Wednesday 19 January 2011

Vat v. Sales Tax and the Myth of Genealogy

MONDAY: Lunch on this dull damp start of the work week is goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes, chopped red pepper and spring onion, black pepper, cayenne, and basil leaves on a bakery-fresh white breadcake. Fruit is mango and apple slices and red and white grapes. It's a bright spot in an otherwise monotonous day.

THURSDAY: Lunch on another dull damp day, with my job exactly the same as yesterday and the day before and the day before, is tuna with yogurt, capers and caper vinegar, chopped onion and red pepper, and pasilla chilli powder, cayenne, and a slight overdose of cumin on a whole wheat breadcake. Sometimes one needs a heavy dose of cumin. Fruit is ordinary clementine and kiwi slices and extraordinary mango chunks and a lychee. Oddly enough I think a Bloody Mary would be the perfect accompanying beverage.

As the price of everything goes up, including food, I'm relieved that I look so forward to my own home-prepared sandwiches. Considering the coalition government is pruning jobs, services, and access to education while increasing the cost of living, it's not a surprise that they've raised VAT from 17.5% to 20%. As in America, this British version of what Americans know as sales tax doesn't affect most foodstuffs. But there are a few oddities to which VAT is added, including chocolates, crisps, ice cream, frozen desserts, pork scratchings, and soft drinks; and there is a reduced VAT on prepared cakes, crackers, and biscuits. Because VAT, as opposed to US sales tax, is included in the price of the item and not added on later, all we'll notice in the supermarket is the 2.5% increase in the price of ice cream, cheese and onion crisps, and Coke, as well as a slight increase in the price of our McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives.

In contrast, in my birth state of California, the sales tax is currently 8.25% statewide, and 9.75% in my home county of Los Angeles, for which all edible items are exempt except for ready-to-eat hot food and vitamins. In my second home of Seattle, Washington, the sales tax is 6.5% statewide, with an addition 3% added on in Seattle. There are a few states like Oregon, Alaska, Montana, Delaware, and New Hampshire that have no sales tax, so calculating how much one's grocery shop is going to cost is as easy as it is in the UK. But in a city like Chicago, with a whopping sales tax of 10.25%, one must always allow for that extra to be added on the final total. Eating out in restaurants is even more confusing, as one is supposed to calculate the tip before the sales tax is added; but this often doesn't happen, which is an advantage for the waitstaff but a disadvantage for the paying patrons.

It's a lot easier dining out in the UK, where tips for waitstaff are always appreciated but not set in blood. Of course, if there is an organised group, a 15% service charge is often added to the final bill. Still, one doesn't need to pull out their trigonometric calculator at the end of a meal, as I've experienced with a couple of American friends.

THE FOLLOWING MONDAY: It's a Wensleydale-and-smoked-Bavarian-cheese-on-a-rustic-cheese-roll sort of day. It's dull and mild and moist again, my job is exactly the same, and the only difference I can see in comparison to last Monday is the fact that the world, including myself, is a week older. My birthday is in a week, so I'll have the shock of suddenly being a year older. It's a misconception, this "year older" idea, as I'll simply be a day older than I was the previous day.

The same assumption comes with genealogy. The fact is that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather who carried my surname was only one of my 128 great-great-great-great-great grandparents who all probably had unique surnames. So I'm really not any more Mitchell than I am any of the other 127 surnames, and that's only going back seven generations. If I went back 20 generations I'd be dealing with 2,097,151 other surnames.

It's a good thing I don't have to remember them all whenever I fill in a form.

Search This Blog