The Chips Are Down

Why the U.S. lags in credit-card technology

Illustration by Hinterland for TIME

"Vous n'avez pas une puce," the waiter said. My French is shaky, but from having been to a French flea market, I recognized puce, which means flea. My problem was that I was in a caf in Lyon, France, trying to pay for a lousy dinner. (Think it's impossible to have a bad meal in France? Stick with me.) The waiter was telling me my Visa card didn't have fleas.

I should hope not. French words often do double or triple duty, and in this case the server was referring to a computer chip--rather, the lack of one--on my Capital One...

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