After Harrods, we took a ride over to Leicester Square to find something to eat. We took a long walk through Chinatown, a couple of blocks over, but the girlfriend (aka wife) is not big on Chinese food, so we wound up over here at TGIF. We're suckers for the Jack Daniels steak and chicken.
When we paid the check, we saw something we'd never seen before...rather than taking our card, they brought a tiny little machine to our table and swiped our card right in front of us. This is good, our card didn't leave our sight.
Speaking of credit cards. Usually I'm not a big fan of debit cards, but in London we used a debit card exclusively, because it had the lowest currency exchange fee (1%). I looked through our credit cards before we left to find the one with the best exchange rate, but apparently in the past couple of years our friends the credit card companies have introduced yet annother innovative fee, a 3% currency exchange rate fee. This means every time you make a purchase, 3% of the charge gets added on and goes straight to Visa.
Consider yourself warned. Our debit card through our credit union had only a 1% fee, so it got all our business.
And that reminds me of this. WiFi spots and ATMs are completely updside-down and backwards in the UK compared to the US...here, if you use most ATMs, you get slapped with a $2 or $3 or $4 fee just for the privilege of using it, and then later when you get your bank statement your bank may have added a few fees of their own, so it could easily cost you $5 to withdraw $10. Well in London, we couldn't give our money away to an ATM. Everywhere we went, ATMs very politely offered to give us our money for free! Without even an international surcharge. Oh, I bet the US is all over additional surcharges for international visitors using ATMs...if not they will be now that I've written this.
So this was nice! But it was more than cancelled out by the following. Here in the US it's hard to walk three feet without entering a new WiFi hotspot, a place where you can hook up your computer via a WiFi signal to the internet absolutely free. Libraries, coffee shops, shopping malls, tire dealers, methadone clinics...all offer wireless internet access absolutely free, just for your being you.
NO SUCH THING in London. Oh, you could connect wirelessly all right...in the few places I tried I connected immediately--to a screen which told me how I could pay for internet access via credit card at a rate of $12 an hour, or $80 for 24 hours. OH NO I THINK NOT.
For internet access, your best bet in London is the Internet Cafes which are every few blocks. For around £1 per hour, you can sit at a small computer terminal and check your email or send instant messages amongst all the 10-14-year-old boys and girls whose mothers can't be bothered to keep track of them who are complaining loudly and regularly that they are "so bored" while pretending they are 18 on their instant messengers and having cybersex, no doubt with other 10-14-year-old boys and girls who are pretending they are 18.