Recalibrating My Brain
Recalibrating My Brain
One of the most important things that I have found about living abroad is that I have to recalibrate the way my brain. Comparing prices that I am used to paying in the United States just doesn’t work for long. Whether it be restaurant pricing, drinks, groceries, labor, car insurance, rent, or whatever. I had to stop thinking as a traveler or tourist.
As I am in the process of starting a small business to earn a living in Nicaragua, my money is now in Cordobas. Even though some people may pay in dollars or Euros, Nicaragua does not demand the kind of prices for its services that are customary in the States or Europe. I still fall into the trap of thinking in US dollars. That is something that has to stop. Yes, prices on many items are “cheap,” if I am earing dollars. But the one thing that I had to learn to do was to start thinking in Cordobas.
One afternoon while searching for a house, I passed a Peruvian restaurant that claimed to have the best ceviche in Léon. My fiancé and I went back that night to try for ourselves. The dinner was delicious. The two of us had two cocktails each, an appetizer, and two entrees. Our bill came to $34. I thought to myself, “What a deal.” Back home my entree alone would have cost almost as much as the whole bill. When we got back to the hostel, we started talking to the manager. We told him where we had eaten and how much we liked it. His response was something like “Wow, that place is expensive.” I responded with “Not really, our bill was only $34.” He said, “That’s almost a week’s salary for me.” That is when it hit me.
I was still thinking in Dollars, not Cordobas. I felt uncomfortable after that conversation. That thought kept resonating in my mind — the manager’s weekly salary was almost what I paid for one dinner, or one night in a private room in the hostel. To spend $5 on breakfast was nothing for me, in the States, paying $9 or $10 was normal, but it is possible to get breakfast in Nicaragua for around $2 or $3, even less sometimes.
If I am going to live in Nicaragua and earn a living in Léon, I am going to have to start thinking differently. Yes, things are relatively inexpensive here, but only if you earn your money elsewhere and spend it here. But, if I’m going to work here and earn a Nicaraguan salary, I am going to have to learn to account for the price differential.
It is one thing to come down here and live like a king for a week while on vacation, but it is a completely different situation to have to live on a local salary. After the conversation with the hostel manager, I started paying more attention to the prices at the supermarkets and restaurants and farmers’ markets.
At the supermarket, a pound of Barilla pasta is about what I would spend at home, Chivas Regal is almost $60 a bottle, and imported beers can run $6 a pint. But Flor de Cana rum is $8 a liter, mandarins are ten cents apiece, ginger is fifty cents a pound, a Toña, the loc runs about a dollar or so in a restaurant, less at the markets. Renting a small car costs $4-$5 a day, if I reserve online, but the cheapest insurance is about $15 day. In the States, rental cars start at about $40 per day.
In the end, everything is relative. To stay focused, I have made sure to study the prices and comparison shop everything, even if I still think it’s cheap.
Have you found in a similar situation wherever you travels have taken you? Maybe you experienced the opposite. I’ve heard that a glass of wine is cheaper than a bottle of Coke in Italy. Let me know.
Viva León, Jodido!