We now enter into what might be called the Ritual Of The First Day. Them as have never experienced international travel are unable to appreciate the significance of this phenomenon. There are of course two versions, East to West and vise versa, each with its own particular oddities, but here we dwell only on the first version, from the US to Europe.
Your plane takes off from America in the evening, flies through seven hours of time changes and lands mid-morning the next day. You’ve gotten maybe three hours of sleep (assuming you’re not an 18 year old surfer dude, see above), and suddenly you’re dumped into a world where everyone around you is talking away but you can’t understand a word they’re saying.
I’m aware of those who take sleeping pills to get through the night flight, but that only boosts the alertness level temporarily, doing nothing to cushion the cultural shock. I should also mention that a colleague of mine several years ago took Ambien at the beginning of a flight and then awoke from a dream state several days later somewhere in Germany with no knowledge of how she got there. I don’t recommend it.
I’ve been through the First Day several times, not nearly as many as my two flight attendant sisters but enough to know it’s a pretty common experience. You first spend a couple hours in the airport, customs, baggage claim, finding your way to the main exit, and then you have to find transportation. I suggest you just sit quietly on a bench for awhile to get oriented, try to remember where you’re going and reconsider the various ways to get there. Eventually you make it to a cab or your hotel bus or, if your really bold, the Metro (subway). When you end up in front of a hotel with the same name on the building as the one on your reservation sheet, there’s this great sigh of relief that you really did make it there without screwing up.
By now, it’s maybe 11:30 AM their time and you’ve been awake for 22 or 23 hours minus the catnap on the plane. But the goal from then on is to stay awake an additional ten hours so you can begin to adjust to the time change. You might sneak in a couple of naps that day because you can’t help it; but otherwise you walk around then maybe sit in a park somewhere and watch this exotic world into which you’ve arrived pass in front of you.
You figure out how to get some dollars without the bank taking half of it (the best way is just to make a withdrawal at an ATM). You realize at some point that you’re hungry, so you stop in some place where people seem to be eating and point to something on the menu hoping you haven’t ordered boiled rodent innards. Remember, you’re doing all of this in a sleep deprived semi-coma.
Mercifully, the sun eventually goes down. You crawl into bed as soon as the level of darkness can be officially declared evening and you sleep like a Labrador retriever for a good twelve hours. After that, it’ll still take several days for the body to adjust to the time change. You’ll fall asleep standing up in mid-afternoon and come instantly awake in the darkest dark of night.
But congratulate yourself. You’ve gotten through The First Day.