Practical city living #13: U-Bahn versus NYC subway

U-Bahn with Jordan

In Berlin the week before last, my friend Jessa mentioned that people on public transit there are completely okay with staring. It’s not just fine to stare, she said; it’s expected. If you don’t look at people, you’re the weird one.

For me, longtime rider of the New York City subway that I am, this idea was hard to wrap the mind around. Even making eye contact more than once on the train here is practically an aggressive act.

On the U-Bahn with her the next day, I remembered what she said, but couldn’t bring myself to look around at fellow passengers long enough to confirm it. It felt too intrusive. I kept glancing away.

“Oh, but they were staring at you,” she told me, when I mentioned this later.

“So what do people think when a New Yorker stares at the floor?” I asked her. “Are they just like, oh, she’s not from here?”

“No.” She smiled the excellent smile she breaks into when appreciating the unintentionally ironic. “They think you’re evasive,” she said, and recommended sunglasses.

I followed her advice. Max snapped this shot of my sort-of-but-not-really brother Jordan and me riding the U-Bahn to Karl-Marx-Allee. As Anna Wiener said when she recommended we stroll along it, “the changes in architecture so starkly reflect the political shifts in Berlin’s history, and it’s wild to imagine people moving into this showpiece promenade.” It was my favorite walk in Berlin.

Prior practical city living posts are here.


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