On a warm day in May I went to the airport in Berlin to meet James for the first time in real life. I was really looking forward to it but I was also a bit stressed.
I arrived to the terminal about twenty minutes before his supposed landing and was pacing the terminal frantically looking at the arrivals screen for the updates on his flight.
Finally, the screen showed that his flight had landed. Now it would be only minutes till the slide doors open and James walks out.
After some more waiting the slide doors opened and a group of travelers with their luggage walked out. I looked inside the terminal, in case I’d be able to see James before the slide doors closed again.
Some more waiting and finally, there he was. James was wearing a blue classy shirt and sneakers.
And the jeans, of course.
He paused in the middle, scanning the room for me. Our eyes met and he walked towards me.
I smiled and he smiled back. I don’t remember what all was said in those first few minutes. But James was certainly dominating the conversation, knowing him. And it was super awkward.
The first culture shock for James came when we walked out the airport. In the US cars are the main transportation method. In Germany public transportation and bikes (depending on the city) are much more popular.
So we got James a ticket for public transportation and got on the bus. Another thing that struck him as odd was when older German ladies started saying something to him in German and pointing at him.
Apparently, James was standing on the yellow line inside the bus, preventing the doors from closing. After a few bus stops, the Germans got frustrated and just bluntly, in English, told him to move from the door. James was in a bit of the culture shock, as he was not used to the German directness.
I guess I was too consumed in my own thoughts and feelings to help James with the translation at the time.
My thoughts went something like this: “I can’t believe this is really happening. James is actually here. And I am stuck with him for the next ten days!”
We arrived to the Zoologischer Garten train station in Berlin and took a regional train from there to the outskirts of the city. The train was nothing like James ever saw before. It had two stories, was a shiny red color, and moved really fast.
“So you take this train every day to go to your university?” He wondered.
“Cool!” he said, being really fascinated by the train.
Little did he know that about two years from then he would be living in Germany and taking the same train to work every morning and every evening, just dreaming about being able to use a car again and not having to commute like this.
The German couple I lived with picked us up from the train station with their car, so we wouldn’t have to drag the luggage down the sidewalks of the small city.
Cars are pretty much used for when someone is traveling, picking up groceries, or for the elderly unable to walk long distances. In all the other cases people typically just use public transportation. And it is not uncommon to see a grandma riding a bike up the hill.
James only knew a few words in German at the time, so one would think he wouldn’t be able to communicate much with Ursula and Klaus, the older couple that picked us up.
Well, I was wrong. James was such an entertaining person and had this ability to use his hands to speak, that he could even communicate with someone in a language he did not know.
After getting the luggage out of the car and leaving it at Klaus and Ursula’s for the time being, we decided to go for a walk.
James’ visit coincided with the yearly festival held in the small town at the time. As we were walking though the quaint 700-year-old town, the small streets that are usually empty, were now filled with crowds of visitors for the festival.
The whole walk James talked.
Until I mentioned to him that it’s okay to have some silence too. Silence is not necessarily awkward, especially if you are both busy with an activity such as walking and looking around.
There were places selling different candies and juices for the festival as well as other German foods like bratwurst.
James wondered if I would like a juice or something. That was kind of him and under usual circumstances I would have said yes. But considering how hard I had worked for the past weeks on staying away from sugars to get my skin cleared up, I really didn’t want to risk it now. I already came that far.
So every time James wanted to get me something, I said no, since it contained sugar. We came back home and after having a meal with Ursula and Klaus, I pulled out some chocolate pudding out the fridge.
James was really excited about the chocolate pudding, but I could tell his excitement went down when he got a taste of it. The pudding had no sugar. I may have put a little bit of stevia in it, but it still was not very sweet. He was still very complimentary though.
I on the contrary, really enjoyed my pudding since I was used to not having much sugar at the time. To me it tasted pretty good.
But it must have been a culture shock for James, as American culture usually includes much more sugar in its desserts.
That evening we also watched a movie together for the first time. That’s something that normal couples do, right?
I don’t remember what we watched, but it was probably something of my choice, knowing that James would go with whatever I wanted at the time.
And that was James’ first day in Germany.