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Short notes after a brief US trip

My short business trip to Chicago is coming to an end. Seeing my parents and my brother’s family was a bonus; going to a baseball game with co-workers gave me a necessary jolt of American culture; further socializing with said co-workers was mostly fun; otherwise, I could have probably stayed home.

But the trip highlighted a couple of things that I chalk up to an unofficial Things We Like in England category.

First is the sales tax. We certainly know that VAT – “value-added tax” – in European countries can reach an exorbitant 20% of the price of the product or service itself (it varies by country). Аs disconcerting as that thought is, what Europeans have learned a long time ago is to quote any price with the tax already included. They may show the tax portion explicitly on the bill, but they do not ask you to pay more than what the price tag shows.

Now, I realize that when you quote the price without tax, it appears more attractive to the consumer, making her more likely to reach for a wallet. But it certainly makes the overall cost misleading.

We are so used to that in America, that the absurdity of the practice becomes apparent only once you’ve lived in Europe for a while. Say, I come to a restaurant in London and decide that I want a steak. If the menu states £30 for a steak, then this is how much I am going to pay for it. Projecting the same situation onto an American eatery, if the menu says that the steak costs $30, then, of course, I am likely to pay $32.48 (at 8.25% tax clip). Silly.

Those of you who use the tax amount as the guideline for tips (“just double the tax”) may actually find the American approach more useful. Some others, more mathematically inclined than me (honestly, there are very few people in the entire universe who are more so inclined), may be okay with mental calculations every time they order or buy something. I’d rather be able to see my exact costs at the time of making a decision to buy.

One other appealing English practice is the use of PIN-and-chip credit cards, which I cursorily mentioned in my driver license post. Every time you use such a card, you have to type in your PIN into a card reader, which serves a purpose of authenticating you as a lawful card owner as well as anything.

This type of card is widely adopted only in England. We have not seen many PIN-entry-enabled card readers in other European countries. And they certainly do not exist at all in the States. The net effect is that a clerk in a pharmacy demands to see a “form of ID” in order to accept that I am paying by credit card. I find her vigilance against credit card fraud only slightly less annoying than the vigilance of an airport security person who decides to specifically check my bag.

On a totally different note, Natasha has already received her passport back from the English motor vehicles agency. I rail against stupidity of English procedures quite often (refer to the same driver license post), but their efficiency is sometimes quite amazing.

The license itself will supposedly arrive within the prescribed five-weeks period.

Finally, I signed up for a retina-scan border control procedure known as IRIS. Available to all legal foreign residents to England, it promises to greatly reduce the time spent in passport control lines. We shall see when I land in Heathrow in 8 or so hours.


  1. Kisintin

    Now the Big Brother has your retina-scan on record. Some people just go out of the way, to make themselves easier to find by authorities. What if you decide to rob a bank one of these days?

  2. Ilya

    I can just see it: Are you planning to rob our bank? Please step up to the retina reader… Yep, you are registered, please proceed… 🙂

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