‘They thought it was witchcraft’: The verdict on paying with card in Germany

We asked readers of The Local Germany about their thoughts on paying by cash or card.

'They thought it was witchcraft': The verdict on paying with card in Germany
Image: Picture Alliance

Despite a strong economy and a love of tech and gadgets, Germans retain a stubborn love of paying with cash. 

As reported by The Local Germany on Thursday, 2020 was the first time in German history where more payments have been made with card than cash – a phenomenon which has been accelerated by the pandemic. 

READ: Why Germans are finally choosing cards over cash

But according to readers of The Local Germany, the change is long overdue. 

Plastic is fantastic

A total of 90 percent said their preferred method of payment in Germany was electronic – i.e. card or phone payments – while only 8.8 percent preferred to pay in cash. 

As was noted in the study, the pandemic has accelerated Germany’s move towards cashless payments. 

This was also supported by Local readers, half of which said they paid more often with electronic means due to the pandemic. 

Just under half, 47.5 percent, said the pandemic hadn’t shifted their payment habits. 

Shannon D, from New Zealand, pointed out Germany’s card paradox. 

“If cash is a requirement, why aren’t there more ATMs?! In NZ we have ATMs in petrol stations and outside supermarkets,” she said.

‘I’m American’: why do you prefer to pay with card? 

Many of our readers were emphatic in their support of card, saying they would opt to make payments with card whenever and wherever this was possible. 

Aaron, from Perth, Australia said he would choose businesses based on payment methods. 

“I have always paid with card and tend to avoid businesses that do not offer the service,” he said.

“I always prefer to pay by card because this way I have a record of my transactions which sometimes is lost when I just withdraw cash on and on and on…”

Sunil said he “wants to get rid of useless, small denomination coins”. 

The sentiment was shared by Ahmed from Egypt. 

“I would really like to see contactless payments in every car park in Germany; I hate the struggle with coins!”

Germans prefer cash: Image: Picture Alliance

Foreigners said they were particularly fond of card – and found the adjustment difficult. 

When asked why card payments were preferred, one respondent simply said: “I’m American.”

Jon L agreed: “I’m an expat from the US… In the US I never had cash, now I need it everywhere I go.  It’s annoying.”

Syed from Pakistan said the pandemic was a major reason to switch to card. 

“It surprises me that people keep the line blocked while counting their change,” he said. “This is so weird, just pay with the card and then there will be less people standing in the queue and less chance of being exposed to the virus.”

Dan D, from Manchester, agreed. 

“I used to use cash wherever possible but due to Covid have moved to contactless payments to reduce the risk of handling cash,” he said.

‘They think it’s witchcraft’: retailers remain resistant to card payments

An overwhelming majority of our readers – 92.5 percent – said they would like to pay more often with electronic means than they currently do. 

Retailers remain resistant to card payments, however. 

Jon Jardine, from the UK, said “My local bar owners thought me paying with my Apple Watch was witchcraft.”

Peter M, also from the UK, said knowledge of contactless payments was minimal – even when a retailer was set up to accept them. 

“Certainly I’ve noticed that card payment is now much more commonly possible. And shsssh, even contactless, which was totally alien to German shopkeepers until this year,” Peter said. 

“I found myself having to explain to checkout operators how it worked. They were boggled that the mere act of waving my card above their terminal could settle my bill.”

Stephen C, from Texas, said that Germany’s payment methods were positively medieval. 

“When visiting the country of Georgia last summer, I realised the German electronic payment system is in the dark ages.”

Security concerns 

Security and the need to protect privacy are frequently given as reasons for Germany’s preference for cash payments, although few of our readers agreed. 

93.7 percent of respondents said they were not concerned about security when paying by card in Germany. 

One of our readers, Syed, said he didn’t mind if anyone looked into his transactions. 

“I even buy cannabis from my credit card, I don’t care if anyone is watching my spending habits.”

No love for EC card

Even when card payment was accepted, our readers had little positive to say about Germany’s preferred card-payment method: the EC (Electronic Cash) card. 

Jesse Parker, from Colorado in the US, said he found the EC card odd. 

“It’s silly.. Especially EC vs Debit. Who pays for their doctor with cash? Maybe I’m just used to 3,000 doctor bills in the US.”

Dirk V, from South Africa, shared Jesse’s concerns. “The insistence on an EC card. Why? Oh Why?”

Andrew, from France, summed it up clearly: “The EC Card needs to die!”

Ahmed from Egypt agreed: “EC card should be completely deleted from history!”

Scott, from the US, said the poor EC card was no laughing matter. “EC card is a f***ing joke,” he said.

‘Remember the Weimar Republic’: cash still king for some readers

Not all readers thought plastic was fantastic, however. 

While only around one in 10 (8.8 percent) preferred cash payments, those who were fans of cash were particularly enthusiastic. 

JM, from Ireland, said the pandemic hadn’t shifted his payments habits – because he had no fear of the virus. 

“I am not scared of the virus thus I am not scared of touching money,” JM said.

The curiously named ‘Anon’ had a historical reminder for card lovers. “Push for cashless society should be illegal. Remember Weimar Republic!”

How will we pay in the future?

While cash is still popular in Germany, history is clearly trending in the direction of cards – and that’s been sped up by the impact of the pandemic. 

Our readers agreed, with two thirds saying the future was plastic. 

67.5 percent said the pandemic was likely to make card payments more popular, while just 12.5 percent said it was not. 20 percent were unsure. 

Others, such as Alan P from South Africa, were not so optimistic. 

“I have almost been chased out of a shop for offering a card! I think there is little chance of changing the German mindset over the use of cards; they simply bury their heads in the sand.”

The survey was conducted via Google Forms on a story published on The Local Germany’s website on Monday, 14th September. A total of 80 responses were received. Thank you to all readers who responded – you all helped us put this story together.

Member comments

  1. Malcolm Thomas makes a good point about the excessive charges made by banks to process card payments. Moreover, unlike in other countries, there appears to be no distinction between charges for using a credit card and using a debit card. One suspects that until the German public start condemning this profiteering then the banks are unlikely to respond and thus enthusiasm for card payments by retailers will remain suppressed.

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Can I have a fire in my backyard or courtyard in Switzerland?

The winter months are on their way and the weather is getting colder. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, can you light a fire?

White marshmallows toast over a fire
If you want to toast marshmallows in your backyard in Switzerland this winter, first make sure it's OK. Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash

Even if you own a property, the rules for what you can and cannot do in Switzerland can be relatively restrictive. 

As we covered in the following article, laws or tenancy rules can prevent you from doing several types of activities in your own backyard, including felling trees or washing your car. 

You can also be prevented from certain activities on particular days. For instance, rules, bylaws and tenancy arrangements may prevent you from mowing your lawn or hanging out your laundry on a Sunday. 

READ MORE: What am I allowed to do in my backyard or apartment courtyard in Switzerland?

As the weather gets colder, you might be tempted to stock up the fire pit, fire basket or fire bowl with wood and set it alight. 

The rules for lighting fires are also relatively complex. What you are allowed to do will depend on your canton, your tenancy arrangement and the type of fire. 

Can I light a fire on my own property in Switzerland? 

If you’re living in one of the few Swiss houses to have a fireplace, then you are presumably allowed to use it, unless tenancy regulations prevent it at certain times. 

You are also usually allowed to have a barbecue or grill either on your balcony or in your backyard, provided the noise and smoke is not excessive. 

READ MORE: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Switzerland?

Whether or not you are allowed to have a fire in your backyard however will depend on the rules in your canton. 

You are generally prohibited from burning any waste in Switzerland, other than typical forest or garden waste (i.e. wood, grass, twigs, sticks and leaves). 

That however can also be restricted at certain times of the year.

In Zurich, for instance, fires in backyards are only permitted from March to October, meaning that you will need to find other ways to stay warm in the winter months in Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

Even if lighting fires is permitted, you may want to check with the rules of your rental contract to see if you are technically allowed a fire. 

What about fires in the forest or open parks? 

A campfire might also sound like a nice way to spend a winter evening, but this may be restricted or completely prohibited depending on the circumstance. 

There is no federal ban on fires in forests and other outdoor areas, provided you are not burning waste (other than garden waste etc) and you are not producing excessive emissions. 

The rules are the same on August 1st, Swiss National Day, where special bonfires usually require a permit. 

Note that there are special rules for burning old Christmas trees, which is prevented by law.