FEAR OF FINANCE

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The Independent Online
Dyslexia is a distressing condition that attracts an enormous amount of public sympathy. The very mention of the word (especially if spelt incorrectly) will prompt indignant protest from all walks of life and an instant feature in the Daily Mail on the actress Susan Hampshire.

Yet there is an equally depressing affliction. And that is the numerical equivalent of dyslexia. This little-understood complaint, often misdiagnosed as crass stupidity, can bring misery on a massive scale. Numerical dyslexia has no champions among government and the arts. It is simply dismissed as the inability to add up or subtract, often with that well-worn cliche: "he is absolutely hopeless with money''.

Numerical dyslexia renders impossible even the most mundane everyday tasks and can quickly lead to terminal loss of confidence followed by withdrawal from society.

Take the apparently simple task of paying for a round of drinks.

"That'll be six pounds and twenty-three pence please.'' To the numerical dyslexic this is a terrifying sound. Given time, the sufferer could easily count out pounds 6.23. But the pressure is on. People are waiting to be served and they are looking to see if you are an accomplished member of society or a complete berk.

There is no question of counting out the pounds 6.23 that is threatening to tear a hole in your pocket. There is no option but to hand over a pounds 10 note and accept the change blindly.

In a situation like this, it is quite likely that the numerical dyslexic will be short-changed. It would have been no problem with pounds 9.50. But pounds 6.23 is too far short of the round numbers to warrant even an attempt. A red mist has already descended over the eyes.

The loss of confidence can eat deep, leading to an inability in the patient to detect when he or she is being ripped off. Sufferers fall prey to all sorts of spivs, some of whom are trained to spot the numerical dyslexic at 100 paces.

"Er, may I have half a dozen Granny Smiths and a banana please?''

"Nine parnd, ninety nine, Guv.''

"Thank you.''

Holidays are especially distressing, ruined by the constant need to change currency. If the problem of grappling with notes where the basic unit is measured in trillions were not bad enough, the numerical dyslexic also has to contend with moving exchange rates and that most impenetrable of concepts, the dealer's spread.

This is particularly bad news for British numerical dyslexics because the pound keeps going downwhile the dealer's spread keeps widening. Worse still, quite unannounced the bureaux de change may suddenly throw in a commission as well.

But nothing can compare with the ultimate hell - the sight of an Australian approaching on a beach in Greece, wanting to change $200 into drachma. The chances of a catastrophe are colossal.

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