Diary of an Expat, Part 77
Carification
So, okay.

The weather has briefly taken a turn for the kindly. It should be twenty degrees tomorrow, or so. I've been biking again, which I suppose is as good enough of a cause as any to remind you all that if I stop posting it's because I'm dead.

Biking is a good way to remind myself of why I hate cars, though, so I suppose there's that. For example, one very good way to kill me is to change lanes in front of me. Another is to try to pass me, decide against it, and merge back into my lane in such a way as to force me off the road. The best way so far, of course, is to not watch before you open your car door :D

Fortunately I made it through that one okay, although this should serve as a general reminder that, hey, look before you open your bloody door.

I had to drive when I was back in Boston, and that was a terrifying experience. It's really amazing what eighteen months out of that culture will do. In general when I'm back in the States I get around via public transit and occasional taxi; in Boston this wasn't feasible, because even back east car culture is relatively pervasive.

I know I have some non-Americans who read this, so for that I will clarify that car culture is big in America, and (speaking as a social libertarian who believes you should have the right to do what you want) it is so deeply ingrained that its reversal is only now coming to pass. It's in the US where car people combine the worst of gun people and smokers. Like rabid Second Amendment types they have convinced themselves that their "right" to own a car is based on immutable need instead of personal preference, and like smokers they are willing to fuck the rest of us over because, hey, tragedy of the commons.1

The Germans make a lot of cars, so it's a little more common to own one here than it might otherwise be, although I think most people in the Berlin city center don't. This is a mixed blessing; as a city becomes increasingly carless, it imposes additional demands on its drivers (over ability to watch for pedestrians and cyclists, chiefly) even as the number of people regularly exposed to those demands declines. Maybe it's out of towners who are parking in the bike lane and opening their doors without looking.

Still, it's worth it. It hasn't quite become comfortable to bike, but I spent a few hours kicking around Prenzlauerberg Friday and it seemed alright, if a little windy. I'll try to get up to the Weissensee soon. This is really Berlin's time of the year — Spring in Berlin is absolutely the best season. We've had a very long winter. Essentially it was six months of intermittent snow, and it's something that I'm a little worried may translate into an equally extreme summer.

In other news, I speak German well enough to generally get by, particularly if I can pick out individual nouns or verbs that make sense. However, my German is just poor enough to continually let me down. You don't realize how impotent you really are until you realize not only that you don't know what's going on, but that you don't know how to find out what's going on.

I ordered something off Amazon from a third party. It arrived; the box was empty. I wrote back through Amazon's dispute resolution system, saying basically: "What the hell?" They wrote back: "Well, can you check the box again just to make sure?" The item's weight is 2kg; the shipping label read ".5kg," so, no. Something went wrong in the warehouse.

Then the seller disappeared, and I had no idea how to contact them. I had no idea if it was a problem with the Amazon communication system, or with something I had said, or failed to say. I had no idea how to appeal this, or to resubmit the request, or communicate in any fashion. It is a curious kind of powerlessness, to be both dumb and deaf.

As it turned out, the company was just doing an internal checking process and, I suppose, all's well that ends well. But it continues to be a nagging issue that when things hit the fan, my German isn't quite there, and it's only a matter of time I suspect until I run into a more serious problem. That will make for an interesting diary.

1. I have no problem with gun owners and I have no problem with car owners; I've been both. For that matter, I don't have a problem with smokers. But, since this is something that's relatively new to me: you don't "need" a car any more than you "need" a handgun to "defend yourself." You choose to live a life that is automobilified. Since, as I have covered in a previous essay, people who live in car-unfriendly cities and who therefore do not have cars have a higher quality of life and standard of living, the issue is to address the root cause, which is the decay of many American cities such that they aren't places people desire to live in.
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