It doesn’t matter where you are these days, the various Gas Stations (or Petrol Stations as they are called in the UK) just cause you grief don’t they. If it’s not the prices that are hiked up sky high, it’s the conditions of the station forecourt and the chaos at the pumps while you are waiting to fill up your vehicle.
The situations that I have faced in the USA and the UK are different, and so I will cover these individually, so you can see how different things are between these two countries, but in both one things remains true – it’s not usually the most pleasant experience.
Before I begin, it always annoyed me, and indeed it annoys most other British people as well, that in the USA you call it “Gas” and not “Petrol”. I guess I ought to add that I AM a joint US Citizen as well as a British Citizen, so I use WE and YOU for each depending on which mood I am in, and when it comes to Gas – sorry PETROL I side with the British.
In the UK, Gas means the stuff that you use to cook with, and that’s it. In the USA however, Gas could mean the stuff you fill up your car with (short for “Gasoline”), or it could mean what you use to cook with. It could also mean “passing gas” or farting, which we in the UK call “passing wind” or more politely “blowing off”.
Since you choose to use the word “Gas” for so many different purposes, it could be confusing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, in some graphic archive, isn’t a cartoon of someone overhearing the phrase “filling the car up with Gas” and visualizing a person placing their rear to the fuel cap and blowing off.
But I digress as always, put it down to my ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or what you will.
FILLING UP WITH GAS IN THE USA
The nice things that I found here were that most pumps take credit cards, and so you can fill up, pay, and not need to go inside, line up behind people buying milk, beer, cigarettes etc, which makes the task of filling up a lot easier.
It’s also nice that most pumps have a catch that allows you to keep the fuel pumping, so that you can wipe over your windows while fueling, scratch your backside, or whatever. With the exception of the Florida Turnpike however, which for some reason has broken/disabled all the catches, so that you have to stand there while 25 gallons of fuel dispense at what seems to be an incredibly slow rate.
The bad points are many however.
In the UK all petrol stations are one way in and one way out. Not so in the USA, where you can drive in from either end, and frequently meet another car in the middle. Assuming that there are two pumps in a line, you now have two vehicles facing each other, so that to get out, one or the other has to reverse up, which means that the next vehicle in line cannot pull in behind. This just seems crazy to me, and in the 15 years that I lived in the USA I saw so many angry incidents, which could have been resolved had the gas stations been one way.
Many pumps now validate your credit card by requiring you to enter your Zip Code. Fine, but WHY do you have to press the Enter key as well? Since all Zip Codes are 5 digits, what is the point of having you press the Enter key? It ought to accept your Zip Code after the 5th digit automatically, right!
Then you have the gas station where you pull up to the pump, insert your credit card, go to enter your Zip Code, and find that someone has bashed and broken the keypad so badly, that it won’t take your numbers. After several minutes of trying to enter your Zip Code, with frustrated people in line behind you, it’s then necessary to go into the store to get your card approved.
The next thing that really annoys me is that having filled up, and paid at the pump by credit card, I am asked if I want a receipt or not. Well if I paid by credit card, of course I want a receipt, since that’s the only way I can reconcile my purchases with my monthly statement and know how much I paid. Why anyone who pays by credit card wouldn’t want a receipt I don’t know.
Well you know what’s coming next I am sure… Yes you got it, the pump that goes to give you a receipt, and nothing comes out. Now you have to go into the store, wait in line behind the people who are buying milk, beer, cigarettes etc, then the cashier gives you an odd look as you tell them you only want a receipt, and not only asks for your pump number (which by now you have usually forgotten having spent so long waiting in line) but also for the amount on the pump. Of course you didn’t look to see how much this was, because when paying by credit card, it’s no longer necessary to pay in multiples of ten dollars, you just keep going until the tank is full.
Then of course we have all the different types of pump, a rare few of which require you to lift a lever having taken the nozzle and placed it in the fuel hole. This above all used to irritate me, as not only am I unaccustomed to doing this, I would usually forget, and on several occasions when I had to refuel at a gas station that I had not been to before, I had problems getting the pump to work, and once I actually tried two pumps, then gave up and drove away without filling up, later realizing that these pumps had levers.
Several gas stations in South Florida used to really irritate me, since they frequently have traffic jams of vehicles entering from both ends, but many people there would pay cash and have to prepay at the pump. So I would drive into the gas station, pull up behind another car, see the driver come out of the store and think “great, my turn now”, only to find that they then proceeded to begin to fill up their car, which took another five minutes. Meantime, the next lane became clear, but I couldn’t usually back up.
I almost forgot… The other thing that really drove me crazy in Indiana was the constantly changing fuel prices. These would just rise and rise, then suddenly drop by as much as 25cents a gallon. Gradually over a period of two weeks the prices would go back up and then down again by as much as 25cents. It used to make me mad if I had just filled up with gas and found a station down the road was significantly cheaper, especially as I had a 15 gallon tank on my car, and a 25 gallon one on the van.
The stupid thing is also that in the UK the prices on the signs outside the petrol stations have been electronic for years, however in the USA most gas station prices still have to be changed manually. It was almost a daily occurrence to see someone at one gas station or another changing the prices, and it was a real struggle too in a high wind, driving rain or a blizzard.
Then in Indiana, more than Florida (I lived in both states), you have those people who get out of their car, leaving the engine running, so that the whole area of the gas station reverberates while they are filling up. You can’t hear any music, just the constant buzzing of an over-sized sub-woofer rattling their old banger to bits. Should you try and remind them that it’s illegal to fill up with your engine running, and that there are signs posted to that effect, you stand getting a black look or worse.
As well as leaving their engine running, some people even smoked cigarettes while filling up with gas. Can you believe that? Also you would find people using their cell phones, which I don’t consider quite as bad, provided you discharged any static first, but smoking and leaving your engine running, come on… I sometimes used to be really relieved to be out of the gas station and half a mile down the road, waiting for the “WHOOMPH” as everything went up in flames.
Oh it’s all good fun, and I wonder how many of you are laughing and saying to yourselves “been there, done that”… But at the time when you are in a hurry, or it’s pouring with rain and you are freezing your butt off, you just want to get home or back on the road, and these frustrations all mount up.
FILLING UP WITH PETROL IN THE UK
Well having caused offense to many Americans with putting down the process of filling up with gas over there, it’s now the turn of the English to get a good digital tongue lashing from me.
Over here in the UK, we don’t have to wonder if a pump has the ability for you to leave it running until the tank is full, because the catch on every single bloody one is disabled. That means wherever you have to fill up, you have to hold the lever constantly to fill up, and although our petrol tanks are only half the size of yours in the USA, it seems that the fuel only flows at half the speed, so it takes us just as long to fill up.
Now of course you would really like to wash down your windscreen (not windshield – this is the UK remember), but can you find a wiper? No! Many petrol stations in the UK don’t provide these like they do in the USA, probably because of the cost, and probably also because of the black looks that you get from the motorist behind you, should you finish filling up your car and then decide to wash your car windows.
It’s nice over here that all our petrol stations are one way however, but few of them have pumps that take credit cards, and so wherever you fill up, chances are that you will have to go into the store, and wait in the queue behind everyone buying bread, milk, chocolate, a birthday card for aunt fanny etc, and then pay.
Should you find a pump that does take credit cards in the UK, be warned that over here all credit cards now use the Chip And Pin system, where the card contains a chip, and you need to enter your pin number before the card will be approved. For those of you from the USA or any other country where they don’t have the Chip And Pin system, you won’t be able to fill up at the pump, and will need to join the queue behind all those people buying bread, milk, dog food, newspapers, toilet rolls, and a gallon of oil, and you had better remember not only your pump but the amount you spent as well.
In the UK the price is also in Litres as well instead of Gallons, which just makes it easier for the petrol station to increase the price by 1 penny a litre, which is really closer to 5 pence a gallon. This is very frustrating when the price is now the highest ever, despite the cost of oil having dropped, and equates to well over $6 a gallon!
Now when you go into the store to pay for your patrol in the UK, you will usually be provided with two copies of the receipt, both of which are different. You not only get a copy for yourself, but another to send with your VAT statement if you are a business or self employed. Many places just give you two receipts anyhow, which seems such a waste of paper, especially as they usually tell you not only how much you paid, but the price per litre, amount of fuel, date, time, what you had for breakfast etc. You come out of the store with so many pieces of paper, it’s ridiculous.
Common to both the UK and the USA are the drivers who see you waiting behind them waiting to fill up, hold the clerk at the cash register in what seems like half an hour of gossip, when walk at a snails pace back to their car. Here they proceed to take another five minutes to find their car key, unlock the car, get into the drivers seat, and then when you expect them to drive off, proceed to pull down their visor and adjust their make-up. I have sat for as long as five minutes waiting for someone to start their engine, and then they take forever to put their seat belt on, before they finally move away from the pump. Me? I get into my car, start the engine, and pull forward to allow the car behind to move into place, then stop and put on my seat belt.
ONE OF THE WORST EXPERIENCES EVER AT THE PUMP
One of the worst experiences for me was shortly before I left Florida to return to the UK, and I had already changed the address on my credit cards to be my new UK address.
Because I was working 48 miles north of where I lived, and that meant getting onto I-95 at an early hour, one morning I had to fill the car up with gas at a Mobil station that I sometimes used.
Since the pump would not accept the Zip Code for my calling card, the UK using an alpha numeric code, I had to go into the shop to get the card authorized. The assistant was ready to help me, but then the managed came out, a smaller than average Asian man, who thought he was a re-incarnation of Hitler (to put it mildly), and he was really rude, made me go into the office with him, and spent at least 10 minutes calling my card company to verify my details, just to cause me grief. He finally decided that he would approve the card, and so I filled up the car.
A week or so later, I was again caught without fuel and running late, and had to go to the same gas station. This time the manager was really abusive, shouting at me for not having a card that he didn’t have to approve, and it was obvious that he had been in his back office just trying to sleep and do nothing, so any interruption to that routine just pretty much pissed him off.
Needless to say, later that day Mobil had a long email from me (which they later acknowledged), and the same information was also posted to various forums about gas stations. This is a forum post that I sent out with similar details to those I sent to Mobil.
Well these are my experiences at the pump, and I am sure that you not only can appreciate first hand some of the things that I have experienced, but can add some unique experiences of your own. If you can, please leave a comment and let me and all the others who will “hopefully” read this have a good laugh, or have a chance to vent their own frustrations.