Thursday, January 10, 2008

Funny Numbers

A body with a title such as The Economist Intelligence Unit would, one might assume, be a pretty intelligent group. But in today's Guardian (so it must be true) there was a remarkable 'statistic' produced by HSBC bank people using their findings to show that Britain was an awfully expensive country in which to live.
This could hardly have come as much of a surprise to the British, who would surely not have needed the Economist Intelligence Unit nor HSBC bank to tell them that, but the more surprising thing was that the savants concluded that only Norway and France were more expensive.
It's been a while since I spent time in Norway, where I do recall that Scotch was priced in the same range as liquid gold, but France?
I spend enough time in the capitals of the two countries, Britain and France, to have a pretty good handle on the relative costs of living in each and found that conclusion hard to believe.
But then, as with all statistics, which can be rearranged to prove any hypothesis (remember, a good accountant will always ask 'and what answer will you be requiring?'), one needs to look at the parameters of the research.
For this remarkable conclusion was not reached by comparing that rather ethereal number known as a 'standard of living' but by how long the Brit's average annual spending spree would last them in France if they maintained their current life style. Even stranger, it assumed that the average Brit ate out twice a week and, if he can do that cheaper on Tikka Masala and fish and chips than in a Parisian cafe, I am surprised.
Here, in the sticks, admittedly, my local cafe does a four course meal for eleven euros but I can get much the same price at one of my favourite hangouts in Paris.
Perhaps the clue here is the phrase 'current life style,' for to eat English fashion in France would undoubtedly be costly, picking and choosing from an a la carte menu is not a good idea if you want to eat at a reasonable price. And Tikka Masala is hard to find. Portions are smaller too, as I heard one Englishwoman complaining when the main course arrived, “My Fred would have had that for a starter.”
But I think the Economist Intelligence Unit along with the HSBC 'experts' should
count themselves lucky that their conclusions didn't involve a train ride!
Benjamin Disraeli is credited with saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Apparently the Briton in France will run out of money after eleven months and a few days.
No doubt HSBC will make him a loan to tide him over the remaining few days, at a price, of course. After all, it was their statistic.


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