The European Union has a nice flag. Like the "Betsy Ross" flag, but she forgot the stripes. Blue field, ring of gold stars. But, what's it mean? You're in the EU, then you use Euro's for money, right? Nope. Not necessarily. The UK opted out. They liked their Pounds and Pence. And, they're not the only one. See here: Euro money
The good news is, you hardly have to plan ahead for currency when you visit Europe. Just let your bank know where you will be so they don't try to "help" you by turning off you credit card, thinking someone stole it and is now buying hamburgers in a pub in England. Then, you can use your credit and debit cards just like in the US.
Sort of. Some places only take your credit card if you have a "chip"on it. Saw lots of vendors in the airport offering to sell me a "chip and PIN" for my credit card. I ignored them. Now I know what that's about. Most places are okay with a swipe and a signature, though, so the chip thing really isn't necessary.
Second problem is when you charge something and the clerk asks, "Euros or dollars?" or "Pounds or dollars?" "Uh....I'm not in the US, so why are they asking me that...?" "Euros." Oops. Maybe not. They are asking because it decides who and what decides the exchange rate. Do you trust your bank to give you a good exchange rate? Then say "dollars". Otherwise, you'll get what you'll get - and it might not be good.
Third problem. Tipping in restaurants. Different customs for different countries. So, you have to figure all that out first. Then, how to pay? Apparently, the common US method of just adding it to you credit card bill is atypical, and leaving money on the table is considered rude in Germany, but I still don't know about England and Ireland. I did all sorts of things. One of them might have be right.
Fourth problem. Coins. Okay, I get the one and two pound/euro coin thing. Canada does it with "loonies and two-nies". We should probably do it here, too. It's the other coins. Euro cents and English pence come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50. So far, so good. But, then the fun begins. Euro 1, 2 and 5 are copper color. The 2 is the size of our penny. The one is smaller. The 10, 20 and 50 are gold color. Like this.
In England, only the one and two are copper. The one is the size of our penny, the 2 is bigger. The rest are silver color. The 20 and 50 are seven sided. The 20 is about the size of our nickel and the pound coin. The pound is a bit thicker though. The 10 is about the same as our quarter and is round. The 50 is huge - about the size of a 2 pound coin. Like this.
This is not too terribly confusing if you can keep your US coins out of the mix and stick with one set of currency. You still have to think a bit, but it's not really a problem. The problem comes when you mix pounds/pence with Euros/cents. Ireland/Northern Ireland is where it happened to me. A one day trip from Dublin to Northern Ireland.
Got a text from Anna: "Had any trouble with the money yet?" "Pfft. No! And I'm not going to!" I thought. That was the last time I DIDN'T have any trouble. I put my Pounds in my left pocket and my Euros in my right. Good theory. They got mixed in a hurry - and stayed that way, all day.
"Is that a 2 pence or a 5 cent piece?" "Where are my reading glasses? Is that a 20 cent or a 50 cent?" "Sir, that's Euro, not a Pound." "Sir, that's a Pound, not a Euro - just hold out your hand and I'll do it."
Then there the notes....lets not go there!