18-19 August 2014
Despite the fact that I have travelled quite a bit, I still encounter travelling-firsts. On Sunday, I ticked off two more: working abroad and travelling solo. I feel that the latter is something I should have done already . Sure, I’ve flown alone, I’ve stayed in hostels alone and I’ve even spent almost an entire day alone- but it’s not quite the same. I always knew I had a friendly face close by.
I’m currently spending the last two weeks of August in Dusseldorf, where I have a work experience placement in a law firm. Whilst I was excited to get to work in a country that I love, I was rather nervous. Basic is the appropriate word to describe my German language skills. Whilst I can read and speak a little, my listening skills are worse than I thought- particularly when talking to a native speaker who talks quickly. This has led to my face often adopting the deer-in-headlights expression when I realise someone has been talking directly to me. So far I’ve excused myself and not been using German as much as I should. Although I have attended talks in German, most people speak very good English and help to translate so I’ve been able to get by. Now, however, I’ve completed day two so its time to get down to it. Tomorrow should be interesting.
When I first arrived at my hotel (after I’d treated myself to a taxi from the main airport), I was relieved to find the staff exceptionally friendly. This calmed my nerves. My room is nice- the decor is a little old fashioned perhaps but, to be honest, that’s why I like it. It feels more homey that way. The only thing is that there is no kettle. Instead there is free tea and coffee in the lobby. This puts an end to my plan of living off pot-noodles for the next fortnight.
I emerged from my room after a little while and set out on a mission to find my new office. I knew if I left it until the morning I would inevitably get lost and turn up late. I was told it was 10 minutes away on the bus but, after some serious searching, I managed to find it on a map and decided to walk. Thankfully it turned out to be only 20 minutes away, meaning that I could save some pennies during my stay. It also meant I could get out of trying to work out the public transport system.
The area I walked through seemed quite quiet but I was surprised to see that, despite being quite industrial, Dusseldorf has some interesting architecture. In fact some of it looks like it’s straight out of Prague.
I had planned to stop in a restaurant for my dinner on the way back but everywhere that looked good also looked full so I settled on a frozen yoghurt bar instead. I wasn’t that hungry but it looked popular and had seating outside so you could munch away and watch the world go by- one of my favourite German pastimes. Unfortunately, two things happened when I sat down. Firstly, I remembered I’m not a massive fan of frozen yoghurt- I’m an ice cream gal. Although, having said that, my toppings of cookies, brownies and white chocolate crisp did help with that. Apparently my healthy dinner and holiday diet had gone out the window. The second thing was that it started to rain, so I got back to my hotel with rather a watery yogurt. I then spent a productive evening reading Caitlan Moran.
In the morning, I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I would be and I made sure to eat a hearty breakfast at the hotel. After all, it is the most important meal of the day. It wasn’t quite the same spread as I’d found at Berlin hotels but it was more than enough and I still managed seconds. I arrived at the office and was directed into the conference room for a welcome talk with the other interns. Obviously, we were going to have to introduce ourselves at some point, and the inevitable time came when I was going to have to speak some German. Out loud. In front of multiple locals. As we went around the room, I felt it coming like a Mexican wave which you really don’t want to happen. In my shaky German I explained I was English with bad German. I was brief but I got a laugh. I have since been told that people could actually understand what I said. That helps but maybe it means that I set the bar too high for myself.
The day was good and mainly involved meeting lots of new people- it turns out that not only are my fellow interns very friendly but so are the people that work at the firm. I was beginning to settle in. We all went out together for lunch- which apparently we’ll do everyday- and we were able to get a few work-related discounts at the surrounding restaurants. There was also a cake break in the afternoon for someone’s birthday, followed by a cocktail workshop which had been organised so that we could all to get to know each other.
Soon after we arrived, everyone started singing happy birthday. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening so I started singing along with them to the girl whose birthday it was (obviously). That was until everyone chorused my name. I should probably mention that it was my birthday too. I must have looked ridiculous but it did now really feel like my birthday. The cocktails we subsequently made in groups also helped. We took a break halfway through for some Chinese food before getting back to business. As a networking event, the night worked perfectly and, after all, you shouldn’t go to sleep completely sober on your birthday.
Despite the night before, I was up for breakfast and made it to work slightly early. The day took much the same form as the day before: talks, lunch and work. Although that day substituted the cake break for some quick table football instead. There’s actually a table in the office. I won twice but I suspect that wasn’t down to my skills but those of the person I was playing with.
After work, I again wasn’t in the mood for a restaurant dinner. On Sunday, all the shops were shut- as is the way in Germany- but today is Tuesday so I had a whole two choices for dinner: the cheap Netto and the more expensive Kaisers. Unsurprisingly, Netto was my first choice. I managed to find a pot of olives and a giant pre-made pasta dish that needed heating-up but I figured I could eat it cold. However, I couldn’t find any plastic forks and I wasn’t going to eat it with my fingers. I don’t know why- it’s not like I haven’t done that before.
In the end, I left with my olives and wandered into Kaisers where I tracked down a pasta salad (it was smaller and nearly the same price as the big box in Netto but at least this was meant to be eaten cold) and a chocolate mousse. But there were no plastic forks- only an actual teaspoon that was beyond my price range. I was getting edgy: GERMANY WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU- WHY IS THERE NO PLASTIC CUTLERY? HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF PICNICS?!! Oh wait, there they are- I found them. I’d now spent far too long searching for my dinner and eating utensils- I probably could have eaten out and have been back in the hotel by now.
Finally, I joined the queue which was steadily growing longer. As luck would have it, another till opened up but then everyone behind me jumped in front. People, this is not how you queue. Since there was no way I was about to get behind people who had started queuing after me- that is just not the way- I stuck with my line, which was clearly moving a lot slower. Then the till started playing up. Again, I probably could have been back in my room. You’ll be happy to hear, however, that this tale has a happy ending. I’m now in my room with my picnic dinner. Although now I’m not really hungry.