Diary of an Expat, Part 9
Stranger in an even stranger land
This Diary is coming in a bit late because I have had a busy day. I went to a computer store, and successfully purchased computer parts. I went to a hardware store, and successfully purchased a Dremel tool (Dremel is, apparently, owned by Robert Bosch, GmbH, and was nicely easy to find at the Bauhaus on Hermannplatz).

But that is not what I want to talk about.

I don't have much to say about Germany this week, because I wasn't in Germany this week. I was in London, at Nokia World. That may or may not warrant a separate post — I had started to work one up, and then decided it was a little too aggressive, so, who knows.

I was excited about London, before I left — I've only ever been once before, also on business, about a year and a half ago. After two months in Berlin, I told a friend that I was looking forward to spending some time in a place where people spoke my language.

As it happens, I don't like London very much. At least, I don't like the London I was at — down in the Docklands area, a light year or two from anything interesting (unless you count off-license convenience stores that will provision you with liquor at any hour of the night).

It's a devilishly expensive city. I landed in London with 100 pounds. I ate dinner once. I had lunch twice. I bought some bottled water, a couple bottles of Diet Coke. I rode the subway a lot. I left with twenty-two pence.

After Berlin, it's also a city whose public transit comes as a bit of a shock. The Tube feels claustrophobic, and I had to transfer more than I would've liked. I'm sure it's something I would come to live with, but for the week I was there it was just aggravating.

The cabbies are overrated. I took several cabs, and in two of them the driver had to rely on his phone to find directions. In the first case, he blamed me for not telling him the nearest railway station, as though this was something I was supposed to know. I took a cab from my hotel to Heathrow, and literally spent 15 minutes more time in the cab than I did flying between London and Berlin.

But mostly, London is just a city that doesn't really appeal to me much. It's old, and there are certainly interesting sights along the waterfront. It has its share of nice museums. It has its share of entertainment, and I have to admit I do like the people.

If you had told me, two months ago, that there would be a time when a simple sign at an airport reading "Bundesrepublik Deutschland" might be the most beautiful sight in the world, I think I would've laughed at you.

Berlin is a city that has its foibles, and it's certainly not always easy to get by, but in the cab ride back from Tegel I found myself inordinately fond of all of it — the graffiti, the dangerous crush of bicyclists, the recreational horn-honking, the Fehrnesturm looming over all.

I am not sure when exactly this happened, but I am coming to feel less like a tourist here and more like a resident. I feel some sense of ownership, when people talk about Berlin, and when I hear about things happening in the city. I feel like I know where to get things done, and where to find things, and where to eat things, and how best to get around. I don't feel lost, anymore — yes, even if I don't speak the language all that well.

I said, when I started this enterprise, that I would try to avoid the starry-eyed idealism that plagues many expatriates, who fall so deeply in love with their new country that they are incapable of realising its flaws — or are so keen to distance themselves from where they came from that they simply don't mind.

I think I can still do that. Certainly, Berlin is not perfect; today on the train I had a very drunk man stumble into me, and then collapse, half-in and half-out of the U-Bahn car, until he was hauled away by the police. It was a curious welcoming.

So Berlin is a city that has its foibles. But, I am compelled to say, it is, now, the city that most feels like home.
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