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What England Does Better

I frequently rant about things that we do not like in England (the last obvious example of that was the driving license treatise), and even wrote a post once about things that we took for granted in the States. But occasionally, we come across a concept that makes us think, Why don’t they do it in the US? It’s long overdue on my part to collate some of those into a post. So, here goes a list of some things that we like on this side of the pond.

Chip-and-pin credit cards and hand-held devices to process them.
As far as I am aware, America is not even planning to implement anything similar, although the general concept of a “smart card” has been around for a while. (It is worth noting that this approach is not as common in the continental Europe either).

Your credit or debit card comes equipped with a computer chip that holds who knows what – Red Alert, right-to-privacy advocates! – but, most importantly, your four-digit pin. The card is not swiped at a terminal, but rather is inserted into a device chip-first, and you authorize the transaction by keying in your pin. No signature checking, no “Can I see a form of ID?” requests. Furthermore, any self-respecting restaurant equips waiters with portable wireless devices that can perform the task, meaning that you never have to let your credit card out of your sight. Quick, convenient, secure. Ingenious.

ATMs without charges.
Thousands of them, often suitably named “Hole in the Wall” or considerably more prosaically “Cashpoint”. Branch ATMs as well. For some reason, pinching a customer of another bank a couple quid for the “privilege” of using your ATM is not part of English banks’ business strategy.

Incoming cell calls free.
Completely and without restriction. You can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card, say, for £15, give it to your child with an understanding that she can only make calls herself in an emergency, and call her yourself as much as you want without literally ever paying for her phone again.

No-charge international calling.
Ok, this is kind of singular, and I am sure that some company in the US will soon follow suit. But our current home phone service calls for a monthly charge of £18 and allows unlimited free calls to all landlines in the UK and 35 other countries, including America. The only restriction is you need to keep the duration of each call to under 70 minutes. But if you are reaching that threshold – as members of my family often do – you can simply hang up, re-dial, and continue the conversation for another 69 minutes. Repeat as much as you want and you still do not pay a penny extra.

Electronic arrival boards on stations.
Information is king. Whether the trains run normally or are subject to lengthy delays, the people on the platform are always considerably more comfortable when they have a ready source of information. And on every – except possibly the very remote – station of London Underground or Commuter Rail system there are electronic displays that indicate in real-time how long you have to wait for the next train, along with its destination, as well as the next two arrivals afterwards. Announcements are made too, but they are hardly necessary.

Furthermore, bus stops in central London are equipped with similar boards as well, often displaying a dozen of bus arrivals expected in the next few minutes. I do not believe that those are real-time, actually; rather, they are relative to schedule. Still, it is clearly not an unwelcome source of information.

Tax included in quoted price.
I already mentioned this once and I realize that this is a matter of personal preference, but my preference clearly makes this concept fit the spirit of this blog entry.

Yes, the sales tax in England (called VAT – “Value-Added Tax”; who came up with that oxymoron, anyway?) is ludicrous, at 17.5%. But the way I see it, you do not make your decisions on whether to buy something or not based on the size of the tax (note that buying stuff abroad and shipping it to the UK does not remove the need to pay VAT upon the arrival of the item – there are ways around it, but they go under the heading of “bending the law”). You have to pay the stupid tax, and that’s it.

So, in New Jersey, you go to an electronics store to buy a $49.99 DVD player, and you fork over $53.11. The difference is certainly not something to your lose sleep over, but doesn’t it feel a bit as if you were lied to when you checked the price tag? Or, you go to a nice restaurant in New York City with friends, order a couple of hundred bucks worth of food and wine, and end up paying… well, what’s another twenty when you spend a couple of hundred?… But you get my point.

Some people like doing mental math every time they buy something, while many use the “double-the-tax” restaurant tipping trick. Me, I simply find it annoying that the menu gives me one price and then I have to pay more than that.

In Europe, they long figured that being straight with a customer makes said customer more satisfied. Or, possibly, the size of the tax makes it impractical to separately state the pre-tax price. So, they break out the original price and the VAT on your receipt. But if they tell you that your fish and chips costs £15, then that is exactly how much you will pay for it, not a penny more.

Ok, ok, I am probably reaching in my attempt to find things to my liking… 🙂

Posted in Expat Archive