The Credit Card Hell
I have already tackled one of the aspects that sometimes makes me think that Germany is a backwards country. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's an OK backwards country, but there are a few things that just drive me nuts. One of those is the fact that having a credit card in Germany is like owning a useless piece of plastic.
Some will tell me that credit cards *are* in any case, a useless piece of plastic. But seriously, how can a country like Germany still not have taken the necessary steps to be tourist compliant? I just don't get it.
I know France is rather advanced in the plastic-money business, as are the US. But I have been travelling all over Europe, and Germany strikes me really as the most backwards country when it comes to using credit cards. Actually, even when it comes to using paying cards, period.
Let's try a desciption here.
On my French account, I have a debit card which *also* acts as a credit card (VISA), In French, it's called a Carte Bleue (blue card). With one bank account, I can have just one card, which acts both as a debit and credit card. I pay a monthly fee to hold that card, depending on the level of automnomy, credit and other things I want with that card. I can use it in France of course, but also everywhere in the world where Visa is accepted. I use it to withdraw cash in France as well as anywhere else. The fees on payments made with that card around the world are about 2%, I can withdraw cash everywhere for a small change fee, and I can withdraw cash in France or in the euro zone for no fee (up to 5 withdrawals a month not at my bank). The payments made with that card are withdrawn either right on the spot or at the end of the month, depending on the specificities of my contract.
On my German account, I have a Maestro card (called EC Karte) which works *only* as a debit card. I also have a credit card (in this case a Mastercard), which is a separate piece of plastic. I can use my EC-Karte to withdraw cash, however, if I use a different ATM than that of my bank (Naspa) or - fortunately- of all Sparkassen I immediately pay a fee of 5 euros to withdraw cash. Fee which I pay automatically as soon as I withdraw money anywhere else than Germany. It's worse with my credit card, the fee is 5 to 8 euros to use an ATM for cash *anywhere*, even in Germany. The payments made with my EC-Karte are withdrawn on the spot, the payments made with my credit card are withdrawn at the end of the month, with a change fee for international payments. I pay a monthly fee to hold that card.
This already shows you the differences. One card, little fee on the one hand, two cards, outrageous fees on the other hand. But that wouldn't be so bad if you could actually *use* those two cards. Well, in Germany, you can't. Or you hardly can.
It first struck me while standing in line at a Mediamarkt. There was a guy in front of me who bought a computer, something around 1000 euros altogether. And he was paying it with cash. As I was looking at the bills line up on the counter, I couldn't believe that anyone would
- carry so much cash on them
- even bother to collect and count the cash for such a sum.
But there it was, in front of me. And that is where I realized that Mediamarkt does not take credit cards. I mean, they take EC-Karte, but they don't take credit cards. Which basically means, if you're in Germany just when the last iPod comes out and you can't wait and want it right away, either you got a German account, or you gotta have the cash. Don't even dream of arriving with your Visa or Mastercard or American Express, all gold and international. You'll get a polite "we don't take credit cards". Punkt, Ende, aus. And guess what. IKEA does the same. "No credit cards". I find that, as a French who travels all the time, completely incongruous. Actually, I find that insane. I mean, I could understand that the little shop around the corner does not take credit cards, but for Heaven's sake, Mediamarkt and IKEA? I mean, it's not like you're going to IKEA to buy for much less than a 100 euros. And you usually come out of Mediamarkt with at least the same amount woth of wares.
Now, I've been in Germany two years, so although it still drives me nuts, I am getting used to it. But two days ago, I found reason to get mad again. I went to Mc Donalds. A huge, big enormous Mc Donalds, open 24/7, so full that you never find a place to park. And I didn't have any cash. And when I don't have cash in this country, I don't feel good (because I know that cards are seldom accepted), but I thought, come on, Mc Donalds, American imperialism, blablabla, surely they take credit cards. Still. I asked. Well guess what, they don't. But worse, it's not only that they don't take credit cards. They don't take cards at all. Only cash. Cash only. You'd think that given the number of tourists who end up in a Mc Donalds, Mc Donalds would make an exception.
But no. The German economy is shaped for Germans. No-one else. Tourists go home, because we won't adapt to your ways. I find this credit card no man's land totally unfriendly. You can't go to Mc Donalds, you can't go to a restaurant, drink a coffee, you can't go to a supermarket, you can't pay for all these things with a supposedly "international means of payment". If you're not German and have the right EC-Karte, or don't carry bills and coins in your pocket, you're doomed. For someone like me, brought up to carry around as little cash as possible, it's hell. Surely there is a reason behind this. But I don't get it. One day I might investigate.
On the other hand, you can pay with a credit card for a Twix in pretty much any gas station across the country. Go figure.
Ah and I almost forgot. McDonalds is having their annual game thing with Monopoly. Guess who's one of the main partners for the prizes? VISA! What a joke.