I am a collector of reward cards. Not store cards, let's be clear. I'm not completely irresponsible with money. Or rather, I can be, and I know my enemy. But reward cards and loyalty cards, yes please. I love them.
In the UK, my wallet was stuffed full of colourful bits of plastic and paper. The usual high-street reward schemes obviously made the list. My love of overpriced coffees meant I also had one for each of the main chains (10th coffee for free - wheee)! Such is my loyalty to loyalty schemes that I even had several defunct and out-of-date ones hiding behind my EHIC card - for airlines and hotel chains - left over from a previous life of business travel. Even the obscure were given a spot in my collection. I had a card for clocking up free smoothies, one to earn free yoga classes, and even a Nando's card, which still has half a free chicken on it.
On arriving in Switzerland I cleared them all out. My wallet had been so over-full that it was now slack and had a tendency to drop my bank cards onto the floor. Why, I wondered, had I magpied so many? With some, the payback was obvious - a free overpriced coffee is perhaps a trifle, but Every Little Helps in Austerity Britain. With others, I rather unimaginatively used the points to buy Christmas presents and to pay for groceries the week before payday. My favourites were the ones that fed my love of a bargain. Such joy to experience the delicious smugness of claiming my free half chicken, never mind that the chicken itself was usually superfluous to requirements.
But what about the ones that never really earned me anything? The hotel scheme so ungenerous that it would take a lifetime of nights away from home to earn a free stay? The smoothie card at the smoothie shop that was too far away from the office to ever be visited again? Perhaps I have a love for the possible alternate lifestyles that those cards suggest, for the idea of a jet-setting, smoothy-drinking Helen who laughs in the face of coughing up hotel rack-rates and scorns the idea of paying for an extra wheatgrass shot.
My first rather prosaic Swiss acquisitions were for the big supermarket reward schemes. You have to apply for a card using a complicated form that is only available in German, so the arrival of mine in the post was a matter of some pride to me. You hand the card over at the checkout in the normal way, and the points get added to your account in the usual fashion. I'm not sure how or where I can redeem my points yet, but I get a warm and cosy feeling knowing that one day, when my German is good enough, there'll be a tidy little nest egg saved up for me.
Having the requisite bit of plastic also improves the success-rate of supermarket checkout interactions. I can now reply in the affirmative to the formerly dreaded "Kundenkarte?" question, neatly avoiding the risk of an unintelligible reward card sales pitch. Replying in the affirmative to other checkout interrogations is a type of Russian roulette, because I've no hope of understanding what it is I'm being offered, short of saying yes and finding out. The Migros supermarket spent the early spring giving away pointless little plastic bean things called Nanos. No relation the the iPod. Contrary to what the photo below suggests, they are also not in the least bit edible:
The delights of the inedible, non iPod Nanos were lost on me, so I learned to recognise my cue to decline them, after establishing that the children in my au pair friend's family were already awash with the little buggers. More happily, in the week before Easter, the Coop supermarket gave away free bars of milk chocolate with every purchase. Now here was the kind of freebie I could enjoy.
Soon, another cunning ruse to catch me out came along. In early April, I started being asked something by the Coop cashiers after I presented my loyalty card. To begin with I politely declined what I thought was the offer of a bag, mistakenly gesturing to the packable ones that I take everywhere with me. This caused some looks of mild confusion, but as that's a fairly standard response to my attempts at German, I didn't think much of it.
Then there came a day when I was feeling adventurous, (and indeed had forgotten to bring my packable bags with me). I said 'Ja'. And the cashier handed me a strip of small red stamps with pictures of pans on them. I was a bit confused: I certainly couldn't carry the milk home in that! And were these the kind of stamps that hold up queues when paid with in the UK? What was the social etiquette of stamp-paying in Switzerland? Would I be tutted for holding fellow shoppers up, or was it more like the Nandos free-chicken scenario? And if not for stamp-paying, then what the devil *were* they for? Still, they were rather pretty, so I collected them for a week or two without having the foggiest what to do with them.
And then, one day, Greg brought home a little sticker book for them to live in. I devoured the info on the accompanying leaflet, and I think that once our little sticker book is full, I can redeem it for money off Fondue pans and Victorinox kitchen knives. Either that, or I can swap our kitchen knives for money off our groceries. Either way, I'm in.