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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Hair Dryers, TV's and Automobiles

One of the best kept Syrian secrets involves the automobile, in a twisted sort of way. Until very recently, the television set was another dark Syrian secret. Luckily for me and for foreign readers who might die of a laughing fit if we hadn’t overcome that fiasco I can write about the TV story as a joke now. Not so in the case of cars, which I shall return to anon down the page.
You all heard the story; the Syrian economy has been opening up since the turn of the century. For some old policy makers, dickheads really, the transition has been extremely painful. At one stage of the game they had reluctantly accepted that Syrians need to buy blenders and hair dryers among other forbidden gadgets. They couldn’t believe their own eyes when the hungry market was saturated instantly with electrical equipment and appliances. Apparently, they grew up in a time and place when and where only the counterrevolutionary afforded and owned anything electrical beyond the light bulb. In their undeservedly privileged lives afterward, they brought to their homes such miracles as fruit squeezers, vacuum cleaners, two-door fridge/freezer combinations, automatic washing machines, then ultimately video players, colored television sets and WOW satellite receivers (they simply called them DISH). More often than not they never had to pay for these consumer goods. They either stole or received them as gifts in return for favors (commonly related to the compulsory military service or more specifically how to avoid it). Still, their thick minds could not grasp that the rest of the population needed the same conveniences. In their reasoning, they have worked hard to get these perks. They have fought the shadows as revolutionaries and won. They have climbed the ladder of power step by hard fucking step, shoving and pushing other usurpers on their way up, stepping on toes and fingers, stomping on shoulders before their hirsute asses could sit on swiveling chairs (the swivel chair with the cheap imitation leather remains one of their favorite pieces of furniture). They have successfully kept the envious masses under control and in line and accordingly when the order to let the poor souls get their hands on electrical appliances was circulated they weren’t happy at all. "Kiss Ikht Hal Zaman", they thought. "Now we let them own microwaves, then what later, God forbids, televisions?" Sure enough, they couldn’t stand any longer in the face of progress and change and in a historically jubilant, socially imperative, economically poignant moment TV’s of all shapes and sizes flooded the streets and filled almost every room of every household in the country.


We still have one secret up our sleeve, taratata, the Automobile.
After years of elaborations, after changing the unsightly faces/asses in parliament time and again (as if the assholes really had any say on the matter), after laws and decrees were written, blocked and rewritten, after economic theories were trashed, created and reinvented, after pros and cons were evaluated, pondered upon and reappraised, a white puff of smoke finally rose from the chimney. "OK damn it, let them buy and drive cars that are less than 20 years old. But wait a minute, keep’em expensive, very expensive so that every sonofabitch who buys a car pays up his ass to get it." Thus the Syrian dream was redefined 50 years too late, getting married, owning an apartment and riding a car in whatever order achievable.
I need to let go of my 2002 faithful Honda Civic. It’s been an excellent companion, but the miles, the years and most significantly the roads have taken their toll. The children have grown since as well and we do need a larger car. I am a very reasonable person when it comes to buying a new car, but not necessarily in other matters.
First on my checklist is how much I can afford. After selling my Honda, I need to make a down payment of at least 20% of the new car’s value + the Syrian Secret. I have to finance the car for a minimum of 4 years and the monthly payment should not exceed a certain amount. Putting all the numbers together and taking into consideration that we really need an SUV for two obvious reasons: 1) All of Syria has become off-road and 2) We need extra seating capacity of up to 7. Candidates for final choice became too limited and the most likely winner is the new Hyundai Santa Fe.
For those of you who have no idea and for the others who have forgotten how much it costs to buy a car in Syria, here’s a quick CARS 101.
-2008 Hyundai Santa Fe is invoiced at US$28,000 in the US
-Same car is invoiced at US$37,395 in Syria
-Now the best kept little Syrian secret…. Luxury tax for the Santa Fe is US$12,187.
-Total price, what I and/or everybody else have to pay to get the damn car in Syria is:
US$49,582 or 177% of what an American actually pays.
-Considering that on the average, the total income of an American family is US3,000 per month and that, on the average, the total income of a Syrian family is US1,000 (many would disagree with my generous estimate), buying a car is 177 x 3 = 531% more expensive in Syria than in the United States.
Despite the above grim numbers and figures there are those who still argue that Syria has far too many cars (1,200,000 vehicles in operation is the latest released figure). The truth of the matter is that Syria has very little good roads to accommodate the large number of cars. The streets are potted with holes and the highways maniacally paved and graded. There are no parking spaces to speak of, not enough overhead passes, very few tunnels and no reliable/acceptable/clean/human public transportation system. Yet we are paying 40% in taxes and you would think some of which must go to building new and maintaining existing road networks.
Just as buying this new car would literally drain me financially, writing about it has drained me emotionally. My original purpose was to inform, no less no more. I know I have strayed but the best I can do is to say so long for now, I’m off to drink a beer. May be next time, I can bring a smile to myself, a laugh to your hearts.

16 comments:

Omar said...

Before we left Syria my dad was thinking of buying a car. Everyday after leaving school I would pass by his office and see if he finally managed to buy the promised Skoda pickup. I was always disappointed. Then he entered into negotiations to buy a 1960s? Renault, that was previously used by UNRWA workers. The price tag for the shitty car (with windows that swivel out, since rolling windows weren't invented at the time of manufacturing) was about 13000 USD. We then came to Canada and fulfilled the Syrian dream. Since then we have fulfilled the Syrian dream many times over... I blame the excessive car buying on the Freudian SCC or Syrian Car Complex

abufares said...

You're right Omar, we all have, to a certain extent, SCC.
What bothers me more than the rediculsouly high "luxury" tax is the fact that the government is not providing the public with decent services in return. Let's look at it this way, over 150,000 cars were sold in 2007. Assuming that one the average, the luxury tax was around SYP200,000 = US$4,000 x 150,000 = US$600 millions. How much of that would you say was spent on improving the public road network in Syria???
شخاخ وبدو ينام بالنص
Not only do they take our hard earned money away, they don't give us anything in return.
I'm the one who has all the right in the world to say:
Kiss Ikht Hal Zaman...

Anonymous said...

Don't worry I will talk to the prime minister for you. In other news, 120 Palestnians mostly civilian were killed in 5 days.

Anonymous said...

Not that I don't think your post is great. It is, becuase it has numbers and facts.

Anonymous said...

My comments are too strange really. I am sorry if they seem stupid.

abufares said...

@anonymous
Thank you for reminding us of the much more important Palestinian tragedy and Israeli atrocities. The last figures are of 177 Palestinian martyrs.
Be that as it may, your comments are very welcome, anytime.
However, not all of us bloggers are equally good at writing about world events. Had I attempted to write about what is going on in Ghaza, my post would have been venemous and not in harmony with my true nature. I don't want my hate and rage to show in my blog. Unfortunately they have been imprinted in my psyche and would not be removed until a just and comprehensive peace is achieved.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Abu Fares, what about the used cars market? Can't you find a spacious four wheel drive for less than that horrendous price?
I am asking because this is the trend here, new cars will depreciate a lot and very soon.
But I am not sure this is the trend in Syria.
My dad drives 1977 Simca (some godforsaken car brand, probably Italian). No seat belts. No AC. And of course, I will get reprimanded every time I ask him to get the seat belt fixed. They think it is a luxury feature.

The Syrian Brit said...

I learnt to drive on my Dad's 1954 Chevrolet.. and what a car that was!.. He sold it some 25 years after he bought it, probably for five times the money he paid for it!..I nearly cried when he sold it and bought a totally soulless 1977 Buick...
The point is, cars in Syria are (or at least, used to be) an investment.. They did not depreciate.. on the contrary, their value, in real terms, increased year on year!..

Lujayn said...

Abu Fares, mabrouk salafan about the car (just upgraded myself from a Honda Civic).

Its actually quite sad when the first thing young Syrian men do when they get off the plane here, after finding a job, is going on a mad search for a cheap but fancy looking car (preferably a BMW or a Mercedes). They would never be able to afford it in Syria, not in a million years. During summer breaks in Aleppo, I see so many cars with foreign license plates (mainly Gulf countries) and its obvious that people just want to show the world they own cars, albeit in foreign countries. Akhhhhhh that our dreams have been reduced to driving a car :))

KJ said...

My friend's dad got the Santa Fe, and it cost him in Syria as much as an BMW X5 in Dubai.

Allah ey3eenak w y3awwedlak el masari. Have you thought of getting two smaller cars instead? I am sure you're not the only one who drives in the family..

abufares said...

@DJ
Being a conscientious driver who really treats a car very well I always felt that whoever ends up buying my used car is getting the best for his money. However, and despite the care and pampering I bestowed on my Civic it's a losing battle with the horrendous streets and roads conditions. I wouldn't want a car half-used as mine and I find myself ready to accept only a significant upgrade or why bother at all.
My reply to KJ would be a continuation of this line of thought.

abufares said...

@SB
I learned to drive on my father's 1967 Taunus. It comes second in my line of memory after the 1962 Opel Capitan.
Cars used to be an investment in Syria but not anymore. They have become the biggest losing proposition after cellular phones monthly bills.
It's no coincidence that our money is going to the same pockets!

abufares said...

@Lujayn
You know what bothers me most? After years of deprivation the import of cars was finally allowed. Yet the government is not doing anything positive with all the money it's making out of the infamous luxury tax and the annual "mechanic".
I have been driving in Syria since I was 13 and that translates into many many miles and years. The roads and highways have deteriorated so badly in the last 3 years and the number of cars has skyrocketed.
Now they want to introduce tougher regulations on motorists thinking that the problem lies entirely with unsafe driving practices. As if we have an autobahn in Syria but the drivers are all suicidal maniacs (the latter part is partially true). Damn it, the government should contribute something with the billions collected. FIX THE FUCKING ROADS!!!

abufares said...

@KJ
Ideally, we would love to have one small car for the city and a larger family mid size SUV for traveling. When in Tartous and on a regular day I don't use the car at all. I walk to my nearby office and the car is used exclusively by Om Fares.
However, I travel on an almost weekly basis on business and rest assured that anything less than a mid size 4x4 is inadequate. Then on weekends when we need to go all together as a family we need the larger car as well.
Finally, had I been able to afford a second smaller car I would have not hesitated at all.
A 4x4 SUV is no longer a choice in Syria for road warriors, it's minimum safety equipment.

Shannon said...

This post is another in the long list of why I love your blog so. Besides being excellently written, I always walk always having learned something and gained a new perspective. Thank you...and for what it's worth, my friends who own the Santa Fe are very pleased with it. As always, all the best to you.

abufares said...

@shannon
I'm glad you find this post informative.
You see despite the human wealth of my country, we're inflicted by medicority, bureaucracy and corruption. I try to portray a balanced image. The many positive attributes of the Syrian people are often upset by the harmful meddling of inefficient and obsolete governments.
As for the Santa Fe, I only heard positive comments about it. I think that for the money, it's certainly my best buy.