Along with tap water and free toilets, before this trip, I didn’t appreciate how in America, you can pay to eat any fruit you want any time of year. But in Sofia, Istanbul and Berlin, there is only seasonal fruit. In Bulgaria, my friend was canning cherries before I came, and in Germany, white asparagus season, which I missed, is a big deal because when it’s over, there’s no more white asparagus.
Out of season fruit and vegetables don’t add much to my life. Generally, people in Sofia, Istanbul and Berlin seem to enjoy the same conveniences, save for nectarines in the winter, that Americans have, like indoor plumbing, the internet and fashion scarves. And since individuals have less money in those places, there are less private cars, and more public infrastructure. There was no need for a car in any of the places I visited, which to me is the ultimate amenity of living in New York.
In the case of Berlin, there is some pride that basic luxuries come cheap. The city’s unofficial slogan is “poor, but sexy.” And Berlin, which was sexy to me, is kind of broke. It’s possible to live very well on a bad job in Berlin, but there are few good jobs to be had. This is especially true for people without EU passports. I met a few ex-ex-pats whose hearts belong to Berlin, but whose wallets demand they work elsewhere. But still, it wasn’t like people in Berlin had bad teeth, which was sometimes the case in Sofia and Istanbul. (Also, isn’t it funny how if you have good teeth, no one thinks you’re rich, but having bad teeth means you’re poor?)
Back to the title of this post, which is a play on the “Square. Practical. Good.“ slogan of Ritter Sport, a German chocolate bar which can be found out of season at many New York bodegas. An ex-pat friend said that slogan is so German: direct, not exactly wrong, and without the same kind of consumer wish fulfillment that is so common in American ads. She also says Germans identify themselves less with the products they own. And like buying fruit only when it’s in season, that seems practical and good.