One of the joys of traveling is the chance encounter with strangers that turns into a nice conversation or a memorable interaction and sometimes a lasting friendship.
I knew there would be a fair share of that on this trip, but I wasn’t expecting anything like that on the very first day, let alone the very first hour. Groggy and jet-lagged, I made my way to the train station at the Frankfurt airport, stumbled my way through buying a ticket from the machine (English option was not working), found the train to Würzburg and plonked myself into an empty seat. Minutes later, I heard someone talking to me in German through the fog. I looked up and saw woman pointing at her ticket. “Eh, do you speak English?”, I offered. Oh yes, she spoke great English and explained that I was sitting in a reserved seat, as indicated by the electronic display above the seat. As I gave her the “I am a stupid foreigner” look, she said “I know, it gets very complicated”, in an empathetic tone. I apologized and vacated my seat for her. As I was about to shuffle off looking for an unreserved seat minus electronic display, I noticed that the seat next to her was empty. I asked her if that was reserved too. She looked at the display and said, “Not until Würzburg”. I told her that’s where I was going. “You are welcome then”, she said. So, I re-plonked myself in a slightly different seat. Everything was in proper Germanic order now. The lady with the reservation in the reserved seat, the clueless foreigner in the temporarily unreserved seat, all in agreement with the electronic display. To punctuate this orderly arrangement, the conductor in the smart uniform came and punched our tickets and everyone exchanged a round of polite Danke Shoens.
So off we went. The woman next to me quickly surmised from my jet-lagged grogginess, my backpack and the airport being my boarding point that I was “fresh off the boat”. “Where did you come from?”, she asked me. “United States”, I replied. “Ah, I would have thought India”, she said. Oh, that…so we had a quick version of the Indian-American, bicultural, dual identity conversation. As it turned out, she was very well traveled, like most Germans I have met and had been to India and the U.S. Her name was Erika, which she said was an old fashioned German name. She worked as a personal growth coach in a big department store company in Munich.
We had a great conversation for the hour long ride. We talked about life, work, vacation, travel, food, cooking, family, aging parents. We delved a bit into the subject of Bavarian food. She gave me pointers on what I should look for in Würzburg and Munich. I asked her if she likes cooking. “Yeah, sure, can’t you see?”, she said, laughing, nodding at her plus-size-ness.
Soon, we were rolling into the picturesque town of Würzburg. Erika pointed out all the must-see sights. Then we were at the station and Erika taught me the German word for an informal goodbye, tschüss.
So with a final reminder not to miss the local delicacy called Blaue Zipfel, she waved me tschüss and I tschüss-ed her back as best as I could muster.