ATMs in Germany: Chips versus Magstripes

Although we take them very much for granted today, automated cash-dispensing machines have only been common since the late 1970s. Banks introduced the devices first in Europe, then in North America and elsewhere. Today there are an estimated 2 to 3 million ATMs in service around the world, with about 60,000 of them in Germany and 350,000 or so in Western Europe.

The German term for ATM is Geldautomat, but the Austrians and the German Swiss prefer Bancomat/Bankomat. Even in the English-speaking world there are several different expressions for automated teller machines: ATM, ABM (automatic bank machine, Canada), bank machine, cash machine, Cashpoint (actually a trademark), and hole in the wall (UK). ATMs have pretty much eliminated old-fashioned traveler’s checks. Remember those? Continue reading

Credit card differences

I was planning to write today about the problems sometimes encountered by Americans when they try to use their US credit card in Europe. As fortune would have it, I experienced exactly the reverse yesterday: Trying to use a German card in the US.

I was helping a German friend who is visiting us in the US use his credit card at a gas station. He inserted the German Deutsche Bank MasterCard into the gas pump. First he had to choose credit or debit. It’s a credit card, so he chose credit. Then a message appeared that I’ve seen a lot at gas pumps during my US travels lately: “Please enter your ZIP code.” Well, a German Postleitzahl is the same length as a US ZIP code, so he tried that. “Please see the clerk” was the machine’s response. We tried debit also, but it wanted a PIN that didn’t work. So it was off to see the clerk.

We were able to get the German card accepted with the clerk handling the transaction (and showing a German ID), but we had to guess how much gas we needed. If it was less than that amount, we would have to return to have the clerk enter a refund of the difference. Luckily, we guessed about right and did not have to do that. But the entire experience was a hassle caused by the differences in the way US and German credit cards function.

Basically, American credit cards are out of date (überholt in German). Continue reading