Cost of Surviving

I recently bit the cliche bullet and bought a cell phone. It was a question of necessity — having no phone in my apartment, I really had no choice if I wanted any contact at all with the outside world.

A summary of the plans I was offered:

Plan “Free” minutes “Free” SMS’s Price
Plus 20 10 10 30.50 zł
Plus 40 20 20 42.70 zł
Plus 60 30 30 54.90 zł
Plus 100 50 50 79.30 zł
Plus 200 100 100 128.10 zł
Plus 400 200 200 225.70 zł

So I was wrong — it wasn’t ten złoty for ten minutes. If only. (Prices include the value added tax.)

Take a look at that first plan: that’s 3.05 złoty per minute! And you get a whopping ten of them for that price. Super! “Buy this cell phone plan and you get one free conversation a month!”

Who in the States would pay $3.05 per minute for a cell phone!?! Who in France would pay €3.05 per minute for a cell phone? What would the public reaction be to such a wonderful, generous offer?

Sitting there across the desk from the squeaky-clean young salesman who looked to be all of twenty-one, I just started laughing and said, “I’m sorry, but these ‘offers’ are simply absurd. They’re jokes.”

The reason he gave was simple: of every złPlus GSM (the cell phone company in question) gets, they have to pay TKP, the only phone company in Poland (read: monopoly) either 60 or 80 groszy (I can’t remember which, though I’m fairly sure it was “only” 60.) Even though Plus GSM is an independently owned company. What do we call that, boys and girls? Mafia? Extortion?

Of course the government is trying to do all it can to stop this, especially considering the fact that TKP is state-owned. They’re doing all they can to divest the state of ownership. And stop fleecing the Polish public? Yeah, whatever.

Still, I’m not sure I buy young Mr. Squeaky’s argument. So they have to give 60% of their income to TKP — so what? Cell phone systems don’t have lines they have to maintain. They don’t have big switching buildings. And Plus GSM doesn’t really have a lot of offices. It’s 60 grosz per dollar, not per minute (as it was explained to me), so that has no effect on the price per minute, simply on the company’s net earnings. Giving 60% of their profits to the government is a sorry excuse for not offering a better plan.

All of this simply makes me realize anew how much better some things are in the States. Regardless of how they got better (a fraction of the world’s population taking the lion’s share of the resources — true of the West in general, I realize), the fact is, Americans economically have it better than most people even in Western Europe.

When I originally wrote this, gas cost about 3.50 złoty a liter. Upon entry into the EU, it jumped, within a matter of two or three weeks, to 3.90 a liter.

An excellent example of this is gas. I’ve no idea what the price of gas is in the States these days, but I’d hazard a guess that even if it’s “ridiculously expensive,” it’s not even close to $2.00 a gallon. Here, gas costs about 3.90 złoty a liter. That would be almost 12 złoty a gallon. Remember — an average monthly salary in Poland is about 1,500 złoty. Converting the sum directly to dollars (i.e., $1,500), that’s a lower-middle class income, which means the buying power of a złoty for me here in Poland would be the same as the buying power of a dollar in the States. All that being said, imagine if the price of gas jumped up to an equivalent level? What would happen? What would be the general public reaction to having to pay over $100 (at $12 a gallon) to fill up your car?

Compact discs provide another excellent example. To determine the price of a CD in Poland, take the price in America, find out the dollar/złoty exchange rate, and convert the price to z?oty. Simple. In other words, CDs here cost about 60.00 złoty. How many CDs would you own if each one cost $60?

Entry into the EU has indeed caused the prices to go up, but it is taking a bit longer than expected.

Entry into the European Union in about seven months is supposed to make prices go up even further. A pack of cigarettes now costs about 5.00 zł (depending on the brand — that’s an estimated average) and rumor has it that the price will double come May.

This has me particularly worried because, though I only rarely smoke a cigarette while having a beer, I do enjoy a pipe. My favorite pipe tobacco, Dunhill’s “My Mixture 965,” already costs a fortune: 33 złoty for 50 grams. If that doubles too, then I might find myself out of a hobby. (And all the better for it, I’m sure some might say.)

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