Friday, November 05, 2004


Well, that certainly was a crappy birthday present, people!

I actually achieved a sort of Zen-like above-it-all feeling after I mailed my absentee ballot off, and stopped reading polls and following any campaign news. What would happen would happen, and I'm afraid it did.

The immediate results for me are that it's probably going to be a lot more dangerous to be identified as an American in a lot of places over here, because Bush's mistaking another squeaker for a mandate will mean that his crew of fundamentalist lunatics will almost certainly be pushing for an invasion of Iran or Syria within the next few weeks, and there will be angry Arabs and other Muslims around who have had their suspicions that Christian America is on another Crusade to eliminate them from the earth confirmed by over 50% of the American electorate. My long-held dream of moving to Southern France, in other words, becomes more perilous. At least in Berlin most Muslims are Turks, and they're not as likely to be poorly-educated products of madrassas. Algerians and Moroccans, on the other hand...

The dollar, also, will probably continue to sink as the debt piles up. I noticed this morning that the Euro has now climbed up to $1.286, and I predict it'll break $1.30 by the end of the year. Given that I work mostly for dollars, this is catastrophic. My €504.30 rent now costs me $648.33, which is pretty awful considering that when I moved here it was less than the same number of dollars. The rent hasn't changed, either.

This, of course, is the point in the post-election cycle where people start talking darkly about wanting to leave the country, and my guess is I'm going to be hosing a lot of them down with reality. Most of the people I've seen talking about it don't even speak another language, and seem to think that Canada or England will welcome them. Canada has an on-line test you can take, and I know I failed it, even with a knowledge of French, although just for the sake of fun, maybe I should take it again now that the passing grade's been lowered. England is impossible. Just forget it unless you have such stellar qualifications that they'd be stupid not to take you. Others dream of New Zealand, probably having overdosed on Lord of the Rings and not considering the deep implications of the phrase "more sheep than people." Not to mention how extremely far away it is from, like, everything.

People also forget about the finances, and I would urge any potential expat of the moment to read those figures for the dollar versus the Euro again and consider how many currencies are tied to the Euro rather than to the dollar. It costs a lot to have your stuff shipped over here, especially if you don't want to wait a few months for some ship to tie up in Marseilles or Bremen and then offload it into a warehouse where it will be "inspected" by folks who'll help you on your quest for Nirvana by lessening the burdens of so many material possessions before sticking it on a truck that'll take its time. You'd also be surprised at how few people are willing to rent apartments and houses to foreigners who don't have jobs, especially when they don't speak the language. They're also shocked by the amount of taxes they're going to pay, not to mention the price of gasoline. But hey, it's an entertaining fantasy, and if you're serious about doing it, I'm always ready to offer counselling.

Anyway, election night I decided not to go to any of the election parties around town, which turned out to be a very good idea. The tension of the day prevented some of my well-intentioned friends from taking me out to dinner, which was also fine with me, because that's wound up with my learning where some of Berlin's worst eating establishments are. Last year's was a Cuban stand-up snack bar (Stehimbiss), and while the rice and beans were good, if someone had told me that the piece of pork I got with them was actually a piece of boiled wood, I would have believed them. So I stayed home and made Gong Bao Chicken, which was what I wanted.

But waking up the next day certainly was depressing once I started to read the news. Clearly, something has gone very wrong in the country I grew up in, and I spent Wednesday pretty much incapable of doing anything, although I do have two stories due early next week. I finally found the solution, and guys, ask the gals in your life if you need confirmation: shopping works as therapy.

I hit Lands End for a pair of gloves (they have a German store, although they almost backed out when the government here sued them for their money-back guarantee on the grounds that -- get this -- it stifled competition, because, you see, German stores might have to actually serve their customers a little better, and, as anyone who's endured German the-customer-is-always-wrong service knows, that would go against years of tradition), and then I took a bit from the bank and called a friend and went to Centro Italia, the Italian wholesale market. So now I've got enough pasta and olive oil to last me until the 2008 election, or close enough, and let's face it, I'm not living in America, and so I don't have to look at the faces of my fellow citizens and wonder which of them believes Al Qaeda lives in Iraq or that the economy's in great shape or that gay marriage trumped every other issue troubling the country. Or which among them are still ossified by the amorphous fear that's been cranked out to distract them from the horrors being perpetrated on them and in their names.

And so now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to open one of my Italian cookbooks (remember folks: you can never have too many Italian cookbooks or too many Duke Ellington records!) and get to work.


Shona said...

Re the New Zealand part - sometimes being far from everything is an advantage when there are "freedom fighters" on the loose. Plus, all the sheep keep us warm in winter. And if I had to choose between a sheep or Bush as my leader...well, let's not go there.

Ed Ward said...

As for all those jobs, how many of them are outside the service sector? How many of them pay a living wage?

And Shona, no intention to dis you Kiwis. But a lot of these people just don't understand -- as you and I do -- what a huge commitment it is to emigrate.

Euro's up to $1.297 as of the close on Friday. Eeep!