Am I On This Planet?

Have you ever had one of those moments when you wonder whether you’ve been whisked off to another planet entirely? Early yesterday morning I needed to fill up the tank of our hire car, a little white Nissan Versa so pulled into a Shell garage somewhere in N Austin after dropping Kevin off at the office.

Now I am used to two petrol station methods:

  • UK: drive in, get out and place noozle in car, wait a few seconds whilst they take a picture of your registration plate, fill up then go into the shop and pay seventy plus pounds sterling for forty litres or so of fuel
  • Bahrain: drive in, open window say fill up please, scruffy middle aged man fills the car and you hand over a couple of Bahraini dinars for your forty or so litres of fuel and you might even get a few Fils change.

Once I’d got the unfamiliar car on the right side of a pump I got out, opened the filler cap and inserted the noozle. Nothing. Peering at the pump I noticed two things, firstly a sun-faded notice stating that as drive offs were common I needed to pre-pay and secondly that there was a credit card payment slot on the pump (and yes I have used these in the UK). I returned the noozle to its holder and rummaged for my card. Inserting it and removing it quickly as instructed produced no result. After a couple of tries I gave up and went in to speak to the garage attendant.

He spoke… I said pardon… he repeated his low growl slightly slower and more clearly; “10 bucks, 20 bucks or 30 bucks ma’am?” Uh? Fuzzy, slightly hung over, still sleepy brain panicked as it realised it had to do some maths (or is that math). Average small white car takes 30 or 40 litres, not quite empty so say the former. “How much is petrol?” I ask brightly. Blank look from man behind counter. “Look ma’am I’m trying to help you ” and he repeats his initial litany of amounts.
“How much a litre?” I ask innocently. The man looks very disconcerted
“No ma’am ‘Gallons’…. 2.55, no” he paused “2.51 per gallon, I changed it this morning”
Brain vaguely in gear…2.5 litres per gallon, 2.5 bucks a gallon so 30 bucks would possibly give me 30 litres of fuel? Not certain I could trust my maths this early in the morning but I decided to go for it. “30 please”.

I was not out of the woods yet. Card swipped and receipt signed (chip and pin doesn’t seem to have reached Austin) I headed back to the pump. Noozle in car, press leaver. Nothing. Try again still nothing. I looked round as the attendant knocked on his window and made jerky movements upwards with hand. I peered at the pump again. Beside the other two noozles were small labels stating pump on and pump off but not by the noozle I was using. Finally I realised that you need to lift up the noozle rest in order to turn the pump on. Machinery whirred, fuel flowed and 30 bucks worth just squeezed into the tank. At least I could still do maths in this strange land. Next time Kevin can fill up.


  1. Postscript: Decided to check exactly what a gallon of liquid is in litres for future fuel buying reference:

    1 US gallon equals 3.785 litres
    1 Imperial gallon (UK) equals 4.546 litres

    So I definitely wasn't awake!

    PPS: The Nissan Versa 2011 takes 13.1 US gallons ie about 50 litres of fuel. And for the record 30 bucks bought a little over 12 US gallons, around 46 litres.


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