Around the world, “the web” detects where you’re at, and does what it thinks is best.
Really, websites, servers, code that makes up “apps” decides “what’s best,” but for most people, it’s the web that’s doing this. the distinction is pretty meaningless to most people, so we’ll go with it.
So if you live in the US, Google serves you up Google.com, Amazon serves you up Amazon.com, and AmericanAirlines.com serves up… yea, you guessed it. Text is in English, transactions are in dollars, and smiles are had all around.
If you live in the US and are traveling the world, things are different online, and buying things gets interesting. If you’re in Italy and type “google.com” into the address bar of your browser, or click on a bookmark or whatever that usually takes you to Google’s homepage, you’ll actually go to “google.it”
if you’re not a web nerd and you also live in the US you might not know this, but countries all over the world have their own versions websites. Small ones, and the big ones that have presence all over the world have different versions, depending on where you are. Even in Britain, where they speak a version of English, you’ll get sent to Google.uk, not Google.com. But let’s stay in Italy for now.
At Google.it, your results are in Italian. Which is a little strange, as clearly I’m still logged into Google and Google’s servers ( should ) know my default language is English. But whatever. Yea, it’s all in Italian. Even more subtly, my results are mixed with an Italian-centric kind of flavor. If I type “football” into Google.com back home, I’ll likely see the homepage for the NFL in the top ten results.
Not so in Italy. “NFL.com” isn’t even on the first page. Of course, because in mostly not-US places int the world, the term “football” means “soccer,” not what Tim Tebow plays. Lots of websites do this, but the big ones definitely do this. As a traveler, this is a bit of a thing.
Google’s results here in Italy are Italy-centric, and also in Italian. Hmmmm. Amazon does it differently – If I go to Amazon.com, I’m taken to Amazon.com, but the biggest thing on the homepage I see is a banner saying “You’re on Amazon.com ( American flag pic ), but do you want to go to Amazon.it ( Italian flag here )?” So Amazon recognizes, takes me to where I said I wanted to go, but asks if I want to go to a different place.
If I stay on Amazon.com, the US site, I won’t be able to order anything that gets delivered to Italy. Or anywhere except the US. If I want to order something and have it sent to where I am in Florence, I have to go to Amazon.it.
If I go to Amazon.it and order socks, I can have them shipped to my current address in Florence, and what’s even better is I can pay in US dollars with my American MasterCard. This is a big deal, because lots of sites don’t do all this for you on the fly.
AmericanAirlines.com, for example will take you to AA.com, allow you to book a ticket, display in English, charge you in Euros, and tell you everything is fine.
But everything is not fine.
Because my American credit card is with an American bank, it uses US dollars. When AA.com assumed I wanted to use Euros because I was sitting in Italy when I bought the tickets ( even though I have an account at AA.com and they know who I am, allegedly, and that I have always used USDs in the past )… things go wrong. AA.com tries to charge me in Euros, and this doesn’t go well.
Even when I go back to AA.com and do the transaction with the monetary thingy set to USD, the site still attempts to process the transaction in Euros. I wound up having to call AA and do my flight over the phone.
What does this all mean, Pete?
Websites, the companies that own the servers and build the sites you shop on have the ability to determine where in the world you are, and they should also know things like your default language and currency, but lots of sites that should know better are still screwing all of this up. If you’re American using an American bank card or credit card when you travel and are looking to buy things online, do this always:
- Make sure the language selector is set to set to English; the US flag is they have it, the UK one if they don’t. ( note – learn what the UK flag looks like. )
- Make sure the currency selector is in US Dollars.
These two simple things will give you the best shot at your transaction going off without a hitch. And also,always look for that little lock icon in the address bar when you’re buying something. If it’s not there, do not put your credit card info into that website’s forms.