the first moments in a new place…
So, I don’t speak German. Perhaps I should start there. Like, I don’t speak any.
Which constitutes quite a big change, in itself, from living in Italy previously, apart from all the cultural differences. I hadn’t realized I guess how much I had adjusted to Italian culture, even though it still felt “foreign” to me and I don’t think I changed myself to fit into it, necessarily. But you get used to being able to understand the other people on the bus, what people are complaining about and why, that this or that gesture means someone is speaking ironically.
To go from that back to square one, “terra incognita,” is quite a difference. Yet at the same time, there are many more people here speaking English everywhere, and not just tourists, but a large expatriate community. There are also lots of people speaking Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish, on the street. There are a lot of little subtle things that remind me of New York, probably exactly because we have had such a German influence in the past. So these things feel familiar, though they are a slightly different version always.
Main-hattan, or so they sometimes jokingly call the skyline of Frankfurt-Am-Main
A simplistic, but quickly visible example is the street food. Most of what we consider “American food” actually has German origins of course: hot dogs, hamburgers, the big NY pretzels they sell on street corners from little carts. Here in Germany the pretzels are a slightly different shape and consistency, and you can get them not just with big chunks of sea salt, but poppy or sesame seeds as well. Hot dogs come in a variety of different types, sizes, shapes (the extra-long skinny ones are folded in half when served in a bun) and are tucked into a rounder, smaller bun. The overall culture of street foot is familiar though — it’s acceptable, whereas in Italy and Spain it’s usually considered rude to be eating on the street, unless it’s gelato, or in some cases pizza al taglio, folded and served like a sandwich to be taken on the go. I think even this is a recent adaptation however.
Anyway, the first few days in a new place, I find myself cataloguing mentally all these little things, some of them trivial, superficial, others which become the clues to interesting, relevant cultural differences. It’s tiring, the first few weeks, just being somewhere foreign. “Like how standing in a museum is exhausting, even though you’re not really doing anything,” my mom described it. There’s so much input, sights and sounds and your own memories and associations coming back, and just taking it in can be like a job.
Nevermind looking for an apartment in a country where you don’t speak the language, hoping to find other young foreigners with whom you’ll at least be able to communicate. At least there’s one concrete worry ticked off the list, when your work visa is finally officially approved, and it’s just a matter of continuing to wait while it’s sent here and then there and then back again.
But the great thing about getting started in a new place, is how it’s actually sort of simple — just taking it one day at a time. A clear head, a beginning.