travel adventures in ecommerce – part deux


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, Amazon serves you up, and 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 “” 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 “”

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, not  But let’s  stay in Italy for now.

At, 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 back home, I’ll likely see the homepage for the NFL in the top ten results.

Not so in Italy. “” 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, I’m taken to, but the biggest thing on the homepage I see is a banner saying “You’re on ( American flag pic ), but do you want to go to ( 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, 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

If I go to 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., for example will take you to, 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 assumed I wanted to use Euros because I was sitting in Italy when I bought the tickets ( even though I have an account at and they know who I am, allegedly, and that I have always used USDs in the past )…  things go wrong. tries to charge me in Euros, and this doesn’t go well.


Even when I go back to 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.


travel adventures in ecommerce – apps

yes, another classy clipart image.

Making app purchases from ( for example ) iTunes or the App Store can be complex and throw up multiple hurdles. Take for example buying and displaying train tickets.

In Europe it’s possible to buy train tickets from a variety of websites; that train company’s site is always an option, but often not the most economical and sometimes not the most accurate, strange as that may sound. With a little research, you can find the site that’s right for your ticket from London to Athens. Or wherever. In our case, Marseilles to Paris.

The setup

I’m not a train “nerd,” meaning I don’t know the types of various engines in use, anything about schedules or trackage. I barely know that the term “motive power” has to do with engines, but regardless I love traveling by train. So when in France, I wanted to take the high speed TGV from Marseilles to Paris, and Kim was happy to oblige me.

I did the research, bought tickets. The website told us a few times to “Make sure and print out the tickets before you get to the station, or there will be an additional fee.”

This isn’t a post about the wisdom of doing this, but I will say, if you can, maybe save yourself some heartache, and print the tickets out.

But, I didn’t do this.

Being used to how things are in the US, I figured I’d just do as I do there. Go to the site ( or something ) and “bring up” the ticket on my phone. I didn’t understand this at the time, but when I do this in the US, many things are happening:

  • I am doing this all on a US phone, with a US number
  • I am grabbing the relevant app from the US app store
  • I am paying for the app ( or stuff within it, even if that amount is $0.00 ) with a US credit card
  • I am paying in US dollars

And now, the challenge

Some or most of this won’t be true if you’re doing the ecommerce thing while traveling abroad, this can get a little sticky, so I’ll try and explain using my train example.

We get to the station in Marseilles. No one at the large, ornate ticketing counter can print our tickets, because they were purchased through some company ( iDTGV ) that exists and is perfectly cool to sell them, but doesn’t have an office at the station. Our passage is probably valid, but without printed tickets, we’ll have to pay service charges and have everything sorted out. On the train, which will be moving at some amazing speed. Bleh. The nice ticketing lady tells us they’ll need to scan a QR code on the train, and she’s sure we’ll figure it all out. Just not there at the ticketing counter.

So, we leave the ornate counter, and wander the station a bit.

On my phone, I go to the email I got from the company. Of course it says something to the effect of “this is your itinerary, your proof of payment, but absolutely in no way is this a ticket. Please print your ticket from the following link…” And of course no QR code.

Gumble, grumble.

We regroup. I click on the link from the phone with the lounge wifi – did I mention this is after bluffing our way into the First Class lounge without tickets but showing our definitely-not-tickets-email-on-a-phone. Very classy – the email I click on doesn’t show a bar code, and doesn’t seem to be able to bring up the ticket page. More grumble. But the email has a huge link for the issuing company’s iPhone app.

Huzzah! I think.

I click, and this is where the real fun starts.


“The Fun”

“You are registered at the US app store, but attempting to access an app from the French app store. Do you want to change your settings?”

Um, sure. Hmmmm. I can always switch back, right?


I click “Settings” and eventually ( still more grumble ) figure out that you can’t do this from the phone. I think to look in the US store for the app – maybe the link was just to the French store and it exists in the US store, yes? Worth a look.

But it doesn’t.

So, I bust out the laptop, look at the clock ( 20 minutes now before boarding ), and navigate to the app store to change my store to the French one. I do this after jumping through some hoops. I look up the app and go to download it, but even though the app is free and will cost E0.00, I’m stopped and told I’d need a French credit card to make app purchases in the French app store. No downloads of any kind until I enter a valid French credit card.

What. The. Fuck.

In the next ten minutes, it’s not likely I’m going to apply for and receive, or otherwise procure a valid French credit card. Soooo I switch my settings back to the US store and close it. I take a mental inventory:

  • To display tickets on my phone, I need the app.
  • To get the app, I need to register with the French store
  • To get anything from the French store, I need to have a french credit card

None of this is going to happen, so I abandon this line of thinking ten minutes left before we board. What have I missed? I recheck the above assumptions. How can I do all this without suffering the Silly American embarrassment of explaining to the ticket person on the train that “yea, I read the 3 places it said to print these out, but I didn’t print them out.” …?

The laptop still open, I go to my email, find the not-a-ticket itinerary email, and click on the ticket link there, the one that would not come up on my phone.

It comes up! QR code city, for Kim and I both.


Huzzah! ( For real, this time )

Now I do a little digital acrobatics – screen cap the tickets from the laptop, email them to myself, open this email from the phone, crop the screencaps to be just the ticket with the much-vaunted QR code:




I email Kim’s to her. And say a short prayer they won’t kick us off the TGV, or impose serious Silly American fines for us using our clearly-hacked tickets.

As it turns out, they do neither. They accept our screen-capped, cropped tickets as if they were issued by the snooty French app itself, from the French store, paid in Euros. Glory Days!




And a pain in the ass.

But for our trip from Paris to London ( on Eurostar ), just a few days hence… it turns out Eurostar is not as snooty as iDTGV, and indeed has an app in the US iPhone store where Pete can spend USD.

Coming soon – part 2 – adventures in ordering from Amazon while in London!