March 26, 2016
these city streets
A friend of mine was assaulted in SF today. She was on her way to work when it happened; she accidentally caught the eye of the woman who punched her in the chest. It’s hard to comfort people over such a distance, even with our massive array of modern communication tools, and I felt at a loss trying to console her.
I remember discussing with friends our tactics for walking around at night in SF - the streets to avoid, the parks we refused to enter by foot. It all felt very normal.
But I’m in Berlin now, a city that replaces San Francisco’s Victorian houses and rolling hills with graffiti and quasi-brutalist buildings. Berlin will likely never be as picturesque as San Francisco, but there’s more to a city than its skyline. In the San Francisco I choose to remember, the fog rolls out casually from behind the trees, coaxing half-asleep parents with small children into their cars and a motley crew of commuters out to the tram stop. It’s all rather serene.
But there’s another San Francisco lurking just around the corner, and this one has human feces staining the block, an overburdened metro system, and tents in place of actual housing. It’s this SF that makes me astounded when Berliners complain about an eight minute wait for the U-Bahn. It’s this SF that confuses me when buses in Berlin rarely have angry people rambling to themselves in the corner, when no one hounds me if I don’t hand over my change, and certainly not with racially charged epithets.
I feel safe walking the streets here. Even at 3am, I don’t feel the need to keep my guard up the way I did in SF, and I don’t think this is merely the effect of moving to an unfamiliar place.
A few weeks ago I was talking to my former roommate about implementing a minimum income in Germany, something that’s already in the works in Sweden. We got to talking about the importance of social welfare and the consequences in a society without an adequate safety net. He said that before he’d gone to San Francisco, he too had his complaints about people who were content just to live off government assistance. But after seeing SF, he was suddenly very grateful for the social safety net provided by the German government.
San Francisco was like a surreal experiment to him, a stark warning of what could be.
On a more light-hearted note, this quote (from a pop song) came up in conversation the other day: “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” I thought about it some more and couldn’t stop laughing. Who wants to sleep with someone when they’re not even on tutoyer terms? If you haven’t even progressed to casual ‘you’, that should be step number one - non mais serieusement, tu peux me tutoyer!
Unless this is a plural ‘you’ we’re talking about… ¯_(ツ)_/¯