In the shopping centre, a lengthy queue waited at the cashier, while the self-checkout counters were free. “Don’t you want to try one of them?” the shop assistant asked a young couple, pointing to one lonely machine nearby. They shook their heads vigorously and stayed where they were. This depiction from a shopping centre in Berlin is one of the things that surprised me during my visit to the country. It made me realize that when it comes to their money, Germans rather prefer contact with real things.
The young couple were probably put off by having to use a credit card, which is required for paying at most self-checkout counters. You can see the consequences of refusing to use credit cards almost everywhere in German capital.
Customers can pay only in cash in the majority of restaurants and coffee shops. According to the Boston Consulting Group, over three-quarters of German payments are still made in cash. Foreign visitors should prepare to pay cash to buy postcards in museums and galleries. “You can’t pay for one single postcard with a credit card,” the saleswomen in a museum shop told me recently. Later, I tried to explain to her that this is quite a normal custom in Scandinavia as well as in Estonia, where I presently live.
Indeed, you can pay by credit card almost everywhere in Stockholm and in Tallinn, as well. You can buy your bus ticket directly from the bus driver with your credit card, you don’t need cash to pay for your drinks in student pubs. Estonians don’t use other forms of payment in the shopping centres and credit cards are used by the young as well as the older generation. People have adapted to the advantages of using credit cards and not having to have their pockets full of cash. It makes sense because it is easier, really.
Yet there is one hitch: the bank fees for using credit cards and cash dispensers. According to The Economist, German banks have been much slower to promote electronic and card payments. Additionally, a recent survey by PWC revealed that two in five Germans don’t use mobile payments because of concerns over data breaches.
History and cultural habits might be behind the Germans’ aversion to credit cards. Using cash may have its roots in experiences with the Deutsche Mark, in particular its high value during the Cold War and immense hyperinflation between the two world wars. The culture cannot be changed easily and history is a part of it. However, we could try to change our habits just like the older generation did in Estonia and Sweden. Ultimately, it makes life simpler.