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18-04-2017

Units of measurement

What’s it worth to me? How much should an hour of my work cost? You can think about it as dollars, euros and pounds or the things you will be able to buy, such as a newspaper, a cup of coffee, or in my case, nice shoes! A 150-euro translation job is the equivalent of a decent pair of shoes and if I hadn’t succumbed to the shoe fetish so many times, I would probably have retired by now…

When my son was a teenager, he used to measure the value of material things in how many PlayStation games he would be able to buy for the amount in question. “Mum”, he would whine, “Another pair of shoes! I could by three games I could for that!”. “Well”, I would reply, “When you are earning money, you’ll be able to”.

This morning, I heard a radio presenter using a cup of Starbucks coffee as a unit of measurement. That got me thinking about the price of coffee and how on earth people can measure things by its cost. How much is a cup of coffee? A cup of coffee is worth whatever the consumer is willing to pay for it.

Coffee really ought to be cheap. Last year my friends and I visited a coffee plantation in Semuc Champey, Guatemala. The weather was cold and wet and the fields were nasty and muddy. The plantation we visited was not processing any beans at the time, but they showed us around the plant where the workers sort, ferment, wash and dry the beans, before they are sent away for roasting. The fermenting area is extremely stinky and the facilities were unsophisticated. What’s more, the final product, coffee beans, is usually cheap. So why are we so willing to shell out such enormous amounts for a cup of coffee?

What makes coffee expensive or cheap depends on where you drink it, or buy it or what you make it with. You can buy it at the supermarket, but stepping into a Nespresso boutique is like shopping in a designer fashion store that sells things that you might be able to afford. Very tempting… and the machines… all shiny, shiny and beautiful. Much better than the old percolator.

And you may pay a bit more for your coffee at Starbucks, but it’s a cool brand, and you can drink it sitting on a distressed leather sofa rather than on a plastic chair, and there’s free Wi-Fi. If you want to rough it, you can get the same thing for 25% of the inflated prices charged in cool coffee chains. The other day my husband and I had a perfectly good coffee and a piece of toast in the bar on the local industrial estate, and the total bill was four euros. But we were sitting on plastic chairs surrounded by lorry drivers.

It’s all a matter of perception. Perhaps I should change my professional image and transform myself into the equivalent of Kopi Luwak coffee. Maybe people will pay me 300% more for my translations and be thrilled… but… oh no! I’ve just just remembered, Kopi Luwak are those coffee beans that are eaten and pooped by wild civits!

Juliet Allaway

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