Since my grandniece is studying around the corner and we regularly eat together, my well-being has demonstrably improved. “Think about your vascular condition!” she yelled when I suggested I go get some fries on Sunday. “But it’s Sunday!” I sputtered.
Once at the grocery store, she tossed avocados, sacks of kale, and broccoli into the basket one after the other. I consoled myself with the thought that it would make me so healthy that I could eat Hamka’s for breakfast for the rest of the week.
At the cash register she predicted that we would lose 23.89 euros.
“That will be 23.89,” said the cashier. We cheered. It was only when we walked out of the supermarket that the upheaval came.
“23.89 for a few pieces of vegetables and gluten-free pasta,” I cried.
“That’s why,” said my grandniece, “I’m constantly calculating while shopping. The strange thing is that it takes more and more effort for me, while I do it more.”
That didn’t surprise me then. Research has shown that poor people (including students like my grandniece) are worse at math than rich people. Not so much because poor people usually have a lower education, but mainly because a low income can cause so much stress that your head is full faster and a simple addition becomes a real chore at a certain point.
‘Maybe the calculations are dancing before my eyes too,’ my grandniece continued. “Because I’m a bit lost in it. I’m also trying to factor in the expected inflation figures these days, so how much prices will have risen by the end of the month and how that will affect what I have to spend in the here and now.”
“Does it work?”
“Well no. It makes me so restless that the mental arithmetic only costs me more effort.”
I told her about one of my acquaintances, who grew up in a welfare family. She learned to make ends meet at an early age. The supermarket visits with her mother were real tutorials in skimping.
“Always take things from the bottom shelves,” her mother said. “They are the cheapest.”
My grandniece nodded.
“Thus, those with a small purse learn that kneeling is part of them,” she muttered.
Yes. And that counting on something is not the same as relying on something. The only certainty we have in 2022 is that more and more people will kneel. They will have to reach lower and lower, until finally they reach the bottom.
Ellen Deckwitz writes an exchange column with Marcel van Roosmalen here.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of June 21, 2022