“Look, I’m on a deadline here, please just…just make it easy for me…what’s the number?”
I can hear the tension on the other end of the line. Frustration, too. It’s 2008, and I’m trying to make ends meet by doing some freelance work for a major global consultancy firm. I’m walking on egg-shells, I know that. It’s only my second month and already they suspect I’m completely incompetent.
“Listen, honestly, it’s not like I’m trying to be difficult on purpose here. It’s just that you’re asking me a question that doesn’t have a simple answer…”
This does not go down well.
“How can that even…I mean…are you listening to yourself? I’m not asking you for a disquisition on the nature of beauty, pal. This isn’t some open ended essay question…I have a spreadsheet open right now with 192 countries in it and for every single one I have one number, one number, for the debt-to-GDP ratio. It’s not rocket science! I don’t have a paragraph field for each country. I have one fucking cell on an excel spreadsheet, so pretty please, what’s the goddamn number for Venezuela?”
Now I’m the one who’s annoyed.
“No! NO! Now you listen to yourself! Debt-to-GDP, you said? Right? It’s a ratio, coño, a R-A-T-I-O. And the denominator in that ratio, the to-GDP part, nobody knows what it really is, you dig? Because it’s in local currency, in bolivars, and there isn’t one dollar price for the bolivar, there are three!”
Now he’s screaming into the phone.
“We’ve been over this, for fuck’s sake: there can’t be more than one price for a currency, that…that…that doesn’t even make any sense! Maybe the news didn’t reach that pissant shithole where you live but there’s a little something called the law of one price, dickhead: what you’re telling me isn’t just stupid…it’s isn’t just stupid and insane, it’s stupid and insane and impossible…”
He takes a second to compose himself.
“OK, damnit, look, I’m sorry. It’s just…I have to close this in 45 minutes and I still don’t have numbers from Cambodia, the Philippines or you lot. Look, I don’t have time for this. Just…what does the government say the debt-to-GDP is?”
“Ummm, that hasn’t been published this quarter yet…”
“Oh FUCK OFF!”