My friend Michael is from Munich. His mother’s relations ended up on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and they hadn’t met in 50 years. When the wall came down, the Ossis piled into their Trabant to visit the long-lost family in the west. As they sputtered closer to Munich, they began to realize how shabby they looked compared to the sleek Bavarians. They grew ashamed of their communist-standard terylene pants and plastic shoes. A few miles from the house, Michael’s aunt called to his uncle in excitement. In the shop window, she saw a row of garments hanging in a circle with a price list more reasonable than they had dared hope. Trousers, 6 marks. Jackets, 7 marks. They went inside and asked to try on the clothes.
The man in the shop explained gently that it was a drycleaners.
Michael’s aunt cried with humiliation when she told the story a few days after arriving. I am reminded of her tears in Hoi An, where hand-tailored silk costs less than the price of laundering it in Manhattan.