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Paulette Delcourt: French Miss, or High Gas Prices Hit Home

Couldn't we just drink their wine? The French have been living with high gas prices for years, and now we have to.

If there was a government plan to raise prices and shrink consumption, France could surely be the model. In France, everything seems small.

In Paris, a croissant is larger than most hotel elevators. The living room of an affordable one-bedroom apartment is barely large enough to fit John Goodman, a baguette and a bottle of Merlot—or seven Girl Scouts, but never all of them at once.

The people are smaller too. French people have evolved to digest butter, cheese, wine and chocolate mousse in a separate calorie-blasting stomach that Americans just don’t have.

They know how to conserve resources because they have few exports (wine, sugar beets, and Catherine Deneuve) and depend on imports (Johnny Depp and oil).

France is culture rich, but energy poor, so gas has always been expensive and cars have always been very small. I could parallel park a French automobile in my Whirlpool front load washing machine.

Somehow, while we weren’t looking, the United States became France. In the last few years gas prices have increased over 112 percent, and our vehicles and wallets haven’t evolved to digest the added burden. At over $4 a gallon, some of the highest prices in the country are right here in Chicago.

I recently spoke about this with an old friend of mine. His head hung so low I thought he’d trip on his sideburns.

“We’ve had our pay frozen for two years,” he said of his full-time job. “I’m taking on extra work to make ends meet.” The income from his part-time job goes to pay for the gas money he needs to get to his full-time job.

I really feel for him because he can’t manipulate markets or release strategic oil reserves. All he can do is work more or maybe buy a hybrid.

Of course to pay for a hybrid, he would need a third job (or a really good Groupon). A Prius costs $27,000. If he saved $50 a month on gas it would take 540 months to cover the cost of the vehicle (not including the extra insurance expense).

I know, I know. “Save the planet.” But it’s not just about saving oil. Shouldn’t we save ourselves too?

All this talk of croissants, wine and sugar beets is reminding me of the other consequence of high gas prices: high food prices. After all, brussels sprouts can’t drive themselves to market.

Maybe Americans will cut back on food to pay for gas and drop a few pounds. Then we’ll look like French people too.

Paulette Delcourt April 28, 2012 at 02:08 AM
I don't get big cars for the sake of driving one. We do have an old minivan that hauls anything, and was a lifesaver for the carpool years. I've had to drive up to 5 kids on a carpool night--sharing a ride is environmentally friendly I suppose.
Paulette Delcourt April 28, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Actually, this IS the difference in fuel prices between a conventional vehicle and a hybrid. I excluded the extra cost of ownership of a hybrid, otherwise this number would be higher--I figured any trade-in value would offset that. I'm an analyst by trade--my spreadsheet got really long and unfun--plus I couldn't attach it. Sorry.
Paulette Delcourt April 28, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Eugene, I used a blended number based on the manufacturer's MPG figures for several hybrid vehicles. Insurance on a Prius is higher than a conventional vehicle, but about 20%, or about $250 per vehicle annually according to insurance industry statistics. That would be about $2,500 over 10 years--still you are ahead. I'm glad you like your Prius--I think they're cool--although they sound like they need CPR every time they stop.
barn angel April 28, 2012 at 04:06 AM
I thought gas prices were high in Chicago until I drove through Death Valley, CA last week. $5.83 a gallon. I'm saving my extra cash this week and am buying wine.
Doremus Jessup April 28, 2012 at 03:36 PM
$50*540=$27,000. the total price of the Prius, not the difference between a hybrid and a conventional car. you can get a Pius for less, for example http://www.toyota.com/sem/prius.html?srchid=K610_p3128266212) Also "Interestingly, though, the reasons for these higher premiums have very little to do with the specific fact that the Prius is a hybrid and more to do with the general characteristics of smaller and more expensive cars". http://auto.howstuffworks.com/are-hybrid-cars-more-expensive-to-insure.htm

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