Culture Shock in the Olde Worlde
I must admit, I am proud to have gotten a free ride from a London Cabbie.
My first visit to London, or indeed anywhere in Europe, was in July 2005 when I got to spend a day there on my way to Helsinki. Just time for once round the Eye, a quick glance around Piccadilly and a half-day meeting with the good people from the Open University.
I was in a hurry, of course, and I fully believed that I was arriving in a developed nation where things would be fairly normal. I was even prepared for them to be more advanced than we are here, in some ways. What I was completely unprepared for was the generally low level of acceptance of credit cards.
I first encountered a credit card in 1979, when my parents used their new VISA to buy me a bunch of furniture to get me into my first flat. I think I got my own card a couple of years later, and these days I use it for pretty much everything from buying the weekly groceries to buying those air tickets to Helsinki.
So when I got off the plane at Heathrow, I immediately headed for the cabs. That's what I've done every time I arrived anywhere in Asia-Pacific, and it's worked just fine. Several times I've been to Australia for a week without handling any cash at all.
Then I got in a London Cab, assuming these guys would take credit cards. You can't choose a cab at Heathrow - you have to take the assigned one - and the whole procedure appears to be so much trouble that you don't want to inconvenience them by requesting one that takes credit cards. Not that the though of doing so even entered my mind. Surely they're supposed to be the most with-it cabbies in the world aren't they? If the propaganda is to be believed they practically need a degree to be allowed to drive, so surely they'll be doing it all with the latest technology! Well no. These 'famous' London Cabbies aren't a patch on Corporate Cabs for quality of service, although they no doubt exceed them on price.
Once I got into the cab, we started to negotiate the destination, but the cabbie appeared never to have heard of Teddington and at about that point I also noticed the distinct lack of credit card company logos and tendered the question about credit cards.
Since he appeared never to have heard of these things either, and he wanted not a bean of any of the other currencies that I did have floating about in my wallet, this was clearly not a match made in heaven. He dropped me off near an ATM a few minutes drive away, possibly wondering if all New Zealanders were barmy, wanting to use a plastic card instead of carting fuckwads of mugger bait around with them. How odd.
I have been reminded of this strange cultural difference in the UK recently a couple of times. Firstly because I went to the UK Moodle Moot in Milton Keynes recently and was once more forced to fill my wallet with more cash than I normally see in a year.
More recently though, I've been trying to buy a Nokia 770. Apparently Nokia think that "New Zealand" is somewhere in Europe, because that link definitely redirects to europe.nokia.com. On the other hand they must be pretty sure it isn't, because it's not one of the countries listed when I click on the "Buy Online" button - that only shows a bunch of countries that really are in Europe. And the US of A, of course.
None of those sites will let me ship the darned thing to New Zealand though. Of course I knew this, and I thought I'd try and buy one in Los Angeles when I went through there earlier in the year. I was only there for seven hours though, which is barely enough time to get through customs and check your baggage in for the next flight in these paranoid times.
My next chance was a trip to London. This time I even planned ahead a little! I found a retailer in the UK who was selling the Nokia 770 over the web. I worked out their physical address and plotted myself a little map so I would know how to get there and then I e-mailed them to ask if I could buy one and pick it up while I was there?
Well sure I could. I just had to fax them a copy of my grandmother's birth certificate or something first. They accept credit cards, but it seems that somewhere in their office they make the paper that they turn into credit card slips, each one lovingly hand-inked and beautifully crafted in gold leaf. They couldn't accept credit cards, even if I visited in person and signed the slip in front of them. Those US of A paranoids have got nothing on these guys. They're so distrustful that I find myself starting to distrust them! Clearly they also don't have computers, or dial-up connections to the bank, or they would be able to validate all of the credit card can-the-bastard-pay stuff while I was there, and before I ducked out the door with the merchandise.
OK, I'm stupid. I should have ordered them the day before I left, to arrive at my hotel. Duh. I've never actually got something shipped to a hotel and I must confess to being somewhat disorganised from time to time (if you've read this far you are probably wondering how I ever manage to get out of bed in the mornings). Of course once I thought of this it was too late - I wasn't going to be at the hotel for long enough for that to work.
And anyway: I was going to be in London. Surely there would be some shop in London that would have one on a shelf somewhere that I could just pick up and carry out? Well, no, actually. It seems that these devices are so well marketed by Nokia that nobody has actually heard of them. Nobody (barring wierdos like me) wants to own one, and nobody in their right mind would be seen dead trying to purchase one in the Nokia store in London. Or in one of those electronics places down Tottenham Court Road.
So, I returned to New Zealand Nokia-less again.
We still want one of these things though. In fact we want four of them, so I return to my original website where they will sell them on-line. Albeit, to people from third world countries like New Zealand they will only sell them one at a time on credit card. I no longer trust these guys, because they don't trust me, but I decide to have another attempt to get them to ship the thing to me directly. So far my first order has been screwed up because my shipping address has to match my credit card address, which has to be the credit card billing address, and their website forced me to choose a different credit card at the end, from what it had said was acceptable at the beginning. It took a few days to work that one out.
Who knows, maybe my second order will work? In a couple more days, when they've had a cuppa or two and telephoned the bloke at the bank to find out if my card is real, maybe they'll get back to me and ask me to send them an autographed picture of myself or something.
Meanwhile, I just realised while writing this that we have someone visiting England for a conference at the moment. I realised it because I was chatting with him on IRC, so I can order them through the Nokia website, so long as the credit card address of "New Zealand, England, NewZealand, United Kingdom" is valid enough to scrape by.
So now we have MPhone:1, Nokia:2. I'll be disappointed if the ones ordered through the Nokia website get to me first though because that conference hasn't even started yet. Maybe I should find a non-paranoid USAian and see if I can get one shipped from there as well.
I'll give the London chaps another day to run their atomic force microscope over my credit card details, I think, and if I don't get any action from them I'll get my auntie onto the job from Pennsylvania.
Hopefully they'll take AMEX on the Nokia on-line store in the US of A.