Monday, May 25, 2015

Shopping, Tea, and the VAT

Tea time!

Travel can be mentally and physically exhausting. We are walking between seven and ten miles every day, and learning so much that at the end of the day we are spent. I’ve learned it’s critical to take a couple of breaks to rehydrate and re-energize—even for a group of twenty-somethings.

Today is a public holiday in the UK, so I gave students a free day to themselves. Essentially, two groups formed. One decided to do some retail therapy, while others went to Westminster Abbey, the Eye, and the Globe Theater. I decided to lead the shopping exhibition, mostly because I wanted some sharp clothes. I love Montana dearly, but as most would admit, it is a tad challenging to find the cutting edge of fashion in Bozeman. London, of course, is one of the world’s top shopping destinations, so it was foolish to not take advantage of the opportunity.

Princess Diana: Always a princess wrote my students
I took Team MSU to Harrods and Harvey Nick’s, both favorites of the late Princess Diana. Let’s just say we got a good look at how the other half lives. Shoes that looked absolutely impractical costing between 600 and 800 pounds. We also saw the touching memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed and signed the memorial book. I told my students that I remember that Paris crash quite well as I had been up late that night and saw the news break on the internet (yes, there was an internet back then—barely—and it was over AOL News). I have never been a royal watcher, but I stayed up throughout the night as the news story unfolded and pay attention to the coverage of the funeral during the ensuing weeks. The memorial in the store shows Dodi and Diana walking along a beach with the words “Innocent Victims” emblazoned along the bottom of the sculpture.

One thing that has surprised students is the lack of “tax”. I tell them that there is actually quite a hefty tax, called the Value Added Tax (VAT) that is included in the price. This has caused some sticker shock on the trip, but I also reminded them that if they buy items which they will take out of the European Union (and, importantly, will not use while here) then they can apply to get the VAT returned. For big purchases, this is not insubstantial as the VAT is 20 percent.It's interesting that we've chose in the US to not include the tax in the price of goods but add it after the fact. It's not like we don't have taxes like that--many of us receive cable and wireless bills with the tax included in the final price. I suspect that a VAT-style system would never fly in the US as it would be too easy to "hide" the cost of government. I wonder if it's easier to raise taxes in countries with VAT's because of the "hidden" nature of the cost.

Team Shopping also enjoyed Tea at John Lewis, one of London's mid-range department stores. We shared pots of tea and scones--which we slathered with clotted cream and jam. Unfortunately, I didn't get that you need to split the scone in half until it was much too late....

Does anyone really need this?
We’ve been making great use of public transit, 
and today switched lines three or four times like seasoned pros. Tonight, I’ll meet up with the other group and look forward to hearing tales of their adventures while we nosh South Indian food a blog from our hotel. Tomorrow, it’s the Imperial War Museum and a meeting with a member of the House of Lords.

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