Sunday, July 13, 2008

America's Shameless Marketing of Debt

When I was shopping at home last week in the Chicago area (which was a lot since the prices are so much better than in Switzerland), it never failed that while at the cash register I was asked if I would like to save an additional 15% by opening a store credit card.

Now on one hand, this pleased me because I could understand exactly what I was being asked. But on the other hand, it scared me.

Every store in America appears to have its coordinating credit card. The Limited, Guess, Express, Kohl's, you name it, you'll get asked if you want their card. If I had been so inclined, I could have opened over 10 credit cards while I was home, flown back to Switzerland, and racked up debt for as long as I pleased.

Instead, I paid for everything with dollars, which appears to be as foreign to the salespeople as if I had whipped out some Swiss Francs. Holding my $50 bill up to the light, they stared at it like I was a counterfeit criminal. No wonder people use their credit cards. That kind of treatment is just uncalled for. It was all very different from handing over a similar amount in Switzerland, where 50 CHF is treated as pocket change and isn't given a second glance at the register.

Anyhow, the highlight of my US shopping trips happened at the GAP at the Chicago Outlet Mall. I found a headband in the sale section for 47 cents. Yes. I could not believe it, and had to buy it just on principal that in Switzerland you can't even buy a banana for that price. And as I took the headband to the counter, the salesman rang it up, with tax, to 51 cents. And then he added,

"Would you like to save an additional 15% today by opening a GAP credit card?"

It took everything in my power not to laugh. Common sense, it appears, has disappeared in America along with the concept of saving. But I, I took the path of a good Swiss resident, and paid my 51 cents right then and there. In cold, hard cash.

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