To Swipe or Not to Swipe

Maybe I’m just getting (more) clumsy and awkward in my dotage, but every time I want to pay for something with a debit or credit card, I’m confronted with an existential crisis: to swipe or not to swipe?

Traditionally, you hand your card over to the clerk, and they swipe it through the cash register or card reader and you proceed with entering your pin or signing something and you’re on your way.

Now, about a third of the time, I’m expected to swipe the card at the card reader myself. I go to hand my over to the clerk, and they decline it and point to some device or other. I usually orient the card the first time, so we do a little Laurel and Hardy routine until I get it right.

Here’s the thing: I never, ever recognize when I’m supposed to swipe, and when I’m supposed to hand over the card. If there are common indicators around Canada’s cash desks which signify self-swiping, I’ve missed them entirely.

Am I missing something? Or are we just in that difficult time where self-swiping hasn’t become the norm?


  1. And maybe you don’t have to swipe but use the chip&pin method? And now sometimes if you spend under a certain amount you don’t have to sign the receipt.

    Too many ways of using the card and the method available depends on the store. Too confusing for the consumers/

  2. It’s a transition. When I was in Australia in 1995 my debit card worked in a lot of places, but at the time Canada was all the-clerk-swipes and Australia, unbeknownst to me, was all the-customer-swipes. I tried handing over my card a few times and the cashiers looked at me blankly, like I was a little crazy.

    I think we’ll all be swiping it ourselves, or using a chip system, in not too long. The clerk-swipes method is probably a relic of when this was all new to people, and of credit cards, which had always been clerk-swipes (or shk-shk’s in the manual machine) before that.

    But no, there is no indication I know of that tells you who’s supposed to be handling the card.

  3. I think all the machines can handle self-swiping, but the employees have been doing it the other way for so long that it’s just a habit.

    I prefer it when it’s the chip&pin, personally.

  4. After reading this I feel so glad that I am not alone! I can never tell when to swipe my debit card or when to hand it over! I love your btw. I’ve linked to it at least once from mine.

  5. I don’t own a credit card and prefer to use cash at every opportunity. At times I use my debit card to directly deduct cash straight from my account to the store and I find that to be very useful than carry a wad of cash around. But its getting harder & harder not to own a credit card and I might finally get one.

    1. Every since living abroad in cash-oriented societies, I too largely pay with cash. I’ll use debit cards when I don’t have cash handy, and occasionally credit cards, but it’s the exception.

  6. I actually, for some reason, get just a tiny bit offended when they make me swipe the card myself.

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