Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Fistful of Cents: British Money vs US Money

One thing that any foreigner has to contend with when moving to another country is the currency.

Back in England, we use pounds and pence (not the Euro, as some Americans seem to believe), but in the USA it is dollars and cents, of course.

After living here for three years, I am at home with the notes, or "bills" as they say here, but (probably to my shame) I can still find the coins a little confusing at times.

US Dollars: Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Bills and Notes

I think the biggest difference in paper money is the preponderance of the dollar bill.  Back in the UK, the lowest paper note has a value of 5 pounds, the equivalent to around $8.50 at the time of writing.  A dollar bill is worth about 60 pence in Brit money.

The British pound note, which was around for most of the twentieth century, disappeared in the late 1980s, mainly because its value had decreased and it was far less durable than a coin equivalent.  The bottom line was that it was deemed too uneconomic to produce by the Bank of England. 

The demise of the pound note caused an uproar at the time in England, in large part because the new pound coins were heavier on the pocket than the old notes and you couldn't carry around large amounts of them easily.

Coming to America felt like going back to the old pound note days.  I have to say that the dollar notes are good in that respect.  They are light on the pocket and slot into the wallet easily, making them user friendly.

Designs and Construction

Both countries' notes are pretty conservative in their design, but the American notes are probably more traditional than British ones, in fact, my research tells me that the images on US notes haven't changed since 1929.

That means that the images reflect older values, there are no women on US notes - neither are there any great American figures from the middle or late twentieth century.

The best thing about US "paper" money, however, is its resilience.  That's because although it looks like paper, it is actually made from cotton.  This effectively means that if you accidentally leave your money in your pocket on a wash day, it can go through the laundry and come out the other side with virtually no sign of damage or wear and tear!

American Quarters, Nickels and Dimes and Pennies
A random handful of US coins


The downside of US money is that there are lots of small and low value coins.  The one cent coin, for instance, is worth barely more than half a pence.  Dropped coins can be found all over the place, because the effort of picking them up is not seen as worth it.

As a Brit, I can find the design of US coins counter-intuitive.  The quarter (25c) is the biggest, next comes the nickel (5c), followed by the dime (10c) - why a nickel is bigger than a dime, I have no idea!  They are all circular with no variation in shape, which doesn't help, although the one cents (pennies) are a different colour.

The long and the short of it is that in practical terms, I tend to avoid counting out the coins whenever possible and stick to using the notes/bills.  That isn't actually all that strange, as many Americans don't use coins much either. 

On more than one occasion, I have received comments about  my (English) wallet, which has a separate little pouch for storing coins.  That is pretty normal where I am from, but apparently a quaint eccentricity for some Americans, who are more likely to store their coins in pockets, or loose in hand bags (or "purses" as they are typically called here!).

Dollar Coins

Despite the bill being the norm, every now and then, you will come across a dollar coin.  These have an emotional, nostalgic value, as "silver dollars" were the norm before paper money in the US and are far less common.

I actually got given an old dollar coin as a gift one time, which was a nice thought.

There is also apparently a two dollar note, which was issued for the bicentennial in 1976, but I have yet to encounter one.

The Future?

In some ways, a comparison of money seems like a moot point in that paper and coins are inevitably giving way to credit and debit cards and other forms of electronic transaction.

Electronic payments, as well as credit and bank cards work a little differently to the UK, the security is a lot slacker, for instance, but I guess that's another story! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rediscovering Cumbria and Yorkshire

After my arduous flight, it was a relief to reach my mother’s house in Kendal, Cumbria.
I was sure that it would seem freezing in the north of England after Florida, but it didn’t seem too bad (although later on, the cold did seem to seep into my bones!).  I also had some winter weather clothing stashed at my mother’s place, which I dug out from the loft – woolly hat, raincoat, fleece, Doc Martyns, walking/running shoes... 

What impressed me most initially was all the Autumnal colors in northern England (Florida doesn’t really have a great deal of seasonal change), as well as the dramatic and attractive Lake District scenery.

I spent the first couple of days acclimatising and indulging in some of the things that are impossible or difficult to do in Florida.  I ate cheese and onion pasties and fish and ships, drank cider, and bought some North of England ale.

After the weekend, I went to a folk music club in Kendal on the Monday night, which was fun, listening to some traditional British and Irish music.

I bumped into an American singer from Nashville whilst I was there.  Rod Picott had just finished a European tour and stopped off for a night in Kendal on his way from Scotland to London, where he was due to catch his flight back to Tennessee. He told me that he wanted to experience some traditional music and this was his first time at a UK folk club

He was a lone American in a room full of Brits.  I am used to being a lone Brit in a crowd of Americans, so I felt a connection.  He was a really nice guy and I would highly recommend his music.

Having found my Blighty feet, I set off on my first major jaunt.

I worked and lived for many years in the Leeds area, so I embarked on a trip over to Yorkshire to see my old friends.  To get there meant driving through the narrow, winding country roads of Cumbria and North Yorkshire (my mother had kindly insured her car for me and offered me its use).  It was great fun and a definite contrast from the broad, straight highways of Florida.

I visited a few old work friends from the time I spent working for Leeds Libraries.

I drank with some old friends in the pub (I do sometimes miss the cosiness of the traditional British pub, living in the US).

I also went for some excellent walks with old friends through the parkland and woods of north Leeds.

Meanwood Park was visited by J R R Tolkein when he lived in the area and some scholars believe that it influenced his vision of Middle Earth that he used when he wrote The Hobbit.

My weekend in Yorkshire seemed to go by too quickly, but it was a great first trip.  

 I headed back to my base in Kendal and made plans to head down to the Brighton area, Sussex (south coast of England) next, and also Edinburgh, Scotland.   

I also drew up some plans for some more forays into Yorkshire and a mountain climb in the English Lake District.  

 My trip was off to a great start.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bad Flight – Crossing the Atlantic the Hard Way!

Before I set off for England, my wife asked me how I felt about my imminent journey?

I told her that I possessed a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  I would enjoy being in England, but I wasn’t looking forward to all the flying, airport security, waiting around, anxiety over delays etc.

The last trans-Atlantic flight I went on was when I flew over to Florida from England to get married.  The plane made a short, first leg journey from Manchester to Dublin, where it proceeded to snow.  My main flight from Ireland to Orlando was cancelled and I spent an unexpected night in a hotel in a very cold and white Dublin.  

I finally got to Florida the following evening, but there was a lot of extra stress and worry – plus additional expenses relating to hotel fees and food, which it took over a month for me to claim back.

My Ill-Fated Dublin Flight in 2010

This time my wife reassured me that things would be better.  And it did start out very well.  My wife and I drove to Tampa, we had a nice meal and a drink, and we said our farewells.  Then I flew up to Boston.  From there I was due to fly overnight to Reykjavík, Iceland.  I was actually very much looking forward to arriving in Iceland the following morning.  Even though there wouldn’t be much to see apart from the descent into Reykjavík and the airport itself, Iceland has always struck me as a fascinating place to experience, even if just from the air.

The Reykjavík flight was due to leave at 8.30pm Boston time.  But just before we were supposed to take off they told that there was a mysterious technical problem – mysterious, because they knew that it existed but they weren’t sure exactly what it was.

An hour later they told us that they now knew what the problem was, but they needed a part to fix it, and that part had to be flown in all the way from Atlanta, Georgia.  Once the part arrived at Boston, the Icelandic air stewardess assured us, the engineers would fix the plane and we would fly out at 12.30pm.  At this point, the cynics amongst the passengers could be heard to mutter quietly their doubts that the plane would leave the runway that evening, although everybody wanted to hope for the best.

Anyway, 12.30 came around and they cancelled the flight.  That left more than 200 passengers with nowhere to sleep, and perhaps worse, no definite flights to their final destination (Iceland was just a stepping stone for most of us).  A slow, but chaotic series of computer bookings and general irritating nonsense ensued at the flight company’s checkout desk.

The nearest hotels that they could book us into were 30 or 40 miles away.  They managed to book me onto a flight to Heathrow (then on to Manchester) leaving later that morning.  In theory, I had a hotel to sleep at, but there wasn’t time for me to travel all the way to the hotel to rest and then still get back in time to check in for my early morning flight.  So I spent the night sleeping (or at least trying) beside the airport’s Dunkin’ Donuts outlet.  Fun fun fun, it was not.

Sunset Over the Atlantic Above the Clouds

To cut a long story short (I will miss out the incorrect boarding pass that I was given for the flight to Heathrow, followed by the delays with my final flight of the journey) I did eventually make it to Manchester.  But at such a late hour, there was no way that I could catch a train up to the Lake District.  Luckily, my mother and her partner had taken pity on me, and they came down to the airport to collect me in the car.  Otherwise that would have been another night in an airport.

Anyway, I am here now in (rainy) England and determined to enjoy myself.  Which I will.