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Oslo tops Tokyo as most expensive

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 24, 2003

OSLO, Norway - Nothing here is free - even a trip to a public toilet costs $1.32.

No surprise, then, that a new survey gives Oslo the dubious distinction of being the world's most expensive city.

The list of high-priced places by Swiss banking giant UBS says Oslo has overtaken Tokyo as the costliest place to live. Tokyo is third on the list - dropping from first place in 2000, when the survey was last done. Hong Kong was second on the list and New York fourth.

UBS cited deflation and the depreciation of the Japanese yen as part of the reason that prices in Tokyo have come down. Meanwhile, the Norwegian kroner has appreciated, and many people here feel the effects.

A three-minute bus ride costs $2.64 when buying tickets in advance - but $3.97 to hop on at the last minute. The price of gasoline is $4.89 per gallon. A no-frills hamburger averages $5.95. The kebab, usually a little cheaper, has become the fast food of choice for many.

A pint of domestic beer at a downtown bar can cost $6.88. Expensive, but worth it, to some.

"I drink beer to forget what it costs me to pick up and deliver appliances," said Jan Berg, a 38-year-old appliance repairman from Oslo. He earns $43,630 a year, just above the average yearly salary of $40,986. Relatively high salaries here lessen the sting of the cost of living, but not by much. Berg said he lives in a modest apartment atop a pizzeria.

"I don't live well, believe me," he said.

Tor Steig, chief economist for the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, said Oslo was riding a five-year wage boom, one of a number of factors making the city expensive. The Norwegian minimum wage is $8.59 an hour. The hourly federal minimum wage in the United States is $5.15.

After New York, the UBS survey said the most expensive cities were Zurich, Switzerland; Copenhagen, Denmark; London; Basel, Switzerland; Chicago; and Geneva. The cheapest of the 70 ranked cities were Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Mumbai, India.

The bank's "Prices and Earnings" analysis compares incomes and the cost of living based on the cost of a basket of 111 goods and services. It said that the Swiss cities of Zurich, Geneva and Basel had the highest purchasing power, followed by Los Angeles and Luxembourg.

The survey said people in Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago needed to work just 10 minutes to earn enough to buy a Big Mac from a McDonald's restaurant. That compared to three hours, five minutes for a worker in Nairobi, Kenya.

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