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March 1, 2007

Being poor is knowing how much everything costs

I may joke about being a poor college student, but I do so while drinking cortados and eating brioches. This list by Joe Scalzi describes what poverty is really like. (It's not as long as it looks. Most of the page is trackbacks and comments, but many of the comments are lists similar to the original).

When I'm "feeling poor", which sometimes happens a few days before I get my scholarship/student loan every month, I think about what things cost, and when I'm "feeling rich", like when I'm shopping in less expensive countries, I don't. But I know that I'm only feeling poor, not being poor. If I were really poor, I wouldn't be considering getting a small coffee when I really wanted a double cappuccino. I would have much bigger problems.

There are a couple of descriptions of poverty that really got to me for different reasons:

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning. When I was ten, I went to a school like that, but I was living in one of the richest areas in Norway. Someone commented that many of these descriptions don't work outside the U.S. (For example, poor people in many other countries don't have cars.). This is another example.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so. No comment necessary really, it just made me sadder than any of the others did.

Being poor is pretending to any major, religion or career interest to get free pizza on campus. The one I think Norwegian college students come closest to understanding.

Being poor is feeling ashamed when your 'peers' slam WalMart, and talk about buying organic, and the horrors of driving gass-guzzling cars, all while wondering why you repeatedly find ways to not join them at $15/plate social dinners. Take your pick: insist on organic or complain that you can't afford stuff. Sorry fellow students, you can't have it both ways.

And a complaint from one of the comments: Why is is so hard to remember poverty once you get past it, if you get past it? Why is it so hard to empathize with poverty if you have never had it? What the hell is wrong with us? 

Posted by Julie at March 1, 2007 11:57 AM

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There's a related and really sad story on Scalzi's blog today:

Posted by: Eirik at March 1, 2007 12:51 PM

Eirik - thanks. I had already read the story (it's how I found the list), but I should have linked to it myself in the post.

Posted by: Julie at March 1, 2007 3:01 PM