Diary of an Expat, Part 82
Food? London? Biking!
I spent the first part of this week in London — a city I am, to be honest, neither fashionable nor thin enough to inhabit comfortably. Still, it was a refreshing change. Literally, in the sense that it rained, so I kind of had a mobile shower thing going on.

I've said in the past that I don't care for London all that much, and this didn't do a whole lot to change my opinion of the city. It is, in parts, staggeringly lovely. I walked from Paddington Station up to Holborn along Oxford Street, with a detour through Hyde Park, and I could absolutely, one hundred percent understand why tourists would fall in love with the city.

I don't mean this as a slight. The reality is I don't know why Londoners like London. I would guess it has something to do with the cosmopolitanism of the city; its culture, its status as a world city, a melting pot of hundreds of different cultures. I don't know, because I don't live there.

The things that make tourists love a place and the things that make residents love it are very often completely different. A sense of history and the Berliner Fernsehturm are not why I love Berlin. Conversely, the last time I tried to show someone the city it involved meandering forays through parks and shops and farmer's markets, which is probably not what you come from another country to visit.

I mean, maybe.

Anyway, London was alright. I didn't take the Tube, and I admit that I find the Tube inferior to the Berliner U-Bahn in essentially every way. It's hot, and cramped, and too far underground. Besides, London is a great city to walk in. That's a mark of city greatness, as far as I'm concerned. Public transportation is a must, and half a point below that is walkability. Then taxi service, which of course London delivers in spades.

I'm going to spend the rest of this talking about two things, one of which I view as a problem with America and one that just gets my goat here in Germany.

I've been following @WorriedCyclist on Twitter. Worried Cyclist mostly exists to retweet and call attention to the stupid, aggressive things that drivers say about cyclists. "Get the fuck off the road," for example, or "the roads are for cars." Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is an American phenomenon. American, too, is the phenomenon of expressing a desire to run over bikes.

I know this is fictitious, in the sense that people do not really want to do that. But it's troubling in the same way that lighthearted jokes about prison rape are troubling. From their low point in 2009, pedestrian deaths (concurrent with a rise in alternative transportation) increased 4% year on year in 2010 and 2011. Cyclist deaths were up 9% from 2010 to 2011.

Much of this is because American cities are still designed around cars, and this design has allowed drivers to become complacent. Car-friendly city designs aren't good for the rest of us: they fragment cities and lead to greater numbers of non-car fatalities, since cars (and drivers) have a way of winning the physics of their arguments.

Caution is, or ought to be, the watchword of the day. One reason why removing street signs and markings, and reducing visibility, tends to be safer for all involved is because it forces drivers to be more alert, which in turn keeps them from driving into things. It also keeps them paying attention to things like sidewalks, where pedestrians tend to lurk.

But not cyclists. The reason why cyclists are not riding on the sidewalk is, of course, because it's illegal to do so in many jurisdictions, and illegal to ride on the street in none. They are also riding on the street because as vehicles that is where they belong (cyclist - pedestrian collisions are not as deadly as car - pedestrian collisions, but they're still to be avoided: sidewalks are for pedestrians and storefronts).

I do not feel unsafe biking in Berlin, chiefly because this is understood. I spent today biking in full-on traffic, in the rain, on both major thoroughfares and sidestreets. The only time I felt even mildly unsafe is when I had to swerve around a car that suddenly decided to stop and unload in a traffic lane. But I knew that if I signaled, the other cars would be watching for my intentions and letting me in.

There is sort of a give and take. I do believe that it is, therefore, a given that cyclists and pedestrians should also obey traffic laws. I have no problem at all with the mayor of Chicago wanting to increase fines for traffic violations on the part of cyclists. That said, I don't have a whole lot of patience for the kvetching about bikes crossing on red, etc. because it's rationalisation.

You don't get to pick and choose which traffic laws you obey (like the ones about sharing the road with cyclists) because other people aren't obeying other ones. And you don't get to be held to the same standard, because as a cyclist I'm not choosing to cart my ass around in 250,000 joules of kinetic energy.

Anyway, advantage: Germany. I'm a little ticked about this, because watching Worried Cyclist's RTs makes me cranky.

I really wish I could get good pizza here, though. I saw an ad spread across two tramcars today for delivery currywurst, which is an interesting concept, but I'm really a bit more enthusiastic about the pizza. I haven't had good pizza in... well. Actually, the last time I was in Chicago, but in general it's tough (anyway that's still six months).

I ordered delivery pizza here, and discovered a few things. First of all, it's not terrible. I'd say Pizza Hut on a bad day level. For delivery, about par for the course. Second of all, it's very cheap. I'm not sure if you're supposed to tip the delivery person, but I tip everyone because I'm an American so it's irrelevant. It still came out to like 13. That's not bad.

But if I wanted really good American pizza there's no great option. It's not the kind of thing you can make yourself. I didn't develop a hankering for it until just a few hours ago, and then I started jonesing pretty hardcore. This is one of the things about being an expatriate, is that you find yourself bashing your head into problems like that sometimes :( Patxi's, why do you have to be all the way in San Francisco?

Advantage: America. Advantage America all over for food. Grumble grumble. I've been buying different kinds of berries every other day or so, waiting to see which ones are doing well. Blueberries and raspberries so far, but the Oregon berry farm where I spent my summers as a kid seems even further away than Patxi's does.
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