Monday, November 10, 2008

Swedish-American Exchange Rates and Homesickness

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.

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  1. Can't it just be that you have a better sense of how expensive something is in dollars? Or just that you all are still going to visit the US once in a while, but not necessarily move back, and it's therefore a good idea to keep track of the rate. Or that you cara about the country and want to be updated on how thing's are going on various levels.

    Please give me a post to laugh about.

  3. @gösta - it could be. but really how expensive something is in dollars is of no use to me here.

    and I thought about the visiting thing. and that's fine. but really thats only relevant if Im going to be going there soon. always knowing what it is doesn't really help me.

    I do like the knowing whats going on argument though and keeping up on events. even if it is something like the exhange rate between sweden and the us.

    @hanna - hell, that link in and of itself is pretty funny to me. it's best just to laugh at crazy people who put out stuff like that. the interesting thing is that I doubt anyone in the US outside of that little church has any idea what those people are trying to do, nor do they care. which is why I just laugh and shake my head.

  4. been here sine 95 and it has been a long time since I watched the exchange rate - I think some people never stop watching it, because, yes, you are right - the concept of moving to another country FOREVER is kind of strange - one day I will go home..... because.... well.... because I'm not from here and somehow it feels more natural to think that one day, one day, I will return....

  5. I haven't checked the SEK-EUR exchange rates since I came here. It used to be like 1 euro was 9,3 kronor and now it's about 10 kronor. Didn't bother myself with hundredths.

    It's maybe because WHEN (instead of IF) I leave Sweden, I'm looking at the calendar - not the exchange rate. A change of 1 hundredth won't stop me from leaving here. :) You're a bit in too deep really, Hairy!

  6. @nic - Id like to think that someday I would get over watching it. maybe.

    @smek - I think I just have too much time on my hands.

  7. I arrived in sweden at the end of oct...Thinking it was best to exchange my "savings" all at once I did so...I watch my Vista gadget and check about 10 times a day now. I traded when it was 7.2/1 usd. now it just keeps going up and up and I cost myself about 3000kr SO FAR! it may not seem like alot but I still havent found a job and 3000kr for doing nothing would be nice!

  8. some people make a whole lot of money trading currency.

    I am not one of them. it seems like youre right there with me.

  9. Floridian in FinlandNovember 22, 2008 at 12:41 AM

    Keeping track of the exchange rate is useful I think! Especially if you want to buy American products online.

    I find myself ballparking the costs here in dollars mainly because my perception is that things cost so much here. Like, 'shit, I just paid 13 usd for a movie ticket' kinda thing. But then again the prices from my memory are 4 years old and I can't remember to what extent they have risen during my trips back.

    Every now and then I do check the gas prices per gallon in usd though. Even though I don't know what it costs here, nor would it matter to me since it's in liters and I don't have a car.

    So really, it's just stupid. But who cares? Not everything has to make sense or have a reason. :)

  10. Im with you... I have those shit that was expensive moments quite a bit. movie tickets. beer. dinners out. they'll get ya.

    and maybe youre right... its just one of those things that people do.