Where Not to Buy Levis

International Travel

Reading my post, “Where Not to Buy Nikes,” got my wife thinking about some of the most expensive cities she has visited and how they compare to her new home near Los Angeles. At the time, she was living in London, so the prices weren’t quite as striking as the British pound was (and still is) stronger than the US dollar.

For her, the most expensive cities visited have been Oslo, Reykjavik, and Tokyo. Let’s see how they all compare:

Los Angeles Oslo Reykjavik Tokyo
Combo Meal (fast food) $6.00 $15.44 $10.01 $6.55
Cappuccino (regular) $4.00 $5.49 $3.67 $3.83
Dozen Eggs $2.19 $5.15 $3.95 $2.30
Pair of Jeans (Levis 501) $50.00 $171.41 $162.31 $81.58
Pair of Nike Shoes $80.00 $171.58 $200.14 $90.64
Gasoline (1 liter) $4.01 $9.08 $7.99 $5.72

 
Clearly Oslo is the city to save up extra for. It reminds me of the travel quote attributed to Susan Heller: “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” I’m pleasantly surprised to see, at least on these comparisons, that Tokyo isn’t that bad considering we’re planning on going in April. And I’m still hoping to sneak Iceland in some Spring Break, I’ll just be sure to avoid Levis and Nikes.
 
Comparisons computed using http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/comparison.jsp

Where Not to Buy Nikes

International Travel

A few months ago, Forbes.com published “The World’s Most Expensive Cities For Expats,” based upon Mercer’s 2013 Cost of Living Survey, which examined data from 214 cities worldwide, comparing a market basket of over 200 goods and services. I wasn’t surprised to see three Swiss cities on the list as Zurich ranks among one of the most expensive cities I have ever visited.

This got me curious as to how some of the seemingly expensive cities I’ve been to compare to Los Angeles, the closest big city I live near. So far, I have found Brussels, Tel Aviv, and Zurich to be the most expensive cities I have visited. Let’s see how they all compare:

Los Angeles Brussels Tel Aviv Zurich
Combo Meal (fast food) $6.00 $10.15 $12.88 $14.28
Cappuccino (regular) $4.00 $3.38 $3.72 $5.33
Dozen Eggs $2.19 $3.11 $3.72 $6.59
Pair of Jeans (Levis 501) $50.00 $101.53 $135.95 $163.65
Pair of Nike Shoes $80.00 $125.22 $143.10 $197.69
Gasoline (1 gallon) $4.01 $8.21 $8.44 $7.91

 
I see my thoughts about Zurich were right, with the highest prices for everything compared, except for a gallon of gas. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see LA having the second highest coffee price (good thing I usually make my coffee at home). I guess the overall lesson to be learned is: If you’re looking for a pair of Nikes, come to LA.
 
Comparisons computed using http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/comparison.jsp

Aqua Sin Gas, Por Favor

International Travel, South America

Agua_Sin_Gas__white_greenA lot of the world seems to love sparkling water, and I don’t get it. According to one source, “sparkling water usage averages 27% (vs. still), but Germans prefer it at a rate of 97%, the French at 13%, and the US at 16%.”** In 2009, a small town south of Milan installed sparkling water fountains, or “houses of water.” This was soon followed by Paris’ first sparkling water fountain in 2010, with Perth following suit this year (on a three-month trial basis).

Throughout Central and South America, sparking water is also ever present, with one needing to order “agua sin gas” if they prefer still water, and looking for “sin gas” on bottles and caps (or “con gas” if they prefer bubbles in their water). You do have to look for this distinction, as it’s surprisingly not apparent just looking at the bottles. Even shaking the bottle a bit doesn’t always help. The only sure fire way to tell otherwise is opening the bottle and listening for that revealing release of fizz to inform you that you’ve purchased the wrong kind of water again.

On a recent trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, a German girl on our tour couldn’t understand why anyone would want to drink still water, as it was just so plain. Ironically, I see just the opposite. Admittedly, right or wrong, I associate carbonated water with soda, so I’m expecting something extra when I see bubbles. I figure, if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting bubbles in your water (or searching out water with bubbles already in it), you should also put in some syrup or fruit juice, or at least some Scotch.

**http://www.armchairfrance.com/waters.htm
Image from http://www.capscollection.ru

Where to Feel Like a Millionaire

International Travel

currency_1A few summers ago, my wife and I found ourselves in Indonesia. While she rested from our long flight, I headed out to find a currency exchange. I headed out with $200 and came back with over two million rupiahs. For the next two weeks, any time we’d spend any money, she’d eagerly ask, “Are we still millionaires?”

It feels good to be a millionaire, even if it’s only an illusion. Below are five countries in which it doesn’t take a lot to become a millionaire and the cost of living doesn’t shatter your delusion:
 
Vietnam ($47.38 = 1,000,000 Vietnamese Dồng)
The dồng was introduced by the Viet Minh government (later to become the government of North Vietnam) in 1946. After Vietnam was reunified, the đồng was also unified, with one new đồng equaling one Northern đồng or 0.8 Southern “liberation” đồng. In 1985, đồng was revalued, with the new đồng worth 10 old đồng.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant ranges from $1.50 to $4.25, with a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant ranging from $11 to $25. In a market, a liter of milk runs around $1.42 and a loaf of white bread is around $0.95. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Hanoi averages around $500 per month, while the same apartment in Ho Chi Ming City averages around $400 per month.
 
Iran ($81.40 = 1,000,000 Iranian Rials)
Iran’s currency has a long and complex history. The rial was first introduced in 1798, ceased to exist in 1825, and was back in 1932. Until 2012, the dollar had different exchange rates, depending where you were buying your currency, including the official exchange rate and the Free Trade Zone exchange rate.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant ranges from $3.50 to $8.00, with a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant ranging from $13 to $32. In a market, a liter of milk runs around $1.00 and a loaf of white bread is around $0.50. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Tehran averages around $775 per month, with the same apartment outside of the city center averaging around $400 per month.
 
Indonesia ($88.22 = 1,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah)
The rupiah has been an internationally recognized currency since 1950 and has been subject to high inflation for most of its existence. Various attempts have been made to maintain the value of the currency, including a fixed rate period from 1971-1978, but all have been abandoned.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant ranges from $1.25 to $3.00, with a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant ranging from $8.50 to $18. In a market, a liter of milk runs around $1.16 and a loaf of white bread is around $0.89. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Jakarta averages under $550 per month, with the same apartment outside of the city center averaging around $200 per month.
 
Belarus ($110.50 = 1,000,000 Belarusian Ruble)
In 1992, the first post-Soviet Belarusian ruble was assigned and replaced the Soviet currency at the rate of 1 Belarusian ruble to 10 Soviet rubles. However, it took about two years before the ruble became the official currency of the country. In 2000, a second ruble was introduced, replacing the first at a rate of 1 new ruble to 1000 old rublei.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant ranges from $7 to $13, with a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant ranging from $30 to $50. In a market, a liter of milk runs around $0.80 and a loaf of white bread is around $0.50. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Minsk averages under $450 per month, with the same apartment outside of the city center averaging around $300 per month.
 
Paraguay ($224.47 = 1,000,000 Paraguayan Guarani)
The law creating the guaraní was passed in late 1943, and replaced the prior peso at a rate of 1 guaraní to 100 pesos. Guaraníes were first issued in 1944 and, at present, are the least valued currency in the Americas.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant ranges from $2.50 to $5, with a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant ranging from $15 to $25. In a market, a liter of milk runs around $1.00 and a loaf of white bread is around $1.00. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Asunción averages under $250 per month, with the same apartment outside of the city center averaging around $150 per month.
 
Currency conversions undertaken September 9, 2013 at http://www.xe.com.
Cost of living figures acquired from http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/.

My Linguistic Overthought

Language

languagesI have always been envious of those you can speak another language. A former colleague of my wife’s is up to about seven and seems to pick them up by osmosis and can start conversing with locals within a matter of hours. He seems to have a good ear and natural ability. I have neither.

In part, I blame high school French. I had two years and all began well until verb conjugations (how in the world are est, suis, and fus all variations of the same verb?) and that myriad of tenses (pluperfect?!?). Not to mention those words that have stuck around all of these years and like to pop-up now and again. Why do I still remember the French for “werewolf”—when will I ever need that?

Living near Los Angeles, I often come across surprise (if not shock) when traveling in Central and South American countries that I don’t speak Spanish. It’s not for lack of wanting to, or lack of trying for that matter. I’m on my third go-around with Rosetta Stone currently. Admittedly, the furthest I’ve ever made it was to the end of Level 2 and the second of those absurd, let’s-strip-you-of-any-confidence-you’ve-developed Milestones each level ends with.

But I shouldn’t blame the software. My problem is overthinking. Whenever someone asks “¿Como estas?” I go into overthought: What’s Spanish for “good” again? Is that really how I’m feeling? “Comme ci comme ça” would be better. No wait, that’s French. Okay, “bien” will have to do. Now what’s “and you” again? In French it’s “et vu” (or “et tu” if you know the person well—damn you high school French!), so shouldn’t Spanish be “y tu”? Wait, what about “y usted”? Doesn’t that also mean “and you”? Am I missing some contextual reference here?

By now the person who has asked has either determined that I’m deaf or a moron and simply moved on. Meanwhile, I’m left feeling like an idiot. While I don’t mind playing the dumb American tourist to get me through an awkward, sorry-but-I-can’t-even-seem-to-remember-three-words-of-your-language moment, I’m not a dumb American tourist. I want to learn about the language and the culture, I want to converse with locals, I want to go where only locals know about.

I just need to learn to stop the overthought.