Is Visa Training a New Crop of Ugly American Tourists?


Here at home in the U.S., I know plenty of people who “never carry cash anymore.” I’m usually one of them. It’s so easy to do everything using a debit card for even the smallest transactions that it makes me less inclined to stop at the bank to get cash unless I know I’m going somewhere I’ll need it. This is in direct contrast to all the travel I’ve done in Italy (and throughout Europe), where it’s only the big shops and hotels that take credit cards and most of the smaller vendors or B&Bs are only equipped to take cash. I’m used to this now, and as soon as I get to Italy I find a bank machine and get some cash. I wonder, however, if a recent marketing campaign here in the States isn’t making such a change in mind-set more difficult for American travelers.

Television ads for Visa check/debit cards these days have one common theme – that the debit card makes everyone’s life go smoothly, and the second someone tries to use the antiquated method of paying for something with cash it backs up the system and generally mucks everyone else’s life up. In this soundtrack-driven world, people paying with cash are only mildly tolerated by the checkout person, and made to feel sheepish by a “you should know better” look as they wait for their change. If they turn around to see the exasperated looks from the customers lining up behind them, that sheepishness quickly becomes shame. Here’s one example:

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http://www.youtube.com/v/9hXmyD9a4zg

I get it, these videos are cute and funny and, as most of us know, completely ridiculous. No check card transaction is that quick, no matter where you are. But still, I have to wonder – is Visa training Americans to never carry cash? And if so, what does that do to them when they leave the cozy bubble of the ATM-laden USA? The last thing we need is another thing for U.S. passport holders to complain about overseas.

If you’re from the US and you’re reading this, I can only assume you’re not prone to being the “ugly American” tourist, because you’re actually doing a bit of research before you travel. It’s the ones who show up in Italy and expect it to be just like home that I worry about. So – just remember, plan to bring your debit card to Italy in order to get money out of bank machines and pay with cash for anything but the largest purchases. If you’re expecting it, it’s not an inconvenience, right? Right.

Photo by: Jeff Rose