25 February 2008

Check Culture

Being used to a country where no one under the age of 50 actually having a check book (and noticing how fewer and fewer people seem to ever use cash either), Tue was somewhat surprised when he found out he needed to get one in order to be able to pay the rent, water bills and so on over here.

Checks are used a lot: most people here in Goleta can only pay their rent by sending a check to the landlord; house wifes are seen happily writing out checks in the supermarket (where there's a small sign posted about the fees added in case of any 'bounced check'); and it's generally assumed that one pays the bills using checks - whether those bills are the subscription of the paper or last year's due taxes, and so on. Goleta Water District was one of the few public services that accepted electronic transfers via the bank, but when they updated their systems in 2007 (!) that option disappeared and they were back to only accepting checks - sigh!

The only advantage is that this presents another way for people to express their personality. There are quite a number of choices when it comes to the preprinted graphic on the checks:

20 February 2008

Mail-in rebate

Another often advertised rebate is the ’mail-in rebate’ which differs from ordinary rebate coupons in that you don't get a rebate at once. Instead you have the possibility of getting a specified amount of money back by mailing certain 'proofs of purchase' to the company.

What one needs to send them varies quite a bit, but often it's the receipt from the store, the bar code (kind of weird if it's something like shampoo!) and perhaps a filled out questionaire from the company. When to send it in is even more confusing; in some cases it is within 30 days of purchase, in others it has to be between 6 and 9 months after acquiring the item. Particularly the more substantial rebates on electronic equipment use the concept of delayed mail-in - we're assuming the idea that many people will forget to mail it in, so that it's cheap for the company to promise large mail-in rebates in order to convince the customer to buy their product.

We've only used this scheme once - receiving $1 back as a rebate on a bottle of shampoo simply isn't worth the bother (especially considering you need to spend a stamp on sending the coupon)! But when Tue bought his cell phone he managed to mail the bar code of the side of the box, a copy of the original invoice, documents to prove he kept the subscription for at least 2 months and that he actually paid the first 2 monthly bills. Accordingly the company did send a nice check back to him .. some 6-8 weeks later. The system works, but what a bureaucratic mess - not just for the consumer, but also for the companies that need people to verify whether or not the mailed in claims qualify for rebate before mailing back a check. *

* The widespread use of checks here is quite another story, and it will get it's own post on the blog.

18 February 2008

So alike...

..and yet so different:The colors are quite different, but there are still significant similarities between these 2 mailboxes, which we found in front of 2 houses across the street from each other.

14 February 2008


Last Sunday we rode our bikes to the nearby winter habitat for monarch butterflies to see if they too were active in the surprisingly warm weather. And they certainly were – thousands of them were flying around and several of them even had enough energy to mate (cf. the photo in the middle on the right).

Shrove tide

Even though the major event two weekends ago was Super Bowl we chose to turn our attention that particular weekend to the Danish tradition of Shrove tide. Originally it was a religious event that marked the beginning of Lent (and before that just a party to celebrate the approaching end of winter) but these days it mainly consists of kids dressing up and going trick-or-treating – not unlike Halloween but without the scary and black/orange elements – and the baking/buying and eating of Shrove tide buns. These come in a broad range of varieties: open or closed buns made from a flaky pastry or a more bread-like dough and with fillings of vanilla cream, jam, chocolate, marzipan, whipped cream, prunes – or any combination, and glazing in a, for Danish bakeries, colourful range: green, yellow, red but of course also the classic white and brown. Tue’s memories regarding Shrove tide buns are 6 years old by now and even though they involve strict specifications as to which kind of buns he prefers (bread-like, open bun with a filling of raspberry jam and white glazing OR vanilla cream and chocolate glazing), he also seemed pleased with the combination vanilla cream and white glazing in a closed bun when Lisbeth made them for him:

Mail in-house

Once more we return to the holiday photos to illustrate another concurrent theme among the mail boxes over here: Mail boxes that are to look like houses. Here illustrated by two rather different versions. One can only to try to extrapolate the owners’ opinion of what constitutes a nice home…

Party cups

Nothing signals PARTY more symbolically (as well as practically) in IV than the ever present red party cups.
If they are still neatly stacked on the table, the party is soon coming up, and if they are spread all over the lawn as on the photo above, it is a clear signal of a recently finished party. The party cups are of course perfect for one of the more popular party sports: Beer Pong and is of course very suited for a little ‘keg party’. The latter can though become a very serious matter if the police appear and assert that minors have been tapping from the keg…


On the shopping ‘scene’ we have noticed so many oddities that we are introducing a little new category where the first posting is a presentation of the widespread phenomenon in the discount jungle over here: coupons.

For groceries, the coupons arrive via the regular supermarket brochures from where one cuts out a coupon that entitle a price reduction of 1 dollar or so on a particular item if the coupon is presented at check out.

Furthermore, in the mail we receive leaflets from the fast food outlets and a few other restaurants that are more or less the form of a coupon that either entitle you to save a few dollars on the total bill or to receive e.g. free fries with your burger.

Finally, from time to time we receive an envelope full of coupons (cf. the photo below) that promote discounts for all sorts of things: laser operations, car insurance, airport parking, plumbing assistance, contact lenses etc. These coupons often gives very generous reductions, i.e. 50-100 dollars (entire 250$ on the laser operation!) so if making greater investments it is a good idea to have a close look through the stack of coupons.

That we think it is a completely hopeless task to fiddle with coupons when at the register (and not least to keep track of where-what-when - and also remember to actually bring the coupons) to save a mere 2 bucks or get free fries, well... that's just our wallet's bad!