Monday, October 27, 2008
The Cost of Groceries
A Triptych from Sweden
Part One. The Cost of Groceries.
Living abroad has proven to be as exciting as continental drift. Things are quiet and stationary for a long time. One doesn't really notice the movement. Then a fault line slips.
Over the last month I've felt 3 distinct quakes in perspective. Once I sat down to write about them, suddenly a number of tremors sprang to mind as well. I hadn't noticed anything interesting to write about living in Sweden since I had first arrived. Suddenly I feel like I'm ready to give a lecture on Pangaea.
Originally I thought I would write one article about 3 different topics. But that turned out to be too long, so I'm splitting it up into separate parts. The tremors, however curious, will not make it into these writings. For example, I won't be discussing how some Swedish couples never get around to mentioning their political party to one another. Nor will I go into the excruciating stupidity of coffee shops not opening until 9 am at the earliest. I will also forgo, for the time-being, how the Swedish can give even the British a run for their money when it comes to fear of embarrassment.
What I will address in three parts is the cost of groceries, the concept of "Practice Work", and that which inspired this article in the first place: A conversation with my Iraqi schoolmates. The sections may seem unrelated at first blush. But they tie together nicely in my mind. I'll show you how.
The least of it first. Vivian and I went to our neighborhood grocer a few nights ago. It was 6 pm, but dark already. And we're still 2 months until solstice. Anyway, I'm not very good at predicting the cost of food here. But it's something I try to do. I'm a bit of a miser. I worried over the cost of eating in the States as well. Any time I spent more than 15 dollars at the store I felt like I was donating a kidney. But I had no idea how good I had it. The prices here can make one consider if anatomical trade wouldn't be the cheaper option. Play along with this handy list and tell me what you think. We picked up an iceberg lettuce (romaine or spinach is out of the question), a few tomatoes, 2 carrots, a cucumber, bananas, apples, juice concentrate, a quart of milk, yogurt, two boxes of cereal, sandwich meat, 2 bottles of soda, a small packet of cookies, two chocolates, some cheese, and a pack of pre-ground(!) coffee.. The cost was about 600 Swedish Kronor (SEK).
Ok. What'd you come up with? I figure that in the states, depending on the store, this could cost from 40 to 50 bucks. But once you convert 600SEK to the dollar, the price of this trip was 75USD. What's more, that's AFTER the recent fall on the Krona. Until this week it would have been equal to 100USD. Seriously.
But cost of living being what it is, this all balances out a little when one considers that even lawn maintenance workers start at 20USD per hour. For the effort of raking leaves, pulling weeds, and planting flowers a citizen can earn what I made as a business manager in the States. But in the states that meant I could have a car, gym membership, books and movies, travel, and go out to eat whenever I felt like it. These landscapers are paid well, comparatively, but in practice labor is labor, whether you live here or in the US. It's not big deal, though. I wouldn't mind digging ditches if I could find the work. But even those jobs are held by people ten to twenty years older than I am. It's career work here. That leaves nothing but restaurant work for young people.
But the upside is that if you work at a restaurant then chances are you'll actually get paid for it. Read on to part two.