Day 1 in a foreign land
I will always remember the exact moment I moved abroad. After leaving my family and packing my entire life into a suitcase, I landed in my new home. I wandered into the arrivals hall and was utterly overwhelmed. It was busy and bustling but there was nobody there. Nobody who had any interest in me whatsoever.
The whole world lay at my feet and I had no idea what to do with it. There were crowds of drivers with signs but my name was nowhere to be seen. Nobody was waiting for me. For the first time I was standing on my own two feet and it was terrifying.
Eventually I found my way to a taxi and arrived at the most budget of budget hotels right next to Frankfurt main station that would be my home for the next month. There was a double bed, a shower room with a transparent wall around it and air conditioning. There was no wardrobe and you had to pay for the TV and Wifi by the day. I had left myself exactly one day to get all my affairs in order before starting my new job. The first thing I had to do was get to the town hall to register myself as a citizen. I walked past all the questionable characters, the police car which appeared to be permanently stationed outside of my hotel and popped across the road to the central station. It was huge. There were 3 different levels, there were trains and S trains and U trains and trams and buses and coaches. I had no idea how any of these public transport systems worked. There was an information desk so I tried using some of my best German to ask for instructions. The friendly looking chap behind the glass screen and blurted out some very fast German which made no sense whatsoever. Like a true Brit I smiled, nodded, said thank you and walked away. I then had a look at the ticket machines. I pressed a few buttons and the screen seemed to be in English but that didn’t make much sense either. I then asked another member of the transport staff (this time in English) how to get to the address that I had written down. He then found the single ticket option on the ticket machine, told me that I needed the U8 underground and pointed at the stairs. 40 minutes later I had managed to print a ticket and get on the train to find that the journey took exactly 120 seconds and that I could have walked there in 10 minutes.
I arrived at the town hall where 5 million other people were waiting to be registered and most of them seemed to have brought their entire families. Eventually I was thrilled when my number was called and I sat with a very kind staff member who spoke excellent English. I ended up getting registered as a resident of my hotel which most of my German friends later found hilarious and didn’t even know it was possible. I was awarded a little welcome book and I was officially a German resident. I was thrilled. I then decided that I needed some internet access so I headed towards a phone shop where I was charged an extortionate price for a German sim card which I was amazed to find out included something I can only describe as slow internet. So with German sim cards you seemed to pay for a certain amount of data but when you had used up all of your data you had an apparently unlimited amount of ‘slow internet’ which was perfect for messaging friends and meant that I very rarely had to pay for any data.
I felt so accomplished at having become a German resident and obtaining a German sim card all in one day. I had a wander around the high street and practiced saying “Nein Danke” to any shop assistants who asked me questions that I did not understand. I had a Starbucks where the staff speak perfect English and I then returned to hide in my hotel room and eat mini chocolate biscuits out of the vending machine.
Luckily I got much better at using my German skills to communicate and after 2 weeks I did stop going to the vending machine for dinner. A lot of my early days in Frankfurt were about surviving but it was a time I will always laugh about.