Dear American Shopkeeper…

I have a small request. Just a little one. Next time you’re labelling your stock or setting up price lists, do you think the amount you put on your price list or price tag could be the amount I have to part with, in order to purchase the item? Something we in England call the “price” of the item? Could you do that for me? That would be wonderful.

I’ve just stood in a queue at Madison Airport, on my way homeĀ from the second North American Discworld Convention, waiting to buy a steak sandwich. OK, I’m in Wisconsin, it’s a steak and cheese sandwich. With extra cheese. And the menu says it’ll be $9.59. So I rummage through my wallet, find I have a $10 bill left, and order my sandwich. It looks good, and I’m starting to feel hungry. In a few moments, that delicious piece of cusine will be mine to do with as I wish (which is to eat it, in case you’re wondering).

But that would be too simple.

For reasons I find hard to fathom, buying a $9.59 sandwich involves handing over $10.12. It appears that if you want to buy something in Wisconsin which costs $9.59 and you want to know if you have enough money on you, you need to be able to calculate $9.59 by 1.05526590198123. Now, I don’t want to have to calculate $9.59 by 1.05526590198123 for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to multiply 9.59 by 1.05526590198123 in my head. And secondly – how am I supposed to know the magic number is 1.05526590198123, rather than 1.04 or 1.34 or 65.876? I don’t really care about your rates of local tax, or state tax or federal tax or carpet tax. I’m not from round here. You didn’t know? Well, here’s a clue – I’M IN AN AIRPORT. I reckon if I spoke to the hundred or so other people here, I might justĀ be able to find one or two who aren’t local. Oh, sure, most of them are kids on the way to school, or people heading for the grocery store who’ve chosen to fly rather than take the bus for half a mile but there often is, at an airport, a tiny nidus of travellers from elsewhere.

I’m not asking much. Just think of us when you’re pricing up your stock. It would be good. And perhaps not just for us. In the UK, where the price on the ticket is actually the amount of money you hand over, we almost never have armed holdups by people who’d rather risk prison that own up in public that they don’t know their 1.05526590198123 times tables.

About Asof

Asof works at - OK, Asof's salary is paid by - a large medical school in the north of England. His body is usually sat in front of a computer. No one seems very clear where his mind is.
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