Whenever I call my dad we only ever talk about two things. One: United. Two: the cost of living in England. ‘Just another example of rip-off Britain’ he’ll say.
‘Got my car taxed. Rip-off’ ‘Renewed my TV license. Rip-off’ ‘Cigarettes have gone up. Petrol has gone up’ etcetera etcetera ad nauseum. ‘At least United are doing well’, I’ll say to change the subject. ‘Yeah and have you seen the price of the tickets? Rip-off’ I give up.
Now though I think I may have something that will finally make him change his tune, or at least stop whinging about ‘rip-off Britain’.
I’ve recently moved to Melbourne, Australia.
I can already hear the knowing laughs from all the ex-pats who have tried their luck down under reading this. You already know what I’m going to say.
I had been preparing myself mentally and financially for the general cost of living in this country for a long time; asking people who have either been here before or are still here, what the lay of the land is. ‘Isn’t it supposed to be expensive in Australia?’ I asked and I’d get comments like: ‘Yeah but it’s a very liveable place, especially Melbourne’ and ‘the food might be expensive but it is good food’ and ‘as long as you’re prepared you should be alright’.
Luckily I am prepared, financially I mean, because if I wasn’t it would prove to be a very short stay indeed. Here’re a couple of examples of what I mean.
I go to a restaurant on Bridge Road near to Melbourne’s CBD a few days after arriving and to my delight find Bulmer’s Original cider on the menu for a very reasonable $7.50 (£4.87). Ha, I think, all those worrymongers making out like you can’t get a reasonably priced drink anywhere and here I am paying roughly the same as in England for a pint bottle of Bulmer’s.
And then the waiter brings it out.
It isn’t a pint bottle. It’s a tiny 330ml bottle, barely enough for three large swigs from a glass. Oh, I think, maybe they were right. But all isn’t lost. Then I consult the menu about something to eat. Fancy a garden salad? Not for $22 (£14.30) I don’t. How about a risotto? $24 (£15.60) okay? I quickly realise I’m not going to do any better so just order this. For interest’s sake I check out the price of a steak. Cheapest one? $55 (£35.78).
I finish my Bulmer’s way ahead of my meal coming out so I go to order another one. ‘Yes sir?’ the waiter dressed in flannel shirt and torn jeans says, ‘Can we have some water for the table please?’ ‘Certainly sir’ he says. I think I see a smirk at the corner of his mouth. He knew. That waiter knew it wasn’t ‘for the table’.
I go into a mobile phone store to get a SIM and some credit to get me started a couple of days after this. I ask for $30 (£19.51) credit. ‘That will last you 30 days’ the girl says to me. ‘I think I can make it last longer than that. I don’t really call anyone,’ I say with a smile. She looks puzzled. ‘This is a 30 day recharge,’ she explains. ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It means that the credit you don’t use within 30 days expires.’ ‘And then what happens?’ ‘Then you have to recharge again.’ We stare at each other for a few seconds. ‘As in another $30?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘So that’s basically a contract isn’t it?’ ‘No because you’re not locked-in.’ ‘Oh I see.’ I leave the store.
What she meant was that I have two options. One: I pay $30 a month. Two: I don’t use a phone.
In the UK we can get handsets for free if we sign up for a phone contract. And we get unlimited this that and the other on top. In Australia? Pah. No chance. True enough you can get a decent contract at around $30-50 per month but you want an iPhone with that? That’s another $40 a month on top sir.
Fair enough. I’m in another new country, they may speak the same language but things are still done differently. It’s all part of adapting. That’s what I’m telling myself.
My dad thinks petrol is expensive in England? He ought to see the prices here. Actually maybe he shouldn’t, he’s already had one cardiac arrest.
To use the freeways here, and to get anywhere fast in Melbourne outside of the CBD and inner suburbs it is almost essential to, Breeze (a private company that won a government tender to build the Eastlink Freeway) charges you 54c per section of the road that you travel on via a little gadget placed on your dashboard that bleeps when you go under a sensor.
Cinema tickets for an adult: $18.50 (£12) more for a big screen or 3D films. Sweets and a small drink: $11.30 (£7.35).
The list goes on. Generally speaking it’s more than in England.
There is of course the other side to the coin. That being that wages here are good. Very good in fact.
According to Average Salary Survey the average annual income for a professional in Melbourne in 2011 was $78 720 which is over £50 000. The same site has the average salary for a person living in Manchester in 2011 at just £30 996 per year.
Immediately a stark contrast emerges. It is easy to see why, when people here are forking out $50-70 for a nice, but certainly not fine dining standard, Saturday night meal they can do it nonchalantly with a smile on their face.
The British economy is in a stalemate situation with consumer spending power at a permanent low ebb and the cost of living ever rising. The Australian economy on the other hand, whilst to a certain extent relying on its fruitful mining industry, is certainly ticking over in a much healthier fashion.
A columnist in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper said last week that it is a source of national pride that Australian workers are paid well and that spending power is good. Unfortunately in England we cannot say the same.
It is telling that the backlash currently circulating the media around Melbourne and Australia as a whole against the retail sector for being uncompetitive, is not one borne out of financial necessity, (these people can afford to shop on the high street, they are just choosing not to – instead going online for massive savings) it is simply borne out of a sense of frustration that retailers are being greedy.
Of course when I next speak to my dad on the phone I won’t mention any of the part about the wages here being higher, the point is not to have a balanced argument to present to him, the point is to stop him whining about ‘rip-off Britain’ for a few minutes.
Whether I think he has a valid point or not is not the point either.
At least United are doing well.