How many minutes do people in your city have to work to buy a Big Mac?


From The Economist, a chart showing "how long it takes a worker on the average net wage to earn the price of a Big Mac in 73 cities."

The more important question is how long you have to work to eat something less gross than a Big Mac, of course.

An alternative Big Mac Index (via Digg)

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  1. “Less gross”? Some people LIKE the Big Mac.

    Why be so judgmental?

    As for the chart, if I did my math right, I’m earning a Big Mac at least every-other minute. So I think I need to the big M steakhouse for lunch ’cause I’m RICH if I were to convert my USD to McDonald’s food.

    (Math: Yearly Salary/50 weeks/40 hours/60 minutes*Big Mac Cost)

  2. Having lived (albeit a while ago)in the second to last yellow bar on this chart, I can tell you that for the price of a big mac, one can purchase a few days worth of really mind-blowingly amazing local food.

  3. ‘The more important question is how long you have to work to eat something less gross than a Big Mac, of course.’

    The answer: longer. Despite what all the health gurus on tv say, eating healthy is expensive. I have food allergies and Celiac disease. Everything I eat is made from scratch from healthy wholesome ingredients. Most of my meals are vegetarian and simple. I eat 1750 calories a day which I think is probably a lot lower than the average American. Yet next to rent, groceries are the most expensive monthly expense for me.

    Check out your local grocery circular. All the sales are for junk. Vegetables, fruit and lean protein is hidden in the back where you won’t notice it and they aren’t on sale. My mom is very poor so when she has to choose between five boxes of hamburger helper for $5 or two skinless chicken breasts for $5 which one do you think she’ll pick?

  4. I’d say given the probability that a big mac has feces in it, it’s not off-the-charts judgmental to call it ‘gross’.

  5. TheBlessedBlogger – We have monthly costco runs, and keep our per-meal costs down to about an average of $4/meal, which I consider to be unnecessarily expensive. We could cook much more frugally if we used lower grade ingredients. We do that already with using boneless chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts, which cost about $3/pound, and get blended in with veg and barley for a stew that costs out to about $2.50/serving. We could bring it down to $2/serving with cheaper veggies and non-fancy chicken stock.

    Expensive is relative. Sucks to hear about the celiac disease. It’s hard to keep safe without doing all your own cooking. Do you cook in bulk?

  6. #2 – that’s not quite true: healthy fast food is more expensive. Food bought from a supermarket is not.

    Also, your view is probably skewed by your need to avoid upsetting your various food allergies, as specialty food is going to be more costly. I can eat pretty damn healthily and for less money than it costs for ready meals.

    And Big Macs ARE gross. Quarter Pounders are the real deal and you all know it.

  7. I often think of how long it took my earn the money before I spend it, I call it my work/spend ratio.

    It takes me about 40 minutes to earn the cost of a cinema ticket for a (say) 2 hour movie = good work/spend ratio.

    It can take me about the same time to earn the cost of a bowling game which will last about 15 minutes = bad work/spend ratio.

    This is why I go cinema fairly often and haven’t been bowling in years (not ‘cos I’m crap at bowling).

  8. @2 It really is not more expensive to cook healthily for yourself. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. A veggie diet consisting of seasonal veg (fruit is expensive) + dairy is cheap. It will get boring, but you won’t be malnourished.

  9. @2:

    I am a member of my local CSA, and I pay 750 dollars a year to buy local organic vegetables from my local farmer. That works out to 14.00 dollars a week ish. I get at least two grocery bags full of freshly picked organic vegetables every week– many weeks a get a LOT LOT more. Last week I got 8 pounds of summer squash and zucchini alone– not to mention the dill, basil, onions, leeks, swiss chard, lettuce, cucumbers, eggplant, and tomatoes. One week last fall I got 25 pounds of wintersquash, and 18 pounds of tomatoes all at once.

    It would be even cheaper for me if I was willing to volunteer a couple hours a week at the farm, but I don’t have the time right now (I have in the past tho)

    Buying things like rice, beans, flour, polenta, etc. in bulk is super cheap too. Even if you go organic, sustainable, and responsible.

    Don’t get me wrong– I like the cheeseburger as much as the next person, and thinking and eating this way takes thought and planning, but it IS worth it for ones health, the environment AND ones wallet.
    (I’m allergic to wheat, soy, and dairy products)

  10. The Big Mac index is nothing new. It’s been used as an inside joke by economists for at least the last 15 years or more. The surprising thing is that it is actually a surprisingly good economic indicator of a currency’s value.

    Google Burgernomics for more insight.

  11. @6: Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to spare a couple hours per week either if I was busy spending all my time trying to find out what to do with 25 pounds of squash and 18 pounds of tomatoes.

  12. @#8 – Shred the squash, and vac-bag and freeze in 2-cup portions, and you have the makings of a zucchini bread a week for the next year.

  13. “Less gross”? Some people LIKE the Big Mac.

    Why be so judgmental?

    Class posturing. McDonalds, as are all easily affordable consumer items, is déclassé.

  14. I was hoping this would be a chart about how long it takes someone to actually acquire a Big Mac after they’ve decided to purchase one.

  15. The Big Mac may be gross, but taste has nothing to do with it. As the link’s title says, this has to do with the Economist’s Big Mac Index.

  16. “two skinless chicken breasts for $5 which one do you think she’ll pick?”

    So buy them with skin. It’s cheaper and you just take it off yourself, which you might use to boil in soup or stew to add fat. Or buy chicken thighs. Take bones out yourself — again, cheaper.

    I’m not sure what it is with some people’s obsession with white meat. Apparently I’m in a minority that genuinely prefers the taste and texture of dark meat — I often find it more moist and tender. Plus it’s a damn sight cheaper.

  17. The more important question is how long you have to work to eat something less gross than a Big Mac, of course.

    The UBS study that this is based on also tracked how many minutes people would have to work for a kilo of bread or a kilo of rice*.

    I’m somewhat shocked that a big mac costs less than a kilo of bread in Chicago(12 minutes vs 22 minutes), Tokyo(12:15) and Toronto(12:15). The bread is rather cheaper in London(13:10)…

    (*of course, a mere bowl of rice is sufficient pay for a whole day’s work with a gun in your back).

  18. Is this chart relative to the cost of a Big Mac in each city, or the cost we pay in America for one?

  19. Can someone create a chart displaying how long it takes someone working at minimum wage to buy a mac(book)?

  20. The chart gives a misleading picture because the Economist is using the average wage instead of the median, and the US is a more unequal society than most industrial nations. After all, if Bill Gates walks into a bar, the average person in that bar (if it isn’t too large) is a billionaire, but the median person in the bar makes considerably less.

  21. Is the Big Mac index like the Coca-Cola indicator of political stability?

    If you find you suddenly can’t get a Coke where you are, get the hell out of dodge before the armed conflict starts.

  22. In Paris, at least, you don’t have to work as long to get something a lot less gross.

    It’s about 7 Euros (about US$10) for a burger, fries, and a soda.

    If I go a couple of blocks past the McDonald’s, I can duck into any boulangerie (bakery) in the city and buy a sandwich on bread that was baked this morning, with lean ham or roasted chicken, real butter (ohmigod French butter), lettuce, tomatoes with flavor (as opposed to the square, pink, tasteless tomato-like objects I usually find at McDonald’s) and sometimes a couple of slices of hardboiled egg. They’ll throw in a yummy pastry and a soda for about 6 Euros. Not a huge savings, but there’s no comparison…and it’s not uncommon for the sandwich to be big enough to share — so it’s TWO meals for that, whether you share with a friend or save it for later.

    Cheaper, way tastier, probably a damned sight healthier, and faster…

  23. Maximillian, it’s possible to enjoy eating something but still recognize that it’s gross. A big mac is gross. Low grade meat, fried in cheap fat, with middling to low quality toppings and bland bread. Sure it’s tasty! But it’s also poor health on a bun.

  24. Link to full source (hope it works).

    I know it is hard to make fair comparisions for expense of living in different cultures, but I don’t think UBS do a good job. They do include the cost of taxes and other charges, but they do not compensate for what you get in return (i.e. a person in Oslo has bigger spending power than someone in Chicago because he pay for a lot of things through his taxes, which is more cost effective (not applicable in all high-tax countries) and make living less expensive).

    I use some expenses from Stockholm as exemples (because I live in Sweden and Stockholm is the only Swedish city in the comparison (and poorly choosen as it is a strange beast compared to other Swedish cities)):

    Cost of Big Mac: 20 minutes

    Cost of medical examination by a doctor: 25 minutes

    Cost of medical examination by a medical expert, prescribed by a previous doctor: 0 minutes

    Max expense for medical care during a year (including examinations, travels, medicine or whatever treatments needed): 38 hours

    Expense for 12 years of basic school education (including study materials and two meals during schoolday (if necessery suited for vegans, vegetarians, food allergies, religious requirements, et.c.), and also travels or boarding for kids living a long way from school): 0 minutes

    Expense of higher education (books and other study material not included): 0 minutes

    Expense of pregnancy and maternity leave (per child): about -4500 hours (yes, that’s a negative)

    I could go on about costs of pension funds, sick leaves, educational leaves and a lot of other things. In the UBS report Oslo is claimed to be the most expensive city, it’s not. People living in Norway get even more in return from their government then people living in Sweden, Even though a their pay check after taxes is moderate in comparison to some other cities in other countries and goods are expensive to buy (because of taxes), they still can afford more because they don’t have to pay at all for a lot of other things (or rather: they have already payed trough their taxes).

  25. I love that when someone mentions McDonald’s in any context, they have to somehow find a way to mention how gross it is. We get it, already.

  26. Big Macs are pretty decent quality over here in Copenhagen, the standards for fast food are quite strict.

    I’m more curious as to how they figured on the price of the Big Mac.

  27. @6 I would love to do this! But I like picking the food I would want to eat. Hating a lot of veg like squash, pumpkin and zucchini I would want none of it in my bag, so going with a scheme like this means no choice for me in what I get.
    @13 Because it’s supposed to be better for you. Obviously you’re not obsessed enough to know that.

  28. Economists should know better. The price of a Big Mac is one thing and the cost is another. If its a staple in your diet, you will pay in many other ways.

  29. Does the cost include money for all the toilet paper you need to clean yourself after diarrhea explosion due to eating the Big Mac? Will probably need a whole roll.

  30. Do they take into account a big mac in London costs about 2x the USD amount ($1.99 vs £1.99)?

  31. As #12 The Bus noted, Big Mac Index was created as a humorous way of comparing a “basket of goods and services” in different countries in order to predict currency changes. The Big Mac was chosen because you can get nearly the same item, made locally, just about anywhere.

    Turns out the joke was pretty useful. It’s usefulness of a currency indicator is surprisingly good.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Mac_Index

  32. In some places it is significantly cheaper to eat healthy. In many North African and Middle Easter countries eating at McDonalds is seen as a social indicator of being rich. You actually have to be rich to eat at McDs in some of those countries. At the same time the poor eat healthier because they can’t afford deap fried meat and potatoes.

  33. @#8

    ALL your time? Um, have you ever cooked or done any food preservation? There are a million things to do with large quantities of vegetables and it doesn’t require that much time and/or imagination to pick one. Here’s a time-saving idea: freezing the tomatoes in ziploc bags so that you can use them for soups and sauces all winter. You’ll save money by not having to buy canned tomatoes. If you had more time, you could can the tomatoes whole, roasted, stewed, or sauced; you could dry them in the oven and store them in olive oil; you could make salsa, ketchup, or barbecue sauce; etc., etc.

  34. My mom is very poor so when she has to choose between five boxes of hamburger helper for $5 or two skinless chicken breasts for $5 which one do you think she’ll pick?

    I think the answer is to not shop at Whole Foods. In my neck of the woods you can get bone-in skin-on breasts for $1.50/lb, bone and skin them yourself, and make stock with the remnants.

    Also, those five boxes of hamburger helper for $5 are also going to need 5 pounds of ground beef ($20) and at least half a gallon of milk ($2), bringing the total cost to $27. For that money, you could get 18 lbs of chicken.

  35. The more important question is how long you have to work to eat something less gross than a Big Mac, of course.

    No, the more important question is how much exercise you will have to do after eating one to undo the damage to your heart, and to work off all those calories.

  36. @ Joe

    That’s an excellent concise illustration of the usefulness of medians vs. means. I will use that in future, I’m sure.

  37. @#3 –
    I tried Costco and it didn’t work for us. Most of the food was full of chemicals, preservatives and fillers I’m allergic to. For instance, I could spend $10 on a whole bag of frozen chicken but it’s infused with ‘vegetable broth’ which 99% if the time means wheat. If you have a large family without any food issues and you don’t mind the chemicals/preservatives/sugar/salt etc in the food AND you have the space to store all that stuff then bulk buying could work but I don’t so it doesn’t. My mother can’t do this either since she lives in the middle of no-where-Kentucky.

    @#4 –
    I respectfully disagree. I don’t eat out, period. All my food is from the grocery store or the farmers market and I don’t buy specialty foods. I buy the same meat, vegetables and fruits as everyone else and make everything from scratch so theoretically it should be the cheapest meals you can make but it’s not. Likewise, my mom doesn’t buy expensive specialty foods. She has a monthly grocery budget of about $250 dollars which doesn’t go far to feed three people so she buys what’s cheapest and that’s junk.

    @#6 –
    We considered a CSA but we don’t have $750 all at once to join, we don’t have room to store frozen or canned excess so a lot of food would be wasted. Since I have food allergies I can’t eat whatever random items they give you.
    Likewise, my mom doesn’t have access to a CSA or even a farmers market but if she did she could never afford it.

    @#13 –
    I think you’re missing the point. Two chicken breasts (thighs, drumsticks whatever) are only going to make two servings while five boxes of hamburger helper are going to provide enough food for 10-20 servings. When you’re poor and hungry you have to eat whatever is available.

    @#23 –
    I realize you’re kidding but I want to make it clear that I do help my mom as much as I can. I live in another state and we both have cancer among other things so most of my money goes to medical bills. Before the cancer I was sending my mom food each month along with money and buying her school supplies for college but right now I can barely afford to buy food for myself.

    I think what I want to get across here is that I grew up poor and was often hungry. There was one month where we had nothing to eat but one potato a day. When you grow up like that you learn quick how hard it is to survive on a small income. I did a lot of the shopping as a kid because my mom was sick so I learned to be very careful to get the best deals and stretch the money as far as it would go. My mom did the best she could and is a hard worker when she’s able to work but we still suffered a great deal. It’s easy to talk about how cheap it is to eat healthy when you don’t have to worry about money but my mom makes less than 10k a year, goes to college, does charitable work in the community, takes care of a family and amazingly never complains. How many of us could do that? Next time you go grocery shopping ask yourself what you could buy with $250 in foodstamps to feed a family of three for a month without buying junk. My guess is you’re going to be buying a lot of rice, pasta, cereal, bread, frozen pizzas.

  38. I often think of how long it took my earn the money before I spend it, I call it my work/spend ratio.

    It takes me about 40 minutes to earn the cost of a cinema ticket for a (say) 2 hour movie = good work/spend ratio.

    It can take me about the same time to earn the cost of a bowling game which will last about 15 minutes = bad work/spend ratio.

    Certainly not a bad metric, but it falls apart once you realize that not every minute of recreation was created equally.

    For example, a month of an MMO subscription is usually less expensive than a movie ticket, but the enjoyment-per-minute you get from a good movie is usually greater than the enjoyment-per-minute you’ll probably get in WoW

  39. So buy them with skin. It’s cheaper and you just take it off yourself

    Or you could just eat the chicken with the skin on. You could even roast a whole chicken smothered in garlic and herbs and stuffed with lemons, then pick every little morsel of deliciousness off the bones. Or if you’re lazy, you could buy a rotisserie chicken for ~ $6 at the grocery store. I get five to seven meals out of one and it tastes much better than one of those slabs of cardboard calling itself a boneless, skinless chicken breast.

    If I keep my eye out for the sales, I can get boneless pork loin roast for $1.99 a pound. I buy a big one, slice it into chops and freeze them in pairs to cook later. I usually eat a half a good-sized pork chop at a sitting, which works out to less than 50¢ for the meat portion.

    Fruit and vegetables are usually more expensive than quality meat. Apples. which have minimal nutritional value, might be cheap, but fruits like berries, which are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, are expensive. Fortunately, something’s always on sale. Blueberries, which are usually $3.99 for an 18 oz package, were marked down to $1.99 last week, so I bought several packages and froze all but one. If you go with a grocery list, you’re screwed. You have to shop opportunistically. Take your hunter-gatherer skills to the supermarket.

  40. First of all, in Mexico City, as someone else mentioned here, a Big Mac is “rich people food” and costs a hell of a lot more than a street taco, which is infinitely tastier. So I’m not sure what this index is indexing, exactly.

    Second, #45 is right in that shitty food is cheaper than whole foods, because shitty food is made with subsidized ingredients like corn and soy… but there still are many healthier alternatives that cost less than non-healthy alternatives, like beans and so on. Our society does NOT make it easy to be poor, that’s for sure, but most Americans can eat healthier than they do without spending more money- they just need to pay attention, that’s all. (This is not a criticism of #45- I’m speaking about most americans in general, who are ridiculously unhealthy and could do something about it.)

    I’m part of a great CSA in New York City, and I’m in charge of our subsidy program, where we pay half the cost of a CSA membership for a certain number of people who qualify. It’s not a huge number, but it’s still giving a small bunch of people in our neighborhood the opportunity to eat much better, supported by donations from the rest of the membership. It’s not socialism, it’s not communism, it’s not any “ism” other than people giving a shit about each other and helping each other out for the common good.

    If you don’t have a CSA in your area, I highly recommend starting one- all you need is a nearby farm, and these days, most farmers would jump at the chance that the steady income from a CSA would provide them. You don’t need anything other than a large enough group of people who want to eat better and don’t feel like shopping at freakin’ Whole Foods. CSA’s make sense in so many ways- they’re a way OUT of our economic mess, they’re a way OUT of our terrible health mess, they’re a way OUT of our environmental mess… they promote working together, knowing your neighbors, blah blah blah….

  41. #45
    As for room, well, you have me there. I DID splurge the $250.00 the first year and get a freezer. There’s always freecycle…. But as for the cost, Like I said, it works down to 14.00 bucks a week. In the summer, we hardly need to shop at all, except for staples. So I’m saving a TON of money from a standard grocery store.

    As for not having the money all at once, lots of CSA’s have work/share programs, pay in installment plans, etc.

    #32
    As for taste, there were lots of foods I didn’t like either before I joined the CSA. Greens, especially. But the taste of a squash that someone has picked that day is 1000 times better than the ones that are bought in the store, and our CSA has a recipie share too, where we share recipies when we are stumped or need inspiration.

    It’s also worked really well with my son, who is three, because he gets to see *where vegetables come from.* If I just threw greens on his plate, they would be yucky, but I can say, “These we grown at the farm! We went and picked them out, remember?” and suddenly he’s eating beets and kohlrabi and kale…

  42. @52 Jabejo- This confuses me– if you sat someone down in front of a meal of, say, roast chicken, greens, sweet potatoes, beets, and maybe some carrots that totalled the same number of calories as the big mac, they wouldn’t start conceptualizing it in terms of “Oh my god– I must purge this meal from my system with sweat and suffering!”, they’d say “600 calories. Decent lunch”. Even if you had them go grill a hamburger of their own that totalled six hundred calories they wouldn’t think of it as some sort of pariah food that must be expunged.

    What makes people think of some food in terms of: “Six hundred calories, and I get 2000 a day…so 1400 to go” and others “Oh, no, I’ve got to exercise this away!”

  43. Next time you go grocery shopping ask yourself what you could buy with $250 in foodstamps to feed a family of three for a month without buying junk. My guess is you’re going to be buying a lot of rice, pasta, cereal, bread, frozen pizzas.

    That’s more a lazyness issue than budgeting. Frozen pizza’s are a terrible value compared with buying the raw dough yourself (assuming you don’t have time to make it from scratch most supermarkets sell it in bags) and making pizzza yourself. Now if you had said Ramen on the other hand you’d have a point…

  44. I know it takes me about a fortnight to earn enough to consider an omlette in Geneva. Thank goodness I live in London…

  45. @52 Oh, Im SOOO making that this weekend.

    Incidentally, there are also a LOT of cheap/good recipies on Instructables, of all places! This:
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Roasted-Tomatoes/

    Being one of my favorite last year when we got 20 plus pounds of tomatoes from the CSA 4 weeks in a row.

    @14 Also, I chafe at this being seen as a “class” issue. McDonalds isn’t food for the working class. It’s corporate fast food. The diner in my town is a working class place and it serves better food.

    People my husband work with said, “Oh, you guys will stop doing that organic thing once you have kids and need to buy cheap fast food.” On the contrary; I’m more committed to my son’s health than my own.

  46. I’d like to see other US cities on the list that are not large metro areas. Flint MI or some other random middle class city.

  47. Happy to say that I live in Chicago and have never had a Big Mac. Hell, for the price I could get a few amazing local tacos anyway.

  48. Another thread with no love for the clown. No one’s forcing you people to eat at McDonald’s, so would you mind leaving the hell alone those of us who choose to do so? We get it, you’re hipper than we are. Go find something new to be indignant at.

    Here’s my McDonald’s story:

    I was in Rome with a group of friends, when we passed a McDonald’s. On a lark we decided to get a taste of home, and ducked in for lunch. As you’d expect, the place had plenty of touristy midwesterners, but there were also Italians there. And Frenchmen. And Koreans, and Japanese. The place was packed.

    You see, the entire world eats at McDonald’s.

    What’s more, everyone was talking to the other groups, something you pretty much never see in tourist locales. The most common topic I eavesdropped on was “what’s on the menu in your country?” No matter how foreign someone might otherwise appear, he’s still eating at McDonald’s, after all. It was a tiny little slice of honest to god world peace.

    There’s no end of good things to be said for local culture, for local cuisines and customs, the loss of any of which makes the entire world poorer. But it is important not to be so zealous in the defense of local uniqueness that we overlook the benefits of global commonality. Every restaurant should not be a McDonald’s, but McDonald’s has a place as well.

    McDonald’s as a company is far from perfect. Its food, though considerably better than you give it credit for, isn’t perfect either. But it brings together people the world over to eat at a common table. Anything that can strike up a friendly conversation between a Japanese businessman and housewife from Topeka cannot, to my mind, be such a bad thing.

    1. No one’s forcing you people to eat at McDonald’s, so would you mind leaving the hell alone those of us who choose to do so?

      You’re wrong, evil and bad and need to be reminded of it at every opportunity. This is the internet.

  49. my son worked at MacDonalds as a teenager

    DO NOT eat anything from MacDonald’s

    or anything from Mr Kipling

  50. I’ve eaten a Big Mac in Johannesburg, and I can tell you that Big Mac tasted nothing like the Big Mac that I had in Chicago. “Basting sauce” is their code word for barbecue, and it’s on all of their burgers.

  51. Yeah, but in some places Big Macs and Whoppers are hella expensive. Was in Zurich recently and a Whopper value meal was about $12 a regular grande starbucks coffe was about $6.50. Then went to Germany and a Big Mac sandwich was about $4.50.

  52. As Joe #23 pointed out, using the “average” or mean wage is different from using the median. However there’s also a misleading “average” of the countries involved.

    Perhaps that, too, should be about the median human — which would put the average time to earn a Big Mac much more to the Nairobi end of the chart than Chicago.

    Even someone on a US “minimum wage” is still earning more than most of the people on the planet.

  53. Metlin asked:

    Not even a single data point from India?

    Hamburgers in India? Are they that popular?

    There appears to be a hidden variable in the chart – Avg. local wages for a big mac, but at what cost for the big mac in each location? As many others have noted, in some places big macs are quite expensive. here in the Jolly Old US of A, you can get a couple Big Macs for an hour of minimum wage ($7.25/hr, with a few exceptions) work how are they pricing the local Big Macs? I think they shouls have listed the price along with the city…

    For those interested, a link to an article on the Big Mac Index from the Economist ( the source fo the original article)

  54. [Quote]There appears to be a hidden variable in the chart – Avg. local wages for a big mac, but at what cost for the big mac in each location? As many others have noted, in some places big macs are quite expensive. here in the Jolly Old US of A, you can get a couple Big Macs for an hour of minimum wage ($7.25/hr, with a few exceptions) work how are they pricing the local Big Macs? I think they shouls have listed the price along with the city…[/Quote]

    I don’t think it’s really ‘hidden’ they have just taken the prices from their regular Big Mac index

    http://www.oanda.com/products/bigmac/bigmac.shtml

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