I’ve said a bit about the oddities in pricing over here, especially in relation to the higher costs associated with what I would class as the healthier food options.
But there are other curiosities as well. There seems to be a clear aversion to using cash over here. Everywhere accepts cards, and to be honest it is extremely normal to see people paying for transactions with plastic rather than cash. And if they are paying with cash, they use notes. Coins seem to be only used when change is handed over, for paying on the bus or for laundry machines – and even then the only one people seem to use are quarters. Lower denomination coins are treated almost as rubbish. I’ve seen a lot of people just drop them almost like litter.
This even extends to the University. The student/staff ID cards here (mine doesn’t) double up as a pre-paid debit card. You can just top up and use the card to pay for lunch, buy stuff at the campus shop or even pay for use of the washing machines in the apartment building I’m in. You can even swipe it in a separate machine which then puts laundry powder into the machine you want to use. But it is not just limited to the campus, you can use the card all over the city.
The range of shops which are willing to accept this as a valid payment type is surprising. Most clothing and food shops/cafes are willing to take it. What worries me (and Claire) are the number of tattoo parlours in this area which are happy to take it. It is obviously worth their while, so presumably there are a lot of students at the university who decide that is a good idea and pay for it with their campus card (this could happen when possibly inebriated).
The other thing that keeps catching me out are $1 bills which I keep mistaking for larger denominations. There seems to be an obsession with these bills be handed out when larger notes would be expected (i.e. get a $5 and 5x $1 rather than a $10). This seems to happen a lot in bars and restaurants and I’ve been wondering if it is due the tipping norms over here. Staff make sure you have notes you can use to tip when getting change, rather than giving a larger note and the customer having no change to tip.
Curiously the BBC had a story on American money the other day, focused on the reluctance of America to start using $1 coins. You can read the story here.