It wasn't until I'd spilled my armfuls of items onto the counter that it occurred to me. I didn't have enough pound notes left in my wallet to buy everything. I'd have to use my credit card -- my antiquated magnetic stripe American credit card, unequipped with the sleek chip-and-PIN technology used in Scotland (and, well, nearly everywhere else in the world).
Last week I was vacationing in gorgeous Edinburgh, Scotland. Once I remembered that my credit card was rather old-fashioned, I apologetically informed the young saleswoman behind the shop counter that my credit card didn't have chip-and-PIN, and if she couldn't accept my old magnetic stripe card I'd come back with cash.
She looked at me as though I were speaking a different language, and it wasn't just my American accent that was confusing her.
The fact is, she'd never encountered a magnetic stripe card before. So the shop owner and I gave her a patient, motherly hands-on history lesson about the humble magnetic stripe.
It was rather precious. The young woman feebly tapped the card on the card reader machine. The shop owner kindly explained that tapping wouldn't work because the card had no chip in it. She explained that she'd have to slide the card through the slim scanner on the side of the machine, to which the young woman said, "I'd always wondered what that thing was for."
The young woman's confusion only increased as the machine started printing multiple receipts. With wide, wary eyes she watched the machine spit out several slips of paper. The shop owner gestured to me, saying, "Now you give her one copy to sign." Receipts in shaking hands, the girl said "Which? Where?"
I offered my help. I pointed to the merchant's copy with its tell-tale "sign here" line. I signed my name with more care and less speed than I normally do, as though the girl also needed a lesson in writing signatures.
The shop owner instructed the young saleswoman to check the signature on my receipt against that on my card, to make sure they matched. Then she said, "We keep this one," sliding the merchant's copy into the cash register, "she takes this one," handing the customer copy to me, "and then we're done."
Upon the utterance of the words "we're done," the girl was visibly relieved. Then she quickly turned away to wrap up the delicate items I'd purchased, clearly happy to return to a familiar task.
The shop owner and I smiled at each other. I apologized for the trouble and said that we really don't use chip-and-pin in the US. "Strange," she said. "America's always ahead of us with this sort of thing."
"Not when it comes to banking technology," I grumbled, shaking my head.
So American banking CIOs, I've been going behind your back to distant lands disparaging your work. How does that make you feel? Considering that the story I just related took place in a small owner-operated shop that sits literally in the shadow of a 15th-century castle, don't you feel just a bit silly delivering technology that they consider old and obsolete?
Also, a question for brick-and-mortar retailers in Europe and abroad: Do you still accept cards that aren't equipped with chip-and-PIN? If so, are your younger staff completely befuddled by them? Let us know in the comments below.