Tag Archives: stories

Stories from the road: a tale of two American anecdotes

Paying for stuff

Paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird, compared to Australia. It’s mostly thanks to their weird credit card payment systems, which just recently saw the introduction of chip and PIN to their payment terminals, with contactless payments also being a new thing. Most of the time, you’re signing for stuff like in the bad old days.

Sometimes paying for stuff is the same, if a little outdated. At most retail locations, the cashier scans your items, you swipe your card, and then sign on a little piece of paper saying you authorise the transaction. Australia only recently went chip and PIN only for credit card transactions, which is a whole lot more secure than swiping a magnetic card and getting someone’s signature — there’s less chance your credit card gets skimmed, for one, and where your physical card gets stolen, only someone with the PIN can make a payment. I don’t think I saw anyone check my signature the entire time I was in the U.S.

The really funky stuff happens at restaurants, although I confess my experience may be skewed thanks to not visiting them all that frequently in Australia. When you call over the waiter for the bill/check/whatever parlance you desire to use today, they come back with a book which says the total amount for the food you ordered. You put your card into the book, which is then taken away to be pre-authorised. When they come back with your card, the book now has an additional receipt which has the actual, final amount you’ll be paying for your meal. Which is fine, except you then have to decide on a tip percentage (which differs from state to state), calculate the tip amount, and then write the total amount you’re going to be paying. Because this all happens after they pre-authorise your card, even though they have no idea how much they’re actually going to charge you, it all seems like a leap of faith to trust they’ll be charging you the amount you wrote down, instead of lots more. How often do people check credit card transactions, anyway?

I haven’t even touched on how physical items often don’t have the sales tax (which, again, differs from state to state) added on, which makes things more expensive than they originally seem, not to mention making things hard to pay for with exact change up-front, unless you know how much the sales tax is, and you can be bothered calculating the final amount beforehand (it’s generally not even some nice round percentage like the 10% GST we have in Australia, but something awful like 9.5%, like it is in Washington).

I witnessed one kid get upset because he had the exact amount, in cash, of the item he wanted, but thanks to sales tax, the total was more than he had. Luckily his parents were around to make up the difference, but it almost seems deceptive for stores to list the price before sales tax — I can’t think of a scenario where they wouldn’t be charging sales tax on sales in their store, so why not include it on the sticker? Like I said, paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird.

What makes things even stranger is that Americans have come up with ingenious ways to solve their wild and wacky payment issues. Square is perhaps the best solution for smaller mom and pa stores to take credit card payments that the world has ever seen, and with Apple Pay rolling out across banks and retailers across the country, things are looking up. But still, I can’t help but feel as though Kickstarters like the (multiple card support) are solutions to problems the rest of the world just doesn’t have. Chip and PIN is the way to go, and beyond that, contactless mobile payments via Apple Pay and its competitors.

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A plate of leftovers and some discarded Easter egg wrappers

For all the times that I marginalise this blog in favour of writing elsewhere, every time I come back to it to write in a little text box somewhere feels like a breath of fresh air. Because I own the platform, it means I can write whatever drivel I want here. It’s an outlet, a place to tell stories, or sometimes, to say a few things about a little box of liquid breakfast.


I took this picture with my Sony RX100 II during my recent trip to Malaysia. It’s exactly what it looks like: a plate of leftovers after my grandmother’s birthday celebrations. There’s bits of prawn, some strange stringy stuff that I don’t know the name of, and various other bones and other non-edible entities.

I took the photo because at the time, I wondered who was going to tell the story of this plate of leftovers, after the event was done and dusted. It looked kind of lonely, all by itself, in a large dinner hall that had emptied of people long ago. It would get cleaned up later on by staff from the restaurant, of course, but for the time being, it was just sitting there. Overflowing with the leftovers from a fantastic banquet, but just sitting there.

Turns out, I’m the one telling the story of the plate of leftovers. I’m the one saying that, of all the conversations the plate was privy to during the night, perhaps the most interesting of all is the one about food. There are other stories that could be told — the one about how my grandpa stormed out because he wasn’t feeling up to celebrating his wife’s birthday, or the one about how relatives from two separate continents met up for the first time in years — but the story of food is the one that connects all other stories.

Think of the prawns, for example. Where did they come from? Who was the chef that cooked them, and what was his story? Who served them, and what did they eat for lunch that day? I’m thankful that I’m the one that gets to ask these questions, even if no-one else is asking them. I have neither the time or inclination to follow any of the questions up, but asking the questions in the first place is an important step.


This photo was taken much more recently. Like the one about the plate of leftovers above, it’s exactly what it looks like: a collection of Easter egg wrappers.

Like every other individual at Easter, I eat chocolate eggs. My Easter eggs of choice are usually Cadbury mini eggs, since I find hollow eggs are annoying to eat — first you have to break off pieces, then eat those separately, break off more pieces, then eat that; the repetition gets to you, after a while — but one of the downsides to mini eggs is their individual wrappers. Each egg comes in a thin sheet of aluminium foil, coloured on one side and the normal silvery aluminium on the other.

Normally, I just throw the wrappers away as soon as I unwrap the egg, like any other person. But the question then becomes: what do you do with the wrappers if there’s no a bin nearby? Throwing them back into the packet of eggs isn’t an option; that just creates more mess later on and frustration when you’re trying to find an actual easter egg. Scrunching them up and then throwing them back into the packet is an option, but this time around I decided to keep them around, un-scrunched and building into a little pile on my desk.

No particular reason. Just because.

And like the plate of leftovers, once I was done with the eggs I took a photo, threw the wrappers in the bin, and wondered: who was going to tell the story of the Easter Eggs?

That guy, as it turns out, is me. I’m going to tell the story of a little box of liquid breakfast, a plate of leftovers, and some discarded Easter egg wrappers. And this blog is exactly where I’m going to do it.