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★★★ About-the-USA.com ★★★
A guide to discovering the United States
American way of money
Currency units in the USA
The currency of the USA is the best known currency in the world. The
United States Dollar
known worldwide, and the one-dollar billll or
one dollar note is the world's most recognized currency note. It is
also a banknote that can be used, officially or unofficially,
in many countries worldwide.
Nevertheless, visitors to the USA are
warned to take care
US currency notes. Unlike most other
countries, where notes of different value are clearly differentiated
between by the use of different colors - blue notes, red notes, green
notes etc - and different sizes, US dollar bills are all the
same basic color, whether a $1 bill, a $10 bill a $100 dollar bill, or
other. All US banknotes are printed in greys and greens, with smaller
differences, and they are all the same size. So visitors are advised to
take care! Even if more distinguishing features have been added on more
recent notes, it is still easy to confuse a $1 bill and a $10 bill,
specially if you are not familiar with the different heads engraved
on different notes.
Few visitors to the USA can
spontaneously distinguish between the three buildings shown on the
reverse side of the $5 the $10 and the $20 bills, which are
the Lincoln Memorial, the US Treasury building, and the White House -
three neo-classical buildings with their porticoed facades.
As for cents
well the dollar - along with other currencies - has lost so much value
over the years that cents are largely irrelevant. Prices are often
given in dollars and cents, but 1 US cent, sometimes called a penny,
has little value. It's worth less that one Euro cent, less than a
British penny, and only worth about 1.5 JPY.
Visitors need to know the common names
of US coins which are: a 5 cent coin is a nickel
a ten cent coin is a dime
and a twenty-five cent coin is a quarter
As for dollars themselves, they are commonly known as "bucks
", so ten bucks
for ten dollars
Paying for things in the USA
For visitors to the USA, the simplest
and generally easiest way to pay for things is by credit
, specifically Visa, Mastercard or American Express, or with a mobile payment app
, such as Googlepay, Samsungpay, Paypal or Applepay. It is also
advisable to have some cash
available for small payments, though in
most cases cash is not necessary. To obtain cash, the easiest way is to
make a cash withdrawal from an ATM (hole in the wall, cash dispenser);
take out as much cash as you think you will need for a few days –
including cash for tips... see below – since your bank or credit /
debit card company may charge a fee each time you make a cash
withdrawal, and the distributing ATM may add a cash withdrawal charge.
Foreign visitors and tourists cannot use
the "cashback" option provided by many stores, unless they are using a
credit card or debit card issued in the USA by a US bank. Cashback
cannot be offered on cards issued by banks in other countries.
Prices, taxes and tips
In the USA some things are done
differently to the way they are done in other countries, and pricing
one of them – which can be extremely confusing for visitors!
In Europe, Japan and most other
countries, what you see is what you pay... WYSIWYP . So if a price tag
says 100 Euros or 1000 Yen, that is the price you will be charged. Not
so in the USA... or at least, not in most parts of the USA!
In the USA, if a price tag says $100,
you may be charged just $100 in the states of Alaska, Delaware,
Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.... but in every other state "sales tax
" (the US equivalent of
VAT) is then added to the bill. This varies from 2.9% in Colorado or 4%
in New York, to 7.25% in California. So your $200 designer tee-shirt
bought in Hollywood will actually cost you $214.50... at
least..... unless they offer you a discount.
However, if that $200 bill were not for
a tee-shirt, but four meals in a restaurant, you are really expected to
pay at least $240, to include not just the California sales tax, but
also the tip
In most parts of the world, a tip is
something that you add voluntarily to a bill in recognition of good
service. If the service is poor or basic you don't leave a tip;
otherwise you tip what you want, maybe around 10% of the bill.
Not so in the USA. In theory
legally speaking - tipping in the USA is optional. In practice
much compulsory in restaurants, taxis, hotels with staff service, and
other places too. In the United States, tipping is part of
the culture, and the recommended tipping amount in restaurants
is 15% to 25%
. In many
cases the amount you are expected to tip will be shown on the credit
card terminal when you come to pay... you may be offered a choice
between a 20% tip and a different level of tip. You may also choose not
to tip by credit card, and then slide the server of the counter clerk a
few dollar bills.
Some stores may also ask you for a tip,
but this is not essential, specially if there is no service.
Fast food restaurants
The exception to the tipping rule is the
fast food sector. In restaurants like Burger King or McDonalds or
Wendy's, where you pick up your own food and take your tray to a
collection point after eating, no tips are expected. If you pick up
your own food, but someone clears your tray away after, then it is
considered normal to add a small tip, say 10%. If you order at the
counter, but then someone prepares your food and brings it to you, and
clears it away after, then tipping at 15% or more is considered normal.
Alternatively, there may be a "tip jar"
at the counter, where you can put a cash tip on leaving the restaurant.
These are increasingly common. There are also some restaurants which
state "gratuity included
the American equivalent of "service included" or "service compris
other countries: in this case there is no need to leave a tip... though
some people will still do so out of habit.
America's tipping culture
Why does one need to tip in so many
places in the USA? The answer is simple: poor wages.
The USA may be one of the richest
countries in the world, but it is also one of the most unequal among
the world's developed nations. Restaurant staff are not usually very
well paid; in many cases they are paid below the minimum wage, even
well below the minimum wage, because they are expected to complement
their takehome pay with tips.
It is quite legal for restaurant owners
in the USA to pay their servers well below the minimum wage, if they
are confident that their servers can make up the difference from tips –
which is generally the case. Waiters in restaurants and bar-tenders may
well depend on tips in order to earn a living wage.
This is very different to western
Europe, for instance, where staff must be paid at least minimum wage,
and tipping is seen as a recognition of good service.
For more background to the USA.....
Book / ebook
Background to modern America
people, places and
that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern
America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other
languages, and anyone wanting to learn some of the background
today's USA. Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and