Stop telling me how cheap it is to live in America

I am getting really, really tired of my English colleagues telling me what it’s like in the US.  Seriously, people, I’m from there.  What on earth makes you think that you know more about that country than I do?  Stop especially telling me everything is cheaper there.  I will continue to find this not to be true, I see no obvious differences and I have actually LIVED in both places.  And oh yes, your visits to New York or Boston do NOT represent the average circumstances of the average American.

The money thing is the main subject on which my colleagues feel the need to educate me, and this is quickly becoming the most exasperating subject in my otherwise friendly (somewhat–this is England after all, best not be too friendly!) workplace conversations.  I had another  of those exchanges with a colleague this week in which he tried to convince me that things were so much cheaper in the US and also the US was a more affluent country.   OK, let’s start with the second one.  The GDP per capita, in US dollars, for 2006:

US: $43,883

UK: $39,618

Um, different by 10%, is that even statistically significant?  Let me just guess that if you took away a couple of extreme outliers in the US you’d be at about evens.  The average person has the same basic circumstances in the two places, except–oops–the American might not have health insurance.  Whine about the NHS all you want, but it’s at least something.  Oh yes, the American also has no choice but to own a car and pay for it, pay for maintenance, and keep it fueled.  An no, gas in the US is not $0.99/gallon any more.

The “cheaper in the US” argument this week was about consumer electronics.  My colleague argued that laptop use is not as common here compared with the US because “it’s too expensive”.  So I went to dell.co.uk and found a bottom of the line laptop “for home use” for £349 (=$700) including tax (VAT) and shipping.  The same approximate machine on the US dell.com website is $649 plus sales tax and shipping (although there is a special $100 discount right now).  But they’re basically the same price.

What is the difference here?  The difference is in one’s willingness to splash out just under a grand (US) for a computer.  In the US a computer is considered an essential item for living, from retirees down even to elementary school students.  If the UK is lagging behind, it’s refusal to spend the money on what would be considered a necessity in other places.   Buy a computer, use it, and generally join the 21st century, simple as that.  (When I expressed this opinion to my colleague, in a true loss of temper due to exhaustion and exasperation, I fear my actual words were “What century are you guys living in anyways?”)  Of course the irony is that a whiz-bang feature-filled new mobile phone every year quickly adds up to the cost of a computer every few years…

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3 responses to “Stop telling me how cheap it is to live in America

  1. There is a difference between “Living in the States” or just “Shopping in the States”

    If you just go shopping in the States it can make a HUUUGE difference. Jeans for example are way cheaper than in Germany. In Germany you pay nearly a 100 Euros for Wrangler. If they are Cowboy Cut sometimes even more.

    But Life in the States… yeah, that’s expensive. Especially in NY.

  2. Oh, don’t even get me started about two enormous expenses for middle-class American families that would make Brits blanch: college tuitions and healthcare.

    I love this story from the BBC about a set of triplets who were all accepted into programs at Cambridge. Their father said that paying fees for all three, at £3,000 apiece, would “crucify” him. Considering that tuition + room and board at the average American university now exceeds $30,000, and that at elite schools it’s hovering around $45,000, I’m sure plenty of Americans would give away body parts to put three kids through school for that relatively paltry sum.

    Vacationing, window-shopping Brits are also unaware of just how much we pay in health insurance premiums, even for the pared-down options offered by HMOs. An employee’s share of HMO premiums for a family of four averages over $2,500 annually these days, which doesn’t even include co-payments and prescription medication costs. I agree, Brits need to chew on that the next time they’re tempted to gripe about NHS.

  3. Pingback: British word(s) of the day v. 3 « Not From Around Here

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