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SUNDAY, MAY 27, 2007
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TOM WRIGHT

American Express: Leave it at home

“Funny money,” the cashier behind the counter at the truck stop said of the bill I handed him to pay for a sandwich, a bottle of water and two candy bars.

I expected change from what I thought was a 100 Euro bill.

The people standing in line laughed as the clerk held up the bill again, this time to the light, and repeated himself.

“What do you mean, “Funny money?” I asked. “I got these Euros out of an ATM.”

“Czech money,” he said, “You can’t spend in Germany.” Nor was it enough to pay for my purchases.

The 600 Krunes in my wallet explained why I thought I had more money than I really had. Six hundred Euros converted to about $800 two weeks ago when Regina and I and James and Pat Smithson toured Bavaria.

Later at a bank, the funny money exchanged for less than 10 Euros and I had to visit an ATM for cash.

The Krunes were left from a visit to the Czech Republic in 2004.

The “funny money” story illustrates what traveling is like today in Europe where most countries use the Euro.

The old slogan, “Don’t leave home without it,” no longer applies to American Express. Neither is it convenient to take American Express travelers checks because some banks won’t cash them.

You had better ask about establishments taking credit cards before running up a bill, otherwise you might have a conversation like I had with the manager of a family-run bed and breakfast in southern Germany. We were in Lindau, an island town in Lake Constance or Lake Bodensee. The name seems to vary with nationality.

No, he would not take my American Express card. No, he was not sorry if I had no Euros or other credit cards.

“You work it out,” he said, making motions to indicate I would be shoveling.

“But I leave tomorrow,” I said, playfully. “Then you pay,” he said, with his arms crossed and refusing to discuss the matter further.

“He’s Mafia,” his wife said, with a wide grin, at breakfast the next morning.

I couldn’t blame him for not taking American Express if he was correct that it would cost him 15 percent of the bill.

He took my Visa but added 3 percent.

Tom Wright is executive editor.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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