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Is Germany an "Emerging Market" for Visa and Mastercard?

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Over the course of seven days in Germany, I paid with plastic -- a Chase (JPM) debit card -- exactly once.

Using cash was something of a novelty for this American, as everything from chewing gum to cab rides can be paid for with Visa (V), Mastercard (MA), or American Express (AXP) these days.

But not in Europe's largest economy, where the citizenry charges an average of $158 a year, compared with $267 in France -- the second most credit-phobic country on the Continent -- and a literal world away from Australia, where people charge $7,889 annually, according to a 2010 Euromonitor International report. (Interestingly, the United States comes in fourth, behind South Korea and Canada, with an average yearly spend of $4,236.), a division of Bankrate, notes that in 2009, "there were 686 million credit cards in the United States, serving a population of just over 300 million." Germany, on the other hand, has "only about 4 million credit cards for a population of almost 90 million." Online payment services like eBay's (EBAY) PayPal are increasing in popularity among Germans, but consulting firm Donnelly Spire reports the credit card is the preferred form of payment for a meager 15% of the population.

In an almost-too-perfect illustration of the difference in attitudes toward credit between Germans and Americans, I ordered a vodka tonic on the Continental (CAL) flight back to NYC.

"That'll be five euros," the flight attendant said.

I dug into my pocket for exact change.

"No cash," he said. "Credit cards only."
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