The other day I found myself in a conversation about exchange rates. With a bunch of English speaking foreigners. Mostly Americans. And everyone knew where the exchange rate was. For those of you wondering, according to my fancy little widget on Vista, one dollar is equal to 7.88 SEK.
This group of English speakers knew the exchange rates. Even the Brits knew where it was. And I mean down to the hundredths. The interesting thing was that everyone had a different exchange rate to quote. Was it at 7.88 SEK to the dollar? Or 7.84? Or maybe 7.91? As a general rule everyone was within one tenth of a point, but for the most part everyone had a different number. And it made me think.
I realized that I was just like them. Because not only did I have my own number to throw out, but when I heard someone throw out a number that didn’t match with mine I was disconcerted. A quick increase in heart rate, a quick flush of blood to the head, I was ready to argue my point. About the exchange rate. A fluid number that can change throughout the day. That’s when I realized I was in too deep.
I have no need for the exchange rate. Not unless I am heading out of the country. Seeing it change every day has absolutely no bearing on my financial standing. I am not pulling money from the US. I am using money saved and earned here in Sweden. The exchange rate is really only interesting if I’m going to be exchanging money. Or, to some people, as an economic health indicator. But despite my being well aware of this, I still check the rate. Every day really. I wouldn’t say obsessively, but there it is when I turn my computer on.
I don’t smoke. But this reminds me of those smokers who know it is bad for them, want to quit, but keep smoking. All rational thought gets put on the back burner because of some deep seated habit. Or addiction. It’s frightening.
Your favorite and mine, Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker might refer to it as rational addiction. Basically, that many of those addictive choices we make today are based on what we perceive to be happening in the future. So, my addiction, if you will, is based on my future plan of at some point leaving this country for the US. Maybe a stretch. But an interesting stretch.
And I am not alone. All of these people, who raised my ire because they dared to quote an exchange rate that did not match my own, have been in Sweden a lot longer than I have. All of them have jobs in Sweden which pay them in Swedish crowns. All of them could, in theory, give a damn about the exchange rate. But they watch that thing like Wall Street watches the Dow. That is to say with a certain amount of trepidation that it is going to tank.
I don’t think it’s because of any sort of national pride. I don’t think it’s because they all fancy themselves big believers in the worth of the dollar being an economic indicator. I really do think it’s because they all harbor some sort of desire, whether explicit or not, to one day return home. Wherever that may be. A sort of latent homesickness that manifests itself in watching the exchange rate. The dollar.
So how long does it take before a person stops watching the exchange rate? How long before the person accepts that they are, indeed, planning on staying long enough that the exchange rate is really of no use? Because I’m not there yet. And I suppose as long as I plan on leaving, at some point in the future, I might never get there.
Welcome to Sweden. Where how much one dollar is worth in Swedish kronor is a hot topic of conversation.