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.