Cultural Reentry

(Originally published March 8th, 2010)

After an eight-hour layover, followed by a thirteen-hour flight, I arrived in Germany.  The flight was pleasant, much to the credit of prince Valium.  Eight hours of sleep and I was feeling relatively rested.  I zipped the pant legs on my shorts, brushed my teeth and ran my fingers through my hair.  I was ready.  After a very smooth, German type of landing and customs I venture out into the terminal.

I wasn’t ready.

The colors, the weather, and friendly people of South America were gone.  I looked outside the terminal and realized I had landed during an early-season snow. The days were also much shorter. The color black, from head to toe, looked like the only fashionable thing to wear. Most of the Germans were caught up in the piss-off, merry-fucking-Christmas attitude.  I couldn’t blame them. I knew it would be like that in the States, too.

I wandered around the airport. I wanted to confirm my future ticket to Kenya, but really didn’t want to stand in line at the Lufthansa gate for two hours. So I decided to brave the trains.  One very nice thing was that most Germans spoke some English, especially the younger ones.   All students were now required to study English, so their English would definitely be better than my German.  Another nice point was that even though many of the people I saw were grumpy– some quite rude–it usually wasn’t too difficult to get a little assistance in Germany when you needed it.

I changed some money, and with a little help used the right coins to get a one-way ticket into town. I actually got a train into Frankfurt.  As I ventured into the train station I again realized culture shock.  There were uptight, running-late people everywhere, and by the way they were dressed I decided they must all love Johnny Cash, the original man in black.  I didn’t have a guidebook for Europe, so I headed to the tourist information office.

What a pleasant surprise.

‘Do you speak English?’

‘Yes, of course.’

Ten minutes later I was walking out with specific directions to a hostel and the location of a travel agency. There was even an internet terminal just next door.  I thought how even though it was snowing in Germany, things were looking a little bit brighter.  I went to the internet terminal, checking to see if the girl I had left in Brazil had written.  She had, and I’m a sap.  My day was definitely looking brighter then.  I thought maybe later, after I got home, I would write about traveling and romance. I left the internet terminal ready for anything.

It was still snowing but it looked so much prettier than before. I negotiated the bus with no problem and arrived at the hostel. (I later named it the Gulag of Frankfurt).  The people there were instantly rude and aggressive. It didn’t bother me.  I got my bed, sharing a room with four other people.  I decided that a walk amidst the hurried Christmas shoppers in black was called for, then it would be off to early bed.

Two hours later an East German man of about fifty, who had become my newest roommate, had decided to have a late supper with the lights on. Each item of food was produced from a very cold, wrinkled, loud plastic bag. I was in that middle world where I was too tired to unlock my pack to find my ear plugs, yet too awake to get back to sleep.  I made a mental note not to ever need to get into anything in a plastic bag while others were sleeping, and to always pull the ear plugs out of my pack and set them next to the bed, just in case.  I realized just how much I missed the nice, private, cheap rooms I shared with my girl in South America.  I finally drifted off into the lovely land of dreams.

8:20 a.m. ”BREAKFAST WILL!”…I opened my eyes and found a skinny, 6 ‘5″ German guy two feet from my face,…”ONLY BE SERVED FOR ANOTHER 10 MINUTES. YOU MUST BE OUT OF THE HOSTEL IN 30 MINUTES!”‘

This guy obviously didn’t realize that I was still on South American time.  Also, it would have been nice if they had told me when I checked in that breakfast was served only during limited hours, and that everyone had to be out of the hostel from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm… oh well.

8:40 a.m. I took my time, got yelled at some more, and exchanged some ‘fuck yous’ with the lanky German as I came out of the shower. I was really feeling pretty good. I decided that since I was over my serene, South American attitude and back to a city persona it was time to take my well-tanned butt for a walk amongst the people in black.  I needed to take care of some errands. I started thinking of all the possibilities to exchange vulgarities with overly rude people and I smiled.  I needed to mail some stuff; photos, excess crap, and Christmas gifts.  (A good thing to remember about mailing from overseas is that it always costs a lot more than you think–the more remote the area the more expensive). For this reason I chose Germany to dump my stuff.  It was still very expensive but I knew it would be reliable.  I was glad I had thrown out or given away the majority of the shoebox’s worth of stuff I had originally intended to send home.

I enjoyed the next few days; doing laundry, shopping for shoes and wandering the streets, listening to Christmas carols in German and English.  A treat I discovered  was Gluvien,  a hot-spiced wine sold on the streets during the holiday season. Also, it was interesting to watch the people and see how similar a commercialized Christmas is in Germany, compared to the States.

I decided to move on to Switzerland and see if skiing was an option. I figured at the bare minimum it would be nice to ride a train through the black forest in winter and see Lake Lucerne.   I had opted against a Euro rail pass because I really didn’t know how long I wanted to stay in Europe.

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