Saturday, June 18, 2011

Home Thoughts From Abroad, Part VI: Cost of Living

I spotted a small sign at the checkout counter of the grocery store, last night.

It read something like "effective as of 2008, we will no longer accept 25 øre coins-- if you have any, you will need to take them to your bank."

The bottom line of this statement is that the smallest coin currently in circulation in Denmark is the 50 øre coin. 50 øre is about 9.6 cents, US. The National Bank of Denmark is also doing away with the 50 kroner bank note, meaning that the lowest denomination bank note in circulation will soon be 100 kroner, or about 19.25 US dollars.

These factoids got me to consider that the denominations of US coins and bills have not changed since I was a little kid. We still have pennies, and dollar bills. By contrast, when I was a little kid, we had 1 øre coins and 10 kroner bank notes in Denmark. Those are long gone.

In some ways, Denmark is a very expensive country. Certain things are-- by US standards-- prohibitively expensive. Things like the cost of eating out or buying a soda from a convenience store (which we take for granted in the US) blows most people's minds, when they visit Denmark. $9.00-a-gallon gas also blows most people's minds.

In other ways, the Danes have a good thing going. If you want a college education (and a good one, at that), it's all but free. If you get sick, health care is pretty much free. Dental care is inexpensive. The huge sums of money we spend in the US to insure ourselves against every eventuality known to man... the Danes either don't have to worry about, or pay low premiums for since Denmark generally is not a litigious society.

On average, it becomes a matter of what it is you're paying money for. If you don't have to spend $5000+ a year on various forms of insurance (for example), you can afford that expensive food.

The US is a society of capitalism and "free enterprise." This leaves us ultimately responsible for everything... on an individual level. Denmark is a social democracy, and although there is a measure of free enterprise here, "the prices of things" are sometimes used to guide societal change. For example, I found myself looking for something like ziplock baggies at the store and had little success... and when I finally did find some, they were incredibly expensive-- part of ongoing social "discouragement" to get the population to not use anything disposable. When we were at Tivoli gardens the other day, there was a 5 kroner deposit for a cup you could carry your beverage around in... the kind of cup 7-Eleven gives away by the millions.

Some differences are startling, in a different way. For example, it's not unusual for the entrance fee to a museum or exhibit in Denmark to be the equivalent of $20 or even $30 a person... the reason being (primarily) that museums are often "for profit" in Denmark... businesses not supported by "patrons of the arts" but by the actual gate money from attendance.

These different approaches to money and the cost of things are just that-- "different," rather than "right" or "wrong."

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