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:
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…