Janus and my habiliments / by mrm

I remember reading years ago (but where?) that often when relationships don't work out, those involved cite as the cause the very qualities that drew them to their partner in the first place. Thus, he's so organized becomes he's rigid and can't be spontaneous; she's in touch with her inner child turns into she's immature. I think there's something of this love/hate duality with travel to and life in a foreign country as well. Many of the things which are exciting - a new language! foreign customs! a different style of daily life! - have as their other half something daunting, confusing, or frustrating - I don't speak the language! I don't know the customs! all the &^*$ing stores are closed on Sundays! The sizes of things change: pants, shoes, bras. There are tetrapaks everywhere. Muffins are available but tasteless. Sourdough is gone. Cheddar is rare.

Not to mention the question of where to buy things. For a USAmerican, this is pretty much always a problem. In the States, you can buy almost anything you need almost anywhere you go. The question is not where must I go to buy vitamins, duck tape, tomatoes, hand lotion, blank CDs, or underwear, but to which of the many, many stores, all nearby, which probably carry all of the aforementioned items and more would I like to go? For although I have never purchased underwear at say, Safeway, I would be enormously surprised if it couldn't be found there. The difficult things, however, are not the day-to-day necessities (toilet paper, stamps, carrots, socks), which can be found using pretty much the same logic you would use in the U.S.: toilet paper = drug store, stamps = post office, carrots = grocery store, socks = clothing store (and in Germany, also at the drug store! There's a more than slight U.S. influence here). What is a challenge are the various and sundries, the things you might need to buy only once or twice, but which you really do need. One more or less eternal difficulty:

Clothes hangers.

When I lived in Florence, my bedroom had a closet. It contained about five hangers. No problem, I thought, I'll just go buy some more. Yet after days of searching, they were not to be found in a drug store (which they don't really have in the U.S. sense in Florence anyway, they only have pharmacies), a grocery store (of course not! you can't eat them!), or any of the other odds-and-endsy type stores I investigated. In the end, in despair, I entered a small electrical shop. Just off the main square, it sold fancy designer lamps and lighting fixtures. I asked them if they knew where I could buy clothes hangers. They did not. But then man asked me to wait a moment. He climbed a ladder up to the attic of the store, and brought down some wire hangers, which he sold to me for a reasonable price. In my nine months in Florence, this was the only time I encountered hangers for sale.

In Krakow, I'm not sure if I ever succeeded in locating them (a special note to Kasia: I'm sure they are available in a perfectly logical place; however, herein lies the core of my problem: it seems to me that logic is not always cross-cultural, and that these things do not always translate across borders. Logic seems to be local, it seems to have a language. I often fail to speak or understand it). Luckily it didn't matter, because my boss at work was kind enough to give me some.

Here in Munich I encountered them accidentally. I was at a used furniture store, which perhaps would be better described as the used furniture store, and saw a box of used hangers for sale. At the time, I didn't have a closet. Now that I have succeeded in purchasing a lovely, wonderfully cheap and blissfully lightweight (my apartment is on the third floor, no elevator) clothes rack, I think I will go get some.

I have no intention of arguing that the U.S. style of one-stop-shopping to which I am accustomed is superior, or even preferable, to the multi-stop many-shop structure more common elsewhere. I don't necessarily think that this is at all the case. If anything, perhaps it has weakened our social survival skills, and limited our ability to reason by extension. In the urban jungles of Europe, we United Statesians are not the tigers. In our confusion and genial awkwardness, we may well be capybaras.