11 December 2015


Rip-off: to overcharge (v) or to swindle (n); 
Synonyms: cheat, do, fleece, dupe, deceive.

My dictionary further defines overcharge as: to charge too much, to overprice or to take advantage of, and swindle as: to cheat, con, dupe, trick, fiddle, double cross, deceive, defraud or Rip-off. And so we come full circle.  Rip-off Britain.  I have been hearing and reading these words ever since arriving here, without taking much notice apart from agreeing with the pundits who use the term in association with the motor trade.  Now I am beginning to realise the full implications of the term by stepping out of the trees and looking at the forest.

Combine the talents of the Indian street trader with the cunning of the souk Arab and the greed of the moneylending Jew and you have a rough description of the average British businessman or politician.  The secret of their success in getting away with ripping each other, and anyone else off, over the years is the straight face of the one party and stiff upper lip of the other!   

They have only themselves to blame for nurturing a culture in which it is simply not done to react or complain.  If you are fortunate enough to realise you are getting a bad deal, you simply walk away, politely!  You don’t tell anyone! Dear me no, that would be so embarrassing!  So no one else ever knows, the thing is never publicised, and your neighbour or friend is fair game to the same con, because you would never lose face by warning them and thus admitting that you were stupid enough to consider the same deal!  

The British gain a great deal of advantage by being masters of the English language.  They are able to construct and phrase contracts and agreements in ways that enable cunning and advantageous interpretation when desired.  I am sure that it was after dealing with and losing to the British that Europe adopted Roman-Dutch Law, based on fact, not implication.  And no wonder the British legal system is so ponderous.  

Consider that every nation that was ever visited by the British eventually lost everything and was swallowed up into the British Empire.  A fortunate few became aware of the great rip-off and fought, like the U.S.A. and threw the British out.  And without the Brits ripping them off, the USA became the greatest nation on earth!  There’s a lesson there somewhere.

No wonder the British are suspicious by nature.  They just don’t show it, but they take no-one at face value.  They cannot do otherwise, but live a sad life as a result.  Then again, they made their own bed, and must sleep in it.  Perhaps some of my friends may be offended by my opinions, but they should also know that culpability only exists where a victim allows it to, and to their credit rip-offs of a grand scale are being recognised and protested.  Self criticism is a very civilised thing.

London 1999

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article that I wrote in 1999,  when I was still in a state of culture shock after re-locating from a society where a man's word was his bond and to deliberately cheat in business was a no-no!  A great deal has changed since, both for the better and for worse, both here in the UK and there in SA.  

The blatant greed of the banking industry eventually led to the collapse of the financial  service industry both in the UK and in many other countries.  That resulted in a global  economic meltdown from which some countries have still not recovered.  Heads have rolled, but what gets me going is the sheer size of the golden handshakes  received by some of the most culpable banking executives on their departure out the back door.  Most took home millions.  Ineptitude and greed rewarded!  Lessons have been learned, but the trouble with lessons is that, unless they are turned into legislation, they are forgotten by later generations.  History has a bad habit of repeating itself.

Hundreds of thousands of honest, hard working people lost their jobs and their homes.   In the UK, the government bailed out the failing banks by taking share options, some of which have now been redeemed.  But the people who lost their livelihoods are mostly still queueing for the few jobs that are becoming available when they are not queueing for food hasndouts.  Many employers used the financial crisis as an excuse to divest themselves of highly paid staff as well as to reduce their payroll costs.  Most have never re-employed staff, as they have now learned to do without them.

Of course, the austerity measures have resulted in our present Chancellor of the Exchequer demanding massive spending cuts by NGOs and government departments.  These across-the-board demands take no cognisance of the fact that some departments and institutions have been underfunded for years (such as the NHS) and that further budget cuts will only reduce their very ability to do their job, such as the police.  At a time when terrorism is our biggest threat, to remove some 1,500 police officers from service is sheer lunacy!  To reduce the funding of the NHS when most primary care trusts and hospitals run at a budget deficit and do not have sufficient nursing staff is sheer insanity!  To force very dedicated and qualified nurses from the Philippines, who were recruited on fixed term contracts, to return home at the end of their tenure when we are giving thousands of “asylum seekers” leave to remain here, is totally mad.

In this atmosphere of austerity and unemployment, another malodorous financial industry has blossomed;  the payday loan moneylenders.   These cheats actually advertise their dubious services on national television, offering loans at eye watering interest rates.  Until the advertising standards authority made it compulsory to state the interest rate in the ad as “fine print”, they didn’t even inform their victims of their rates up-front.  How about 1,560% per annum compounded daily?  Only in Britain….

The importation and sale of counterfeit, or fake goods is now widespread.  From cigarettes and liquor to medicines and chain saws, trainers and golf clubs, if you but at the lowest price, chances are you are buying a fake.  The only merchandise that has not yet been faked are mobile ‘phones and digital cameras.  The components are simply not available to the fakers.

In 1012 there was a great uproar when a Trading Standards Authority discovered horsemeat in samples of pre-packaged meat products on supermarket shelves.  From burgers to steak & kidney pies, if you bought it, it was probably horsemeat.  Now horsemeat is normal produce in some european countries. That’s fine and it’s labelled as such.  But to find that the steak mince that I bought to make spaghetti Bolognese with was actually 50% horsemeat means that I am the victim of cheating of the most insidious kind.

So, while things have improved on the legislative front, there is still a long way for the British to go to be seen as “honest traders.”

London 2015

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