit card included in the book isn't such a surprise or novelty after all.
It ought to be on the cover.

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