Sunday, October 15, 2006

Eat that! (...I'll try, but it won't be easy.)

When I was living in the states, the money I spent on food varied a bit. In California, for example, fruits and vegetables were cheaper because they weren't taxed as highly and didn't travel as far. The opposite was true in Nebraska and Colorado, where grains and beef were not as expensive. Taxes varied by state, and these taxes also influenced my grocery bills a bit - a total fluctuation of perhaps 5%.

Ski lifts in Andorra.

When I took this job in France, I was told I'd receive housing at “no cost.” I'm not saying I've got a great set up, room-wise, but I have a bed and bathroom and I'm doing alright. I did not know if I'd be charged for food living on the estate. This past Thursday was a bittersweet one for me as I received my first paycheck, and subsequently learned about the price of food in France.

Hazy afternoon with sea fog.

Back to the US. While living in Denver this spring and summer, I'd say I averaged about $250 per month for food. This included all three meals, every day, and a meal or two out to eat. I certainly wasn't eating gourmet, but I did buy a lot of organic goods and I didn't hold out on buying anything I wanted. So when I saw that I was being charged the equivalent of $750 per month for food in France, I was shocked. In fact, shocked doesn't begin to describe how I felt. Confused, irritated, and exploited are all better words.

Fall in southern France.

Marie explained that food is much more expensive in France, and she claimed it costs about $12.25 per meal to feed each one of us (myself, Bin, Yoshi, Marie). I've seen the prices on many of the food items we prepare, and I'll tell you right now that it doesn't cost anywhere near $50 per meal to feed the four of us - even if we charged ourselves retail for the wine (which of course costs nothing). She said this was because taxes are higher - perhaps on the order of 20%. Now, I don't want to do any heavy mental lifting this early in the morning, but I don't think $250 + (250 * .20) = $750. Call me crazy.

French Pyrenees.

I thought about her claims all afternoon, and Thursday night I sought clarification on the details of our transaction. I wanted to understand how it costs half a month's wages to feed me. I know I eat a lot, but it didn’t add up. I wanted to know how people live in France if it's truly that expensive to eat. Marie, who appeared somewhat irritated at my continuing questioning, began a 2 minute speech about how taxes are higher because the unemployment rate in France is through the roof and there are a lot of freeloaders that the government gives money and blah blah blah. I think she's trying to mitigate my "free" lodging by exploiting my cost to eat.

Ski resort on French-Andorran border.

Our "conversation" (read as: her monologue) went nowhere, and I learned that I'm powerless in this situation. I'm not fluent in French, and I fear that making too many waves will only lead to decreased amicability in our relationship. I've come to the conclusion that it's best to 1. Consider the charges as covering both my room and board (it makes me feel better), and 2. Try and actually eat $750 worth of food each month without gaining more than 50lbs.

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