PIN In The Ass

Are other countries the same as us on this?
Here in Ireland, we don’t sign our names anymore when we pay for stuff on debit or credit cards. Instead, the card goes in a little gizmo and you type in your PIN or personal identification number to validate yourself, so to speak.

This is a bit of a shame because I used to like signing my name. It was always a bit of a conversation starter because - and you’ll probably not be surprised by this – I have rather an odd-looking signature which gets delivered at speed and with added oddity for having been carried out left-handed and with an awkward pen holding technique.

People would often have something to say. Things like, “Jesus, nobody’ll ever forge that!” or “How can that be ‘Armstrong’?” I used to have a job for a while which involved lots of signing of stuff so I think that the idiosyncrasies developed from there.

But now we just enter a four digit number. And it’s so damnably hard to be quirky and conversation-inducing with just a four digit number. In fact it’s nigh on impossible.

It’s also a bit of a security nightmare. It’s hard to hide your four digit number from the dude behind you in the queue without managing to look like a complete and utter tool. When the number-thing first came in, we were all at great pains to wrap our arms around the gizmo, looking like the swot in the spelling test. But now, apathy has set in and most of us just punch in our numbers with gay abandon. Who’s gonna rob us anyway, eh?

I sometimes memorise the PIN number of the person in the queue in front of me just in case times get too much harder, I could always steal their card and - joking, I’m joking.

But here’s my main gripe with the new(ish) PIN system of card verification. There is one shot – one brief window of opportunity to be erudite, wind-swept and interesting as you enter your number and that has a lot to do it with amazing promptness and expediency – that’s like ‘quickly’ missus.

So, when the card is in the gizmo, there comes a moment when the gizmo-display prompts ‘PLEASE ENTER YOUR PIN NOW.’ The only possible way to impress would be to enter your pin before the check-out person has to tell you to do it.

Hear me now on this; This Cannot Be Done.

No matter how hard I try to enter my number in the moment the machine tells me to, the check-out person always manages to tell me to do it even before I can get started on it. Every check out person in the world is adept at beating me to the punch on this. I don’t mind admitting that it is becoming a ‘thing’ for me and I may kill someone before I am done trying to succeed at it.

It’s very much like Kenny Williams in ‘Carry On Cleo’ saying “Friends, Romans…” and then someone always saying, “… Countrymen” before he can finish. I want to just flare my nostrils, Kenny-Fashion and drawl, “ I knowwwwww” at them.

I could be wrong but I think the cashiers have an unfair advantage in the race to the PIN number. I don’t think I ever really stand a chance. I think they are told about the PIN number before the stupid little gizmo-bastard-thing bothers to tell me.

I know. Next time, I’ll start to enter my PIN even before the machine asks me for it. Maybe that’ll work. Maybe I can still be impressive at the checkout one more time…

… maybe the cashier would be so impressed they will ask me for my autograph.

Then we’d really have something to talk about.


hope said...

I wonder if the reason I still write checks for most purchases has something to do with not wanting my identity to be reduced to a 4 digit number?

I feel your pain. And I believe I have your autograph and can verify that it is unique. :) Didn't know about the left handed thing though.

Did I ever remember to declare in public that you are brilliant? (For my quiz prize of the Irish CD...I LOVE it! Thanks again!}

Susan at Stony River said...

My sister's name is Star, so you can imagine how she 'signs' her name. But, our personalities are being slowly stripped away...we are becoming nothing more than a number each of us... now drink your Victory Gin and be happy.

Our usual conversation at every till, because my husband NEVER remembers the number but he has the card:
Him: "What the hell is our PIN?"
Me: "Adolf and Jim on Grafton Street."
Him: (hovering finger over keypad) "Who comes first again?"
Me: "Who do you like best?"

It makes sense to us, though we get eyebrow-raises from the checkout folks.

Susan at Stony River said...

Excellentest title of the year, by the way.

W. D. Prescott said...

Hmm, maybe I'm luck that I can use my debit card just like a credit card, but when I'm at the check out I can hit cancel and it will go to a signature prompt.

Anonymous said...

I'll give you a hint, from someone who works checkouts. In Dunnes, at least, the machine beeps before the notification comes up on the screen, so listen out for it. And if you want to be really swish, take your card out before they have to tell you to. The machine beeps then, too!

tata said...

Did you know that I have some freaky fascination with handedness? I can name a dozen celebrities off the top of my head that are lefties. My husband and best friend are both lefties. I'm not at all surprised that you are. I seem to find myself very fond of lefties. ;)

ken armstrong said...

Hope: Thank you. I'm glad you liked 'Planxty', I certainly do. :)
I find that people writing cheques here are now reviled more a little than axe murderers. The people in the queue behind all tut and talk among themselves in derogatory terms about the writer-of-the-cheque. :)

Susan: Intriguing. I will now spend some time unavoidably trying to work out your PIN... :)

W.D. Prescott: Hi! I think if I tried that , our feisty check-out people would do Karate Kid wax on wax off technique upside-a my head. Glad it works for you. :)

aislinlo: See? This is feckin' Golddust! I am going to do a second shop to try this out. (perhaps not) :) Thanks though, you are becoming my Life-Advisor.

tata: If you asked, I would've said you were a Leftie too. In Irish it's Cith-og and French has us as 'Gauche' or 'awkward'. So we gotta stick together, really. :)
(I hope you feel better)

Kat Mortensen said...

We've got new cards with chips in them so I'm lucky if I even remember where the card goes. If it's a swipe deal I inevitable swipe the wrong way and give a little embarassed giggle which is usually met with that teenage eye-roll that is so common.
I know my PIN number no problem (I've got it coded alphabetically with corresponding numbers connected to something personal), but I usually zone out as the guy who's packing my eggs on end in my bag sends me into a tailspin and so I never get that number in ahead of anybody.


Paul Carroll said...

Ah Ken, you poor naive fool. You've got things all wrong here.

Firstly, no one ever beats the cashier, unless said casheir sn't looking where he or she is supposed to be. For the sake of it, we tell each other what to do with the machine too.

Secondly, you can't enter your pin before the device tells you to. Wanna know why? It'll interrupt you half-way through and you'll end up with one or two numbers just typed into the machine. The last ones, I might add.

Thirdly, people still sign for things! I get it all the time. Swipe cards are still "in." You can just ask for one instead and watch as the cashier has to painful take the device to his or her side and swipe it for you, over and over again until it works, because we're not used to that sort of thing.

Fourthly, you're wrong if you think all cashier want to talk to the customers. No, a lot of the time if we think the person is weird (as a result of being afraid they'll bite us, usually) we try to avoid conversation. You can easily trap us there, however, by not stopping with the talking! We get many customers like that. We all learn to know their names because they stop us in the shop and we can't do any work, or any not-working! That's the best way to get some chatter in. Once you don't mind people thinking you're crazy =]

I hope you don't mind the repeated cotradictions XD

ken armstrong said...

Poetikat: Yeah it's the 'Chip and Pin' technology that we're dealing with too. I thought you were going to give me a good clue to your PIN there (like Susan did above) but no, too crafty for that. :)

Paul: Thanks for the great comment. Imagine not getting into conversation with me, how much you would be missing out on? I'm even better in Real Life too. :)
No I don't mind the contradictions or even the dreaded XD but being called a Fool is a bit hard to take. XD

Anonymous said...

Hahaha that's a great observation. I hate it because I have so many passwords and PINs that it takes me 5 tries before I get it right.

Unknown said...

I hear you! And I don't know what it is about me and my hardwired desire to look infinitely cooler than those around me to the cashier at Target.

Peace - Rene

Laura Brown said...

You could just forget your PIN and have a conversation about that. I've done that. The conversation several times. I've forgotten my PIN twice. Once with a new card. The other was a card I had for over ten years. I just had a really bad headache all that day and the brain cells that kept my PIN must have been killed off in a really awful bloody battle, or something. The strange thing is that after using that same PIN about 12 years I have never again been able to remember it. Now I have another PIN, so far so good.

Laura Brown said...

I'm very casual about using my debit card. I take my nephew out for coffee and let him take my card up and pay it. He thought he was on the path to a great life of crime until I had to tell him the card only had $20 on it. Now he just goes ahead and does it. But, he kind of likes it. I think he pretends it is his card.

I have a department store credit card that I still sign for. I never sign my signature though. I just do the first letter of my name and doodle the rest. I could be writing Lfroglegs or Lbyteme for all it matters.

McGuire said...

I worked in a supermarket for years, just as they started introducing chip and pin.

I too miss signing my name. I hate the technocratic society but at that same time, if I lived without it for long enough I'd go mad.

Chip and pin is only the beginning of a more technocratic and streamlined electronic system. Before you know it we while hacve a complete cashless society. And then, a few decades down the line, maybe even 100 years from now. They'll be forcing us to have microchips implanted into our arms.

The nightmare is just beginning.

Jim Murdoch said...

You've seen my signature so you know that I use a ruler to do everything bar the opening J. And that's how I used to sign in shops too. I'd use the credit card as a straight edge and, like you, they would wonder what all the scribbles in my surname were all about.

The PIN thing has never really bothered me that much and actually I don't find myself being hassled. In the early days, yes, that was the case but in the early days I was never that sure which way to shove my card into the damn thing anyway and I still take a second or two to make my mind up.

My worst experience was sticking the wrong card in and frantically typing my PIN over and over again until it finally dawned on me to check.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

I actually find the opposite about being asked for my PIN - that the checkout person doesn't remind me, and I'm left busy staring into space wondering what's taking so long. When the answer is actually... me.

As for my signature, not having to learn a new one (which would have an annoyingly awkward apostrophe in it) was one of my many reasons for not changing my name when I got married... I'm quite happy with mine, especially the way the C swirls into the S.
Of course, I do occasionally used the monograph(?) of C#, particularly in work when labelling my cereal box.

Jena Isle said...

We sign some transactions and we also make use of the PIN in some. Logging in at work needs our employee number. ATM cards and credit cards need our PIN.

Do you know that there was a time too when I had to let a younger colleague do the inputting for me for my PIN because I couldn't read the letters on the screen,. lol... But I'm getting used to it. I'm becoming faster now.

Windmill said...

Hi Ken,

Please join Saturday Saved.

Read more about it at:

Thank You,

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Hello Ken, back from vacation...Did you miss me? We have two if its a debit card, signature if we use the card as a credit card. At gas pumps most companies now ask for the zip code of the card holder if the card is being used as a credit card.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

OH, by the way...My pin is ABBA-related. But you'll never guess it.

Dominic Rivron said...

I experienced a related lunatic sign of the times today. Tried to buy a Guardian newspaper at a Tesco service station. The cashier tried to scan the barcode on it but couldn't. After fetching a colleague who also tried but couldn't, the cashier put the paper under the counter and said she was sorry but she couldn't sell it me. What? I said. Didn't they have a keypad with numbers on on which they could type 1.70? Apparently not. It was the barcode or nothing.

Relax Max said...

I Hadn't written an actual check in a very long time (years) at a grocery checkout, but did last week when I left my debit card at home but found a blank check in my wallet. Turns out you don't even have to fill them out anymore. Just sign the check and hand it to the cashier and he puts it in a slot that sucks it in and uses the routing code and acct number to immediately withdraw the funds from your account. Cool. Then it quickly types the things you would have written in the old days and he hands the "canceled" check back to you. Less than 20 seconds. My money was in their hands before I left the checkout. So I learned something useless that I will never need to know again, right? This was at WalMart here, not sure if it works the same at Target or your Tesco. Hope you are doing fine, Ken.

Ken Armstrong said...

Tony Briley: I'm too paranoid about my PIN(s) to say anything about them. I can envisage a team of crack code-breakers working overtime to crack my secret number and access my buck-fifty. :)

Rene: Looking cool is Everything. We know that right?

Laura: First letter of name and doodles the rest... (making notes here) my pishing of signatures post is working great. Soon your twenty dollars will be my twenty dollars. :) But, wait, I could never doodle like you do...

McGuire: I can't imagine you in the supermarket... weren't you coming over all enigmatic at the meat counter? :)

Jim: I did find the signing with a ruler thing very interesting. I think of it as an 'Engineering' thing to do. It is an interesting counterpoint to your free-flowing mind.

Catherine: What *does* happen is some brightsparks forget to take the card out of the thing and give it back to you. I've left a few cards lying around in that way.

Jena Isle: I would imagine that reading letters on a screen is no longer a problem for you. :)

Hi Windmill: Good to see you!

Matt: Welcome back! I hope you had a blast. As for ABBA-related PIN (PABBA?) I'm not going to even try.

Dominic: Silly gits! We can't sell you this - we don't know how. I would have figured a way to get it into your hands for money. :)

Relax MAx: A frightening high=tech twist on the humble cheque. Whatever will the buggers do next?? :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.