Monday, 6 June 2011

Land of Opportunities to Spend Money

It can't all be raucous nights out and base jumping, so one of the games that I've particularly enjoyed playing since our arrival in San Francisco is the pithily-titled, entirely-subjective "What Seems Surprisingly Expensive Here, and What Doesn't?".

To partake you will need a) a foreign country, and b) another country (for scale). Let's play!

Part One: What Seems Surprisingly Expensive Here?

But imagine the salad!
  • Grocery stores. A dollar an apple, really? To any San Francisco resident, complaining about Whole Foods and Mollie Stone's being expensive sounds like complaining about the rain being wet, but it's still startling just how much more costly these stores are compared with the higher-end UK equivalents such as Waitrose or M&S. It's especially confusing to encounter higher-than-expected prices in Safeway, although admittedly this perception might be due to their long-defunct UK incarnation as a decidedly 'budget' supermarket. Exhibit A: my friends' so-bad-it-must-be-true tale of purchasing a larger-than-average tomato from Mollie Stone's, which was rung through the register at a princely $12 dollars. That's right, c.£7: for one tomato.
  • Mobile phone contracts. This is one of the aspects of US living that I - somewhat foolishly - assumed would be ridiculously cheap. Not so, fact fans! Verizon's basic Talk and Text plan giving me just 450 inclusive minutes would set me back $60 - and that's before adding any kind of web plan, which starts at $30 for smartphones. So that's easily $90 (£55) a month - for a pretty bog-standard contract. Come back O2 - all is forgiven!
  • Home entertainment packages. The only impressive thing about our UK package was the undeniably remarkable way in which Virgin Media conspired to raise our bill by roughly 20% every single month. But at least they didn't charge me $99 (£60) for TV, internet and phone, which is what Comcast's pricing system begins at here. So, no TV and no landline for Chez Teacup, which is why you will not be able to a) talk to me about last night's television or b) actually talk to me.

Part Two: What Doesn't?

MUNI > Tube
  • Public transport. At $2 a journey - of any length and with unlimited transfers within 90 minutes - getting around this city via bus and underground is thoroughly affordable. I cringe to imagine what any American visitor to London thinks upon seeing the cost of a Tube Day Pass for the first time.
  • Taxis. A four-minute cab ride home from the Castro Theatre costs the same as two taking the bus. Although this may be the reason why a high percentage of taxi drivers seem thoroughly unhappy with their lot, and don't accept credit cards (despite the lettering on the side of their vehicles proclaiming they're happy to.)
  • Er, sparkling wine in restaurants and bars. Unless I've had the continual fortune to frequent particularly reasonable places, choosing fizz is a weirdly reasonable way to go and can be your wallet's saviour in one of those 'oh God we misjudged this one' bars. (A curious note: regardless of what you order, be it cava or prosecco, your server - and your bill - will call it 'champagne'. It does not mean you actually ordered champagne, so you can take your heart out of your mouth.)

Ah, there's nothing like dissecting the relative cost of things to make you feel about fifty years older than you are. So, what surprisingly expensive and/or cheap stuff have you noticed on your travels?


  1. it! I hope your friend had the good sense to NOT pay £7 for a friggin' tomato? What the actual f***!
    Shame on you for taking a four minute cab ride tho, you lazy fecker.

  2. I believe it was one of those situations where they'd bought quite a lot at the same time and thought "hmm that shop seems wildly expensive" after leaving, and then checked their receipt to discover the offending item...

    Re: cab ride, you want to come out here and SEE the hill on top of which we live!

  3. My friend over there is currently raging her phone charges her to -receive- texts as well as send them. Totally ridiculous in this day and age.

    That and I wasn't fond of the fact they add tax after purchase. Those were some nasty purchases I made in NYC!

  4. I TOTALLY forgot the crazy charges to receive over here - and my call minutes actually include calls received as well as made. That was a nasty surprise.

    Sales tax... where to even begin? Just put it on the label, guys!

  5. Carly Grainger9 June 2011 at 10:44

    Hey Carly,

    This popped up on my Facebook news feed and so i thought i'd have a read. As much as Russians and Americans may hate to think so, there are actually lots of similarities between them. I once (inadvertantly) bought a £10 pack of 3 mini cucumbers, and thank goodness for working in the Embassy, because otherwise i would have spent a fortune on £1.75 tins of baked beans!

    Similarly, you can go anywhere on the Moscow network with unlimited transfers for 60p, and Sovietskoe Shampanskoe (aka Soviet "Champagne") is a bargain at £2.50 a bottle. Clearly, less salad eating and more champagning-quaffing was required!

    Hope all is going well in SF- looking forward to reading more of your posts now i've discovered this blog!


  6. Hey Carly - nice to hear from you! I had to chuckle at the £10 cucumbers, I've made similar unwitting errors over here and only because there's no way you'd ever have cause to suspect that something could be that expensive - why would you?! Am sad to report that the US still has not opened its mind to £2.50 champagne though...

    Please do keep commenting - it's great to have the perspective of one who's familiar with the Brit-abroad experience. Are you planning on heading back to Russia any time soon?

  7. Carly Grainger13 June 2011 at 14:21

    It was a similar situation to your friend- i got home, thinking the weekly shop seemed more expensive than usual, only to realise when i checked the receipt! Was not happy- especially as Russian cucumbers are of the short, lumpy skinned variety, and not half as tasty as our good ol' English kind!

    Will be travelling over to Russia in July for two weeks to go to a wedding and visit friends, but no immediate plans to go back and work full time. £2000 a year for a work permit was a little tiresome after three years(!) However, should my current employers like to send me over at any time, i wouldn't say no!

    As for your (our) name- i was recently told that it can also be a bastardisation of the Indian goddess Kali, who was the goddess of fire and destruction. A slightly cooler response to give to anyone who asks me "So, are you named after Carly Simon, then?"

    Or alternatively, adopt an American name! Whenever booking tables/ tickets/ taxis, i became Anna Ivanova to try and save the linguistic problems (my first dentist appointment was made under "Foreign girl" as they couldn't figure out the spelling of my surname!!)

  8. Weirdly enough, I remember some instructor on one of those 'keeping kids busy at half-term' courses at Easingwold Leisure Centre telling me about the Kali thing! Being about nine at the time I was like "er, ok..."

    With our name (Severn) we already have problems anyway booking at restaurants ("Table for seven, at 7, for Severn please - hello?") so I'm liking the idea of adopting an all-American nom de guerre. We could be Jennifer and Chip Johnson!