Europe and USA: my personal market comparison

While I have already announced I’m moving to London, I don’t want to give the idea that I don’t trust Europe. One of my acquaintances, an eurosceptic, thought it was apt o congratulate me for dropping out of Europe when I announced my move, but that couldn’t be farthest from my intention. As I said already repeatedly now, my decision is all to be found in my lack of a social circle in Dublin, and the feelings of loneliness that really need to be taken care of.

Indeed, I’m more than an Europeist, I’m a Globalist, in so far as I don’t see any reason why we should have borders, or limitations on travel. So my hope is not just for Europe to become a bigger, more common block. Having run a business for a number of years in Italy, where business rules are overly complicated, and the tax system assumes that you’re a cheater by default, and fines you if you don’t invoice enough, I would have seriously loved the option to have an “European business” rather than an “Italian business” — since a good chunk of my customers were based outside of Italy anyway.

This concept of “European business”, unfortunately, does not exist. Even VAT handling in Europe is not unified, and even though we should have at least a common VAT ID registration, back when I set up my business, it required an explicit registration at the Finance Ministry to be able to make use of the ID outside of Italy. At the time, at least, I think Spain also opted out to registering their VAT IDs on the European system by default. Indeed that was the reason why Amazon used to the run separate processes for most European business customers, and for Italian and Spanish customers.

Speaking of Amazon, those of you reading me from outside Europe may be surprised to know that there is no such thing as “Amazon Europe”, – heck, we don’t even have Amazon Ireland! – at least as a consumer website. Each country has its own Amazon website, with similar, but not identical listings, prices and “rules of engagement” (what can be shipped where and for which prices). For the customers this has quite a few detrimental effects: the prices may be lower in a country that they may not usually look at the store of, or they may have to weight the options based on price, shipping restrictions and shipping costs.

Since, as I said, there is no Amazon Ireland, living in Dublin also is an interesting exercise with Amazon: you may want to order things from Amazon UK, either because of language reasons, or simply because it requires a power plug and Ireland has the same British plug as the UK. And most of the shipping costs are lower, either by themselves, or because there are re-mailers from Northern Ireland to Dublin, if you are okay with waiting an extra day. But at the same time, you’re forced to pay in GBP rather than Euro (well, okay not forced, but at least strongly advised to — Amazon currency conversion has a significantly worse exchange rate than any of my cards, especially Revolut) and some of the sellers will actually refuse to send to Ireland, for no specific reason. Sometimes, you can actually buy the same device from Amazon Germany, which will then ship from a UK-based storehouse anyway, despite the item not being available to send to Ireland from Amazon UK. And sometimes Amazon Italy may be a good 15% cheaper (on a multiple-hundreds euro item) than Amazon UK.

So why does Amazon not run a global European website? Or why doesn’t an European-native alternative appears? It looks to me like the European Union and its various bodies and people keep hoping to find European-native alternatives to the big American names all the times, at least on the papers, probably in the hope of not being tied to the destiny of American with what comes down in the future, particularly given how things have gone with the current politics on all sides. But in all their words, there does not appear to be any option of opening up opportunities for creating cross-Europe collaboration on corporations.

The current situation of the countries that make up Europe and the States that make up the USA, is that you are just not allowed to do certain types, or levels of business in all the countries without registering and operating as a company in that country. That is the case for instance of phone operators, that get licenses per country, and so each operates independent units. This becomes sometimes ludicrous because you then have Vodafone providing services in about half of Europe, but with such independent units that their level of competence for instance on security and privacy is extremely variable. In particular it looks like Vodafone Italy still has not learnt how to set up HTTPS correctly, and despite logging you in a TLS-encrypted connection, it does not set the cookie as secure, so a downgrade is enough to steal authentication cookies. In 2017.

If you remember, when I complained about the half-baked roaming directive results, I have suggested that one of my favourite options would be to have a “European number” — just give me a special “country code” that can be replaced by any one member’s code, and the phone number is still valid, and appears local. This is important because, despite the roaming directive allowing me to keep my regular Irish (for now) SIM card on my phone while travelling to either UK or Finland, it prevents me from getting a local phone number. And since signing up for some local services, including sometimes free WiFi hotspots from various cafes and establishment, relies on being able to receive a local SMS, it is sometimes more of an hindrance than a favour.

Both Revolut and Transferwise, as well as other similar “FinTech” companies have started providing users with what they call “borderless” accounts: Euro, Sterling and Dollar accounts all into one system. Unfortunately this is only half of the battle. Indeed, while I welcome in particular Revolut’s option of using a single balance that can provide all the currencies in a single card is a great option. But this only works to a point, because these accounts are “special” — in particular the Revolut Euro account is provided with a Lithuanian IBAN, but a UK BIC code, which makes a few system that still expect both throw up. And this is not even going into how SEPA Direct Debit just does not work: my Italian services can only debit an Italian bank, my Irish services can only charge an Irish bank, and my one French service can only charge a French bank. Using credit cards via VISA has actually better success rate for me, even though at least Vodafone Italy can only charge a specific one of my credit cards, rather than any of them. Oh yeah and let’s not forget the fact that you just can’t get your salary paid into a non-Irish bank account in Ireland.

Banks in Europe end up operating as country-wide silos, to the point that even Ulster Bank Republic of Ireland cannot (at least, can no longer) provide me with an Ulster Bank Northern Ireland bank account — or to be precise, cannot act on my already-existing foreigner bank account that is open in Northern Ireland. And because of all these things happening, the moment I will actually move to London I’ll have to figure out how to get a proper account there. I’m having trouble right now opening an account there already not because I don’t have the local tax ID but because they need proof of employment from a UK company, while I’m still employed by the Irish company. Of the same multinational. Oh my.

You could say that banks and telcos are special cases. They are partial monopolies and there are good reasons why they should be administered on a country-by-country basis. But the reality is that in the United States, these things are mostly solved — plenty of telco stuff is still pretty much local, but that’s because of network access and antitrust requirements, as well, to a point, the need of building and servicing local infrastructure (a solution to this is effectively splitting the operation of the telco from the provider of physical infrastructure, but that comes with its own problems). But at the very least, banking in the US is not something that people have to deal with when changing State, or having to work with companies of other states.

These silos are also visible to consumers in other forms, that may not be quite obvious. TV, movie and similar rights are also a problem the same way. Netflix for instance will only show a subset of the programming they have access to depending on the country you’re currently located in. This is because, except for the content they produce themselves, they have to acquire rights from different companies holding them in different countries, because different TV networks would already have secured rights and not want to let them broadcast in their place.

I brought up this part last, despite being probably the one most consumers know or even care about, because it shows the other problem that companies trying to build up support for Europe, or even to be started as Europe-native companies, have to deal with. TV networks are significantly more fragmented than in the USA. There is no HBO, despite Sky being present in a number of different countries. There is nothing akin to CNN. There are a number of 24-hours news channels that are reachable over more-or-less freeview means, but the truth is that if you want to watch TV in Europe, you need a local company to provide you with it. And the reason is not one that is easy to solve: different countries just speak different languages, sometimes more than once.

It’s not just a matter of providing a second channel in a different language: content needs to be translated, sometimes adapted. This is very clear in video games, where some countries (cough Germany cough) require cutting content explicitly, to avoid upsetting something or someone. Indeed, video games releases for many platforms, in the past at least including PC, but luckily it appears not the case nowadays, end up distributing games only in a subset of European languages at a time. Which is why I loathed playing Skyrim on the PlayStation 3, as the disk only includes Italian, French and German, but no English, which would be my default option (okay, nowadays I would probably play it in French to freshen up my understanding of it).

For American start-ups – but this is true also for open source project, and authors of media such as books, TV series or movies – internationalization or localization are problems that can be easily shelved for the “after we’re famous” pile. First make the fame, or the money, then export and care about other languages. In Europe that cannot possibly be the case. Even for English, that in the computer world is still for now the lingua franca (pun intended), I wouldn’t expect there would be a majority of users happy to use a non-localized software, particularly when you consider as part of that localization the differences in date handling. I mean, I started using “English (UK)” rather than the default American for my Google account years ago because I wanted a sane date format in Gmail!

All of this makes the fragmented European market harder for most projects, companies, and even ideas to move as fast as the American or (I presume, but have not enough detail about it) the Chinese market, in which a much wider audience can be gained without spending so much effort to deal with cross-border bureaucracy and cross-culture porting. But let me be clear, I do not think that the solution is to normalize Europe onto a single language. We can’t even do that for countries, and I don’t think it would be fair to anyone to even consider this. What we need is to remove as many other roadblocks as it’s feasible to remove, and then try to come up with an easier way to fund translation and localization processes, or an easier way to access rights at a Union level rather than on a country-by-country basis.

Unfortunately, I do not expect that this is going to happen in my lifetime. I still wish we’ll end up with a United Federation of Planets, at the end of the day, though.

Debit and credit cards in the USA

Credit Cards
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee

I know it’s a long time now, maybe an year or two, but I still remember clearly that after one of the many card data breaches in the US – maybe Target’s – I ended up exchanging comments with some Americans on the difference between debit cards and credit cards. Turns out that for people who never had to face that choice before, it’s not obvious why would anybody pay with a debit card at a store such as Target, rather than a credit one. So it might be worth writing it here, given that I talked about credit cards before. But be warned that this is pretty much limited to the United States, so if you’re not interested, feel free to skip.

So first of all, what’s the rokus about credit versus debit? The main difference between the two, on an user point of view, is the protection: in the case of fraudulent transactions on a credit card, most issuers will revert the charge and block the card without costing money to the consumer — who’s going to eat that loss depends on a number of different factors including, as of recently, whether the bank issued an EMV card, and whether the point-of-sale used the chip to execute the transaction. On the other hand, fraudulent charges on a debit card are usually a loss for the cardholder.

So generally speaking, if you have a choice, you should pay with a credit card. Which is generally not what vendors want, as they would prefer you pay with a debit card (it costs them less in fees). As much as I feel for the vendors – I had my own company, remember? – the inherent risk of breaches and the amount of PoS malware makes it sadly a consumer protection choice.

But the relative ease to get debit and credit cards is also a factor. Getting a debit card is trivial: you walk into a branch, ask them to open a new account, give them enough information about yourself, and they will mail you a debit card. They won’t look into your financial data – including your credit score – because they are not giving you credit, they are just giving you a mean to access the funds you deposited at their bank.

This, among other things, means that you can get a card number in the US without being a resident: if you’re a non-resident in the US, but you have a permanent address of some kind, such as an office or a friend’s, you can just enter a branch and open an account with a US bank. They’ll need your documents (passport, and another credit/debit card with your name, or another non-photo ID), and a proof of address in your country of residence, but otherwise it’s usually a quite pleasant experience.

To provide more information on the topic: since you’re not a resident and you’re not working illegally in the US, you’re not receiving a fixed paycheck on your US account, which means that most fee-waiving programs that count on you receiving a given direct credit per month won’t apply to you. Instead you should look into fee-waiving by the deposited amount — Bank of the West has a minimum deposit of $1000, which is the lowest I have seen, but when I asked them they tried to send me from Sunnyvale to San Francisco to open an account; the Chase next door was happy to have me as a client, even though their minimum deposit is $1500.

If you plan on transferring money often between the two accounts, you probably want to use a service like Transferwise, that converts currencies and transfer funds between USD, EUR, GBP and other currencies at a much cheaper rate than most banks, and definitely much cheaper than the banks that I have.

But things get complicated if you want a credit card, even more so if you want a rewards credit card, such as Amazon’s, or any airline or hotel chain — which generally wouldn’t be very useful to foreigners as most countries with the except of Ireland have some card that you can get, American Express being the worst case.

To get the most common credit cards in the US you need to be in the credit system somehow; you probably want to have some credit history and a rating too. If you’re resident in the US, they will find you up through the Social Security Number (SSN), but it’s more complicated for non-residents (unless they were at some point residents of course).

In either case, the simplest form of credit card you can request is a secured credit card — which is essentially a glorified debit card: you pay the bank an amount, and then then make that amount available to you as a credit line. The main difference between this and a debit card is that it does have the protections of a credit card. It also allows you to build up credit score, which is why it’s usually the choice of card for immigrants and young people who don’t have a history at all. They generally don’t come with any kind of rewards system.

Immigrants here include techies, by the way. Even when working for big companies in the Silicon Valley, the lack of a credit history means you have to build it up from scratch. I know some of my American acquaintances were surprised that it’s not as easy as showing your employment information to get credit.

Not all banks provide secured credit cards though. In particular when I asked Chase just the other day, they told me to try with the nearby US Bank or Wells Fargo – both walking distance – and I seem to recall that Bank of America does it as well. The idea is that you’ll use a secured card for at least an year to build up positive history, and then get a proper, better credit card after that. And that’s why you need a SSN to correlate them.

What I said up to now would imply that you have no option to get a credit card if you, like me, are just a visitor who happens to be in the States every few months. That is not strictly true: the requirement for the SSN is a requirement for an identifier that can be reported across multiple banks and with the IRS; there is another identifier you can use for that, and it’s the ITIN. This non-resident identification number has some requirements attached, and it’s not exactly trivial to get — I have unfortunately no experience with getting one to retell yet. It is usually assigned by filing a US tax return, which is not something you want (or need) to do if you’re a foreigner. Especially because it usually requires a good reason, such as having an ebook published and having Amazon withhold 30% of the royalties for US taxes, when a treaty exists between the US and your country of residence.

I do indeed plan to look into how to declare my royalties properly next year to Ireland, and file a US tax return to get the (cents) back — if nothing else to request an ITIN, and with it a rewards credit card. After all, a lot of the money I spend ends up being spent in the US, so why not?

Well, to be honest there are a bunch of reasons why not. You risk getting audited by either or both of your country of residence and the USA — and for the USA there is no way to escape the IRS, or they wouldn’t consider only two things certain. You have paperwork to file, again for both countries, which might be unwieldy or complex (I have yet to look at the paperwork to file with Irish authorities, they are usually straightforward). And you end up on the currency market; right now between EUR and USD it’s pretty stable and doable, but if you don’t keep an eye out it’s easy to screw it up and ending up wasting money just on the exchange. So it’s still an investment in time.

Myself, I still think it’s likely it’s going to be a good idea to try to get an ITIN and a proper credit card, since I come to the States every few months between conferences and work travel. But I won’t make any suggestions to anybody else. Your money, your choice.

My time abroad: loyalty cards

Compared to most people around me now, and probably most of the people who read my blog, my life is not that extraordinary, in the terms of travel and moving around. I’ve been, after all, scared of planes for years, and it wasn’t until last year that I got out of the continent — in an year, though, I more than doubled the number of flights I’ve been on, with 18 last year, and more than doubled the number of countries I’ve been to, counting Luxembourg even though I only landed there and got on a bus to get back to Brussels after Alitalia screwed up.

On the other hand, compared to most of the people I know in Italy, I’ve been going around quite a bit, as I spent a considerable amount of time last year in Los Angeles, and I’ve now moved to Dublin, Ireland. And there are quite a few differences between these places and Italy. I’ve already written a bit about the differences I found during my time in the USA but this time I want to focus on something which is quite a triviality, but still is a remarkable difference between the three countries I got to know up to now. As the title suggest I’m referring to stores’ loyalty cards.

Interestingly enough, there was just this week an article on the Irish Times about the “privacy invasion” of loyalty cards.. I honestly don’t see it as big a deal as many others. Yes, they do profile your shopping habits. Yes, if you do not keep private the kind of offers they sent you, they might tell others something about you as well — the newspaper actually brought up the example of a father who discovered the pregnancy of the daughter because of the kind of coupons the supermarket was sending, based on her change of spending habits; I’m sorry but I cannot really feel bad about it. After all, absolute privacy and relevant offers are kinda at the opposite sides of a range.. and I’m usually happy enough when companies are relevant to me.

So of course stores want to know the habits of a single person, or of a single household, and for that they give you loyalty cards… but for you to use them, they have to give you something in return, don’t they? This is where the big difference on this topic appears clearly, if you look at the three countries:

  • in both Italy and Ireland, you get “points” with your shopping; in the USA, instead, the card gives you immediate discounts; I’m pretty sure that this gives not-really-regular-shoppers a good reason to get the card as well: you can easily save a few dollars on a single grocery run by getting the loyalty card at the till;
  • in Italy you redeem the points to get prizes – this works not so differently than with airlines after all – sometimes by adding a contribution, sometimes for free; in my experience the contribution is never worth it, so either you get something for free or just forget about it;
  • in Ireland I still haven’t seen a single prize system; instead they work with coupons: you get a certain amount of points each euro you spend (usually, one point per euro), and then when you get to a certain amount of points, they get a value (usually, one cent per point), and a coupon redeemable for the value is sent you.

Of course, the “European” method (only by contrast with American, since I don’t know what other countries do), is a real loyalty scheme: you need a critical mass of points for them to be useful, which means that you’ll try to get on the same store as much as you can. This is true for airlines as well, after all. On the other hand, people who shop occasionally are less likely to request the card at all, so even if there is some kind of data to be found in their shopping trends, they will be completely ignored by this kind of scheme.

I’m honestly not sure which method I prefer, at this point I still have one or two loyalty cards from my time in Los Angeles, and I’m now collecting a number of loyalty cards here in Dublin. Some are definitely a good choice for me, like the Insomnia card (I love getting coffee at a decent place where I can spend time to read, in the weekends), others, like Dunnes, make me wonder.. the distance from the supermarket to where I’m going to live is most likely offsetting the usefulness of their coupons compared to the (otherwise quite more expensive) Spar at the corner.

At any rate, I just want to write my take on the topic, which is definitely not of interest to most of you…

My Time in the USA: Democracy is overrated (or, the return of the stupid label)

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You might remember that many years ago (actually, it’s just shy of four years ago) I wrote a post about a disconcerting label I found on the box of a pair of Shure earphones I got to try to sleep better during the night when noise was coming from the outside. This was a Californian notice about the danger of carcinogenic chemicals, most likely related to the PVC in the earphones’ cord — which didn’t even last six full months! I had to trash the extremely expensive pair of earphones, because the cables ruptured behind my years; the stupid plastic was just too rigid I’m afraid.

Well, now that I’ve been in California for a while, I was expecting to see many more similar notices, but at least here in Hermosa Beach where I’m based, I haven’t seen one … until Starbucks was forced to put on. I actually did find out something more about those notices before, as Amazon has a page which is linked in your order when you’re shipping something in California that should have the label attached.

Now the title of this post is obviously inflammatory, I know that and it’s half-intended, but my problem with all of this is that when I wrote about that stupid label, I didn’t really know much about the whole thing — I’ve been told right away in those comments that the labels are extremely common in California, a few months ago I finally found that it was a popular ballot that actually put the law into place… and now I feel like something’s extremely wrong in this place.

Really I feel this is one of the most stupidest warning people can have on things, and somehow, for once, it makes me feel better thinking that in Italy, referendums are only used to vote laws off, not in…

My Time in the USA: About Tipping

I’m afraid I don’t have a suitable photo for this post!

Coming from Italy to the US for the first time, it’s important to note a few very different customs. One of these is the already noted bigger portions, that can cause you to overeat if you don’t remember to ask for a box when you’re stuffed. Another big one is tipping. While it’s not unheard of in Italy as well, tipping is not as regular, or regulated, as here. For what I know, tips (mancie) are not declared at all, even if they are supposed to, since they are only possible on cash transaction, as there are no lines in the receipts where you can add tips. Even though Wikipedia says that this requires a citation (maybe I should just take a picture of my next receipt when I go back to Italy).

The reason for this is that the service, i.e., the wage for the waiting staff, is usually included on the bill (usually, explicitly — some rare times it’s included in the price of the food itself, but that’s been rare until a few hours ago). The same is true, as far as I know, in England for the most part, while in France it seems like they are happy to get some.

Anyway, I have to say that up to now, my experience with tipping staff is actually quite positive. It’s not like it changes much of how I go around — even in Italy I tend to always go to the same place, but I guess it helps the fact that I tip well enough that the waitresses remember me, and they almost never bring me the menu nowadays, unless I ask for it (they know already what I’m getting).

A quick check of my past receipts shows that my average tipping is around 22%, with the exception being the breakfasts I get in the morning, which is well over that (but simply because it would be less than eight dollars), at around 50%. This actually paid off, since I didn’t have to know about the local diner’s “Breakfast Club” — the waiter brought me the card after seeing me one morning after the other, already stamped twice; and the one time I forgot my card at the office, he stamped it twice the next visit. Also, once I actually used the fidelity card, which got me free pancakes, they poured in the coffee with it (which is not supposed to be included).

I guess that for most of the waiting staff, having to survive on tips is far from easy. On the other hand, it feels like the waiting staff here is more caring about the single customer’s experience (since their living depends on it) rather than the frenetic “serve as many customers as possible in the shortest time as possible” that most of the Italian restaurants (as in, in Italy) focus on. Even in places I like, and where I know the owner since forever, don’t have the same friendly service.

Googling around, it seems like there is a lot of angst and grief around the concept of tipping – I was looking around to see how much to tip a cap driver since today I went to Santa Monica to see The Oatmeal – and I can from one point understand why, on the other hand it’s also an easy to use them as a way to make sure that you’re offered a decent service. Like the cab driver who brought me back, and who insisted for me to get cash on the ATMs, which meant I had to walk three blocks over, and pay another $3 in fees, and got less than 10% tip (if he accepted the credit card, he would have gotten 20% — yes that means waiting and paying the extra fee, but it’s still more than he got).

I guess one of the reasons why I’m not having much problem, as a customer, with tipping, is that Free Software works the same way. We’re for the most part not paid, or paid (as related to opensource) a minimum wage, and all we do is compensated for the most part in tips … which are actually rarely enough to cover our side of the expenses — I can actually write quite a bit on the subject as recently I found out how much it costed me, in power alone, to run Yamato and the tinderbox at my house.

So in all of this, I can actually say that it’s one of the things that I have really no problem whatsoever with, during my stay here.

My time in the USA: Intro

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You probably noticed that compared to my usual average, I haven’t written much lately. One of the simplest reason why this happened is that I don’t have that much time, but add to that the fact that I’m spending all my day on this computer in this office, and you can guess I don’t want to spend more to write. As I think I said before, I’m planning on getting a new ultrabook so I can write from one of the parks or from the Starbucks downstairs, that should make it easier.

In the mean time, in what little spare time I have, I’ll be writing a bit about what my experience in the USA has been this year. I have, after all, spent most of my year here, even though I went back to Italy for a while, and spent some time in Brussels (FOSDEM), Paris (VDD, FOMS and post) and London (just sheer pleasure). But is it that important for me to write about this? That’s what I was asking myself for a while, and why I haven’t done this before.

Well, I asked that on Twitter last night and a few people seemed interested in hearing from me what it’s like to be here, so I guess I might as well start writing. There are so many topics on this that it’ll actually be a series of posts, thus why I start with this short introduction. The posts will appear under my Personal category, which is set to syndicate over Gentoo Universe only. If you’re reading my blog not from any Planet, but with a direct feed subscription, and you’d prefer not reading about this at all, you can change your subscription to the technical feed and you won’t be bothered.

Now, even though I’m not having the most outgoing lifestyle, so I can’t say I’m enjoying everything that Hermosa Beach has to offer, I have to say that there are many things, big and small, that are markedly different from living in the suburbs around Venice, Italy… so there should be plenty for me to write about in the next weeks.

Artificial Regions

I’m writing this while waiting to go to the office, I’ll probably finish the post over the hours that I have to spare waiting for my tasks to complete. I’m still in Los Angeles and very happy to be.

We’re all pretty used to the artificial region limitations that Big Content force us to deal with: DVD and BluRay both have region-coding, the former actually having two region codings (a Japanese DVD would be Region 2 and NTSC, whereas Europe is under Region 2 but PAL). We’re also grown used to, although unhappy about, content store being limited by the country you live in — which is why many people, me included, wondered if Google forgot that a world exists outside of the US, as the recent rename of Android Market to Google Play Store forgets that their Music offering is limited to the United States.

But sometimes regionality comes to ludicrous levels. As I’ve said before I’m spending some time in the US, near Los Angeles, for work reasoons. The office I work in is just a staircase away from a Starbucks shop and I’m very happy about it since I love their coffee. My customer/employer also gave me the first day a Starbucks Card to use, and yesterday, after some time, I went to register it online… let’s ignore the fact that you can’t register it without an US address (since I sorta have one now, one could say).

If I want to charge the card in-store, my European MasterCard works just fine, although the Visa refuses, as usual, to work without CAP. If I go online, I can use my Italian Visa as well just fine. If I try to use PayPal, though, the website refuses the transaction because it only works with US-based account. Wha?

Okay nevermind, I register the card, fill in the form (and I’m now waiting to reach Gold status — I should be able to go there before leaving the US!), and see they have an Android application. Nice, so I don’t even have to get my wallet out.. but where is it?

From the Play Store (sigh!) I can’t find it; from the Starbucks website I can get to the web version of the store which tells me that none of my devices are compatible. And it’s not a matter of software version)

Indeed, since today I received a local AT&T SIM to use on my phone, I noticed the change: it was enough to have the phone report an American contract, and the region is unlocked for me, including, it seems, the Starbucks application that as of yesterday I was ineligible to use. Logical!

What’s next? I’ll enter a shoe shop and they’ll tell me that they can’t sold me Nike shoes (or anything else) because I’m not a permanent resident?