My first overseas trip was to Europe. You must understand this little thing about India, it’s not very kind to young girls who want to travel independently and that want also to volunteer. I suppose I would be anxious as well if I were sending my daughter to some foreign country where I have no control over their safety. “Volunteer? Alone? NO WAY!”
Luckily, I was brought up in a multi-cultural background where we grew up with people from different backgrounds shuffling in and out of our home and my parents had been in Europe so many times that it was like sending me to my grammie’s house. And so after several days of lectures on how not to look like a tourist so I’m not scammed, how to pack minimally (my dad’s a bit of a travel guru having spent his whole life travelling from place to place. He had pegged packing down to an art!) and how to brace myself for culture shock, I took off for my grand adventure.
Landing in the Frankfurt Airport was like landing on Mars. Compared to the airport we had then in Bangalore, which was more like 3 large rooms attached to a couple of long runways, walking inside the Frankfurt Airport was literally like walking into a spaceship. There were hardly any people and having just a few hours earlier come from a city of 8 million people, the silence and the lack of people was eerie.
And EVERYTHING was automated and in German. Is this what culture shock was to feel like? Your jaws on the floor, walking around in a trance like zombie state? The immigration guy (with a full uniform and stern look) had a space-age looking logo that said “Fraport” (which I initially thought was his name). He took my passport, looked at me, stamped it and slid it across to me without so much as a smile or eye contact. I had to resist an urge to stand in attention and salute. Looked like the right thing to do. No? Apparently not.
After walking for hours and passing by a McLaren F1 Road Car display a million times (this one may have been on purpose), I finally found the exit where I was supposed to meet a friend and that was the end of my culture shock. If you’ve ever been outside Fraport, you’d know what I mean. It’s crowded and noisy and everyone is doing what I used to call the binge smoke and tag dance. Every 2 meters there was a smoking bin surrounded by at least a dozen business persons. These had a great view of giant corporate buildings from which they had probably just exited. There were a couple of people who were drinking tea down the road from us, somewhere a radio was playing and two people were sweeping the footpath. Two Japanese people were taking a photo of themselves in front of a Heineken ad and just across the road from me, a man had just put his hand out to moving traffic, run across the road and with a little wink to me, disappeared into the airport.
A huge smile appeared on my face – This is where cultural differences disappear. Somethings are just universal and me? I was home!