Saturday, December 18, 2010

Credit Card Adventures

Ah, the joys of trying to use a credit card in another country! Our main credit card company is pretty security conscious (a good thing) and will put a block on our card if it’s used at an airport or in another country without advance notification (not always a good thing since we’ve found ourselves left holding the bag, literally, at an airport at least once when we wanted to pay for excess baggage). So I observed due diligence and notified them that we would be traveling to and using the card in France between these dates. So far so good.

Our first day here in Paris, we needed some basic supplies. Fortunately, we’re staying in an area that has lots of little march├ęs (like convenience stores but also with fresh fruits and vegetables). Believe it or not, most of these have their doors wide open and are not heated! The owner or cashier is wrapped up like we are with coat, hat, and gloves against the cold. This is definitely not a job I’d like to be doing at this time of the year! But I digress...

After picking a selection of goods in one of these shops, the cashier rang them up and I presented him with my credit card. He inserted it into the machine and waited a bit. “You need to put in your PIN,” he told me. “No I don’t,” I said, “It’s a credit card, not a debit card.” “Well, it’s not working,” he finally said and pulled it out. I urged him to try again. Same result. Well that’s just great, I thought. But it had worked when I bought subway tickets at the airport...

So I pulled out another credit card. Same thing. A third card... this time it worked. Whew!

Refusing to believe that the card had been blocked, I tried it again at the next store. Again it looked like it wasn’t going to go through. “You need to put in your PIN,” said the cashier. “There is no PIN. This is a credit card,” I replied. And because the little screen still said “Wait”, we waited. And suddenly the machine began spitting out a receipt and the screen said “Approved”! The trick seemed to be to wait a little longer than for a local French credit card. After all, the signal has to go all the way to Canada and back for approval, right?

Armed with this knowledge, I was ready for the next time. We were in a Monoprix, a small department and grocery store, buying hats, gloves, and thick socks. The lady rang up the bill and I inserted my credit card into the machine. “You have to put in your PIN,” she said. “No I don’t,” I replied. “This is a credit card, not a debit card.” She shook her head. “But it’s not going through,” she insisted. I looked her in the eye and said, “It says ‘Wait’ so let’s wait.” A few seconds later: “You need to put in the PIN,” she repeated. “Is it asking for a PIN or is it asking for us to wait?” I asked. She shook her head again. And suddenly the machine began spitting out a receipt and the screen said “Approved”!

I withdrew the card, signed the receipt, and took the bag with my purchases. As I left, I smiled at the cashier.  “Madame," I said, "I know my card!”

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