Culture Shock

Germany fiddled with his watch for the second time in five minutes. He was truly beginning to wonder how he'd fooled himself into thinking this could be a good idea.

It was probably because it did sound like a good idea, in the beginning. A week ago, Spain had invited both Germany and Italy to his house for a weekend long vacation, and in purely theoretical terms, he was sure this could be a delightful way to spend one's time. Despite all rumors to the contrary, Germany could appreciate a break every now and then, and the recent financial crisis had put him under enough stress that Prussia was graciously offering to do his fair share for once. It was only when Germany's workload finally tapered off a little did he have time to realize just how little he'd seen of Italy in the recent months and how guilty that made him feel. After all, no matter what Germany was going though, this had to be taking a worse toll on Italy, both financially and emotionally, and he had a lot less practice dealing with stress than Germany did. So when the opportunity arose, Germany decided that he would use this slow period as efficiently as possible and enjoy a few carefree days with Italy at his side—plus, Madrid was supposed to be beautiful at this time of year, right?

But now, the closer they actually got to Madrid, the more Germany felt the reality of the situation soaking in. This wasn't going to be nearly as easy as taking Italy out for dinner or tolerating his family for a single afternoon. This most certainly wasn't like when he nodded politely when listening to Italy talk about some of his most unfathomable passions, like modern art museums. In truth, this was never going to be just a vacation—this was about to be an entire weekend spent in the dangerously sunny territory of the Mediterranean, where everything comfortable to Germany would be far, far away. He would be the one feeling confused by the culture surrounding him for once, and it would be absolutely imperative for him to adjust. Despite technically being on vacation already, Germany felt the pressure was back on.

Even with Italy's warm presence sitting right beside him—he was playing games on his phone with his feet up on the chair in front of him, entirely at ease in his environment—Germany had been feeling out of his element ever since boarding their final train near the French boarder and being thrust into this unfamiliar world of lively, talkative Spanish people. All around him were conversations being carried on in rapid Spanish and the sights of dark complexions and tans (this led him to believe he just might be the only blond present). Also, not a single one of these Spaniards seemed bothered by the heat inside the train, nor the intense sunlight coming in through the windows—Germany, meanwhile, was wearing a t-shirt and he still wished he'd thought to dress lighter.

Keep it together, Germany coached himself. He had to stop himself from compulsively checking his watch again. He knew he was just nervous, because not having control of a situation tended to do that to him. In truth, he'd been all over the world and visited a lot of warm places in the past, but he'd spent very little time fully acclimating himself to another culture. But, he reminded himself, just because things were a lot different in Spain's home or the future was completely unknown to him did not mean the end of the world. Maybe he was working himself up for nothing, and he'd fit in well enough. Maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad if he could just learn to deal with heat and siestas and pretending to be Catholic and—

"Oh," said Italy. "Someone's texting me."

Germany snapped out of his thoughts.

"Who is it? Spain?" Germany had lowered his voice in case anyone in the vicinity was listening. Having their fellow passengers catch on to who they were and growing excited would only add to his problems.

"It's—" Italy hit a button and squinted at the screen. "Romano. Uh oh, he says he just now found out you were coming."

Right. Romano. That was the other reason why Germany was starting to think this was a bad idea. Romano still disliked him as far as he knew, so when Spain conveyed his intentions to make this a family event of sorts, all along Germany had blissfully assumed that Spain wasn't actually serious about making sure Romano was there. Surely, he thought, Spain knew that having Romano there would be like planning a family reunion and intentionally inviting that one relative no one liked to talk about.

"If he's just now hearing about it then I guess that would be how Spain managed to convince him. Is Romano saying he's not coming anymore?" Germany probably shouldn't have sounded so cheerful saying that.

"No, he says he's already at Spain's house." Italy frowned and started tapping back a reply. "Romano also says that if Germany really shows up he's going to go straight home. Oh!" He looked up. "Don't worry though, Germany, I don't think he actually would since we both know how much he likes to be with Spain."

"Right." Germany had his suspicions about that, but it was best not to say it out loud. It was the sort of thing he didn't want to ask about and find out he was wrong—or right, for that matter. "You might as well tell him I'm going to be there, then."

"I am." Italy finished his reply and dropped his phone back onto his lap. He sighed. "I wish Spain had gotten Romano to come in a nicer way because now I just have to hope he won't make a big fuss about it when we get there. Romano tends to get angry and ruin stuff, you know?"

"Well aware," said Germany. He reached down for his water bottle and took a long drink. "How hot is it supposed to be in Madrid the next few days? Do you know?"

"Well, I heard there's a chance of it raining, but otherwise it's supposed to be thirty-twoish all weekend—"

Italy laughed at the look on Germany's face and gave him a sympathetic pat.

"Spain's got air conditioning. You'll be fine."

"Ita! Germany! Over here!"

Germany stood up just as Italy turned—he was nearly hit in the face by a swinging suitcase—and their eyes were immediately drawn to Spain, who had jumped up from a bench and begun waving ridiculously beside a stoic Romano. Germany felt a little faint just looking at them both wearing long pants in this weather, but he did his best to keep up with Italy's full sprint down the station, even with all the luggage he was carrying.

"Hi Spain! Hi Romano!"

"Hi Ita! It feels like I haven't seen you in forever!"

Italy laughed as he caught up to Spain, who flung out his arms and welcomed a tight hug. Once they'd let go, Germany was surprised when Romano moved to put his arms around his brother as well.

"Ciao, Veneziano."

"Ciao, ciao! I'm glad you're here, Romano!" Italy said, breathlessly. "I guess you didn't go home after all?"

"I didn't want to leave after I'd just gone through the trouble of coming," Romano said, bluntly.

"Germany!" Spain exclaimed, like he'd only just seen him, and enthusiastically put out his hand. Germany took it and tried to maintain good eye contact, as was proper procedure. He was partially distracted by Italy's attempts to straighten Romano's messy collar and Romano trying to bat him away in response. "It's good to see you again too! See, Romano's here and he's not even complaining that much, everything worked out!"

"Worked out my ass." Romano jerked his collar flat and glared at Germany like he was sizing him up for a fight. For the second time that day, Germany wished he'd dressed differently, as Romano was looking typically well-dressed while he himself had thrown on the lightest clothing he owned this morning. "I can't believe you fuckin' lied to me, Spain. You said it'd just be me and you and Veneziano and then you went and invited this asshole too."

"I invited him because you really ought to learn to how to make friends," Spain told him, and seeing the faint blush on Romano's features, Germany thought, was completely worth that insult. "Germany wanted to be here and get to know us a little better, okay? So this weekend is going to be a bonding exercise. I know you can handle it, Romano, so you can start by being polite to our guest."

"How about you start by fucking off?"

"You first," Spain challenged, brightly, and then he turned to Germany. "Would you like me to carry some of your luggage to the car? Those look heavy."

"Oh." Germany looked down at himself and realized just how much he was holding. He probably shouldn't have packed quite so much, now that he thought about it. "That's alright, Spain, so you don't have to—"

Italy shook his head and leaned upward to whisper to him.

"Go ahead and let him, he's trying to set a good example for Romano."

Germany glanced over to see Romano trying with all his might to glare at Spain hard enough to vaporize him. Spain was oblivious to it.

"Well," Germany said, with a tiny cough, "actually, a little help would be nice, if you're offering."

Germany set down their luggage and by the time all the suitcases and bags were shuffled around, everyone had something to carry. Even Romano was holding something, though that most likely had to do with Italy shoving a bag into his arms. He began to complain again in an instant, but Spain, with two suitcases under his arms, gave him a big smack on the back and cheerfully told him to shut up.

When Germany first caught sight of Spain's house, he had to pause for a moment to gaze at it with proper awe. He'd seen brick and stucco homes in the past, but Spain's was particularly handsome and well-kept—it soothed his mixed feelings about coming, somewhat, to know that at least cleanliness was considered a universal virtue even here. He could also see a tiny field off in the distance, probably the one with the tomatoes that Italy always spoke of so fondly, and he thought to himself that maybe if the heat ever died down he'd like to go out to see it.

"Germany," Italy reminded him, "weren't you going on about wanting to be back inside already?"

Germany collected himself again and continued onward to the front door, the siren call of an air conditioned house now back in mind.

"Oh c'mon now, Romano," said Spain. As soon as they'd come in—Germany was very glad for the sudden blast of cool air—Romano dropped the bag Italy had forced on him and went to kick off his shoes. By the time he'd turned around Spain was holding the bag out to him again with a smile on his face. "I'm sorry, but help me out and take this back to the guest room, would you? And these suitcases." Spain passed everything he'd been holding to him and Romano seemed for a moment too shocked to even react. "Show them the way there while you're at it, will you?"

"Why do I have to carry all this crap to the back? This isn't my house, you ass!"

"I'm not trying to mean, I'm just trusting you to be a good host for a little while so I can get lunch started." Spain brushed some of the hair from Romano's face, seemingly without thinking about it, and Romano began to look steadily more irritated. Germany had to admit he could sympathize with why Romano was taking this badly, and maybe Spain was expecting too much from him too soon, but then again it was entirely Romano's fault for not cooperating in the first place. "Germany told me on the phone he eats lunch around noon, so I thought we'd eat a little earlier today, alright? I know you're not going to complain about that too, are you?"

Spain shooed them all away and just as he said, made straight for the kitchen—Romano bitterly watched the place where he'd disappeared for a few moments before he turned and snapped, "well come on already!"

"Spain's always had such a pretty house, Germany," Italy said knowledgeably, hurrying along like nothing had happened that he wasn't used to. "Well, he lived somewhere really fancy back when he was powerful, and his house didn't look so nice during the civil war, but I think he does a good job of keeping up the place even if no one lives with him anymore. Maybe it's also because Romano doesn't clean the place anymore that it looks nice, now that I think about it. And oh, see all this cute stuff he has everywhere? Spain likes buying things from artists in town and from antique shops and from all over the place, so long as he thinks it might look good on the walls. It gives the place a lot of flavor and personality, don't you think? And I know you're probably thinking his house looks old but it's not really, it's actually just traditional and I think that's part of its charm—"

"You're saying the same sort of crap Spain always says," Romano interrupted, loudly. "If you want to know why he really keeps his house this way it's because he's just stuck in the past and he won't move anywhere where he can't grow stuff."

Italy's smiled faltered for a moment, but then he looked at Germany again.

"But I think that's a good reason to stay where you are, don't you?"

Germany nodded slightly, just trying to take everything in as they went further into the house. It wasn't every day that he got to see a Mediterranean home so full of character, and he found himself liking the contrast of bright walls and more richly colored furniture. It felt like the sun and sky was still inside the house, air conditioning notwithstanding.

"Here's your room," Romano announced. He opened a door and jabbed his thumb inside. "And you." Germany pulled his gaze away from the room's interior, with its wide bed and row of plants on the windowsill, to see Romano now pointing down the hall, at yet another room. This house had clearly had far more people living in it in the past. "Your room's the one with the door open down that way."

"Romano, Spain didn't say anything about two rooms," Italy pointed out.

"This one was going to be mine," said Romano, "but guess what, turns out it's yours now. So congratulations."

"Wait." Italy's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment as he tried to understand. "Wait, why aren't we sharing a room?"

"There's plenty of rooms. Spain's got like a million of them. There's no reason to share."

"It's not a problem," said Germany, waving his hand around. He didn't know why this idea sat with him so poorly, unless he wanted to admit to himself that he'd assumed he'd share a room with Italy from the start. "I honestly wouldn't mind. I wouldn't want us to take up your room when we don't need to."

Germany knew that sharing a room would be the best way to maximize his time spent with Italy—from a purely logical stand point, of course—yet he had plenty of illogical reasons to want to share a room with him as well. Sharing a room also meant he could sleep in with Italy and not feel guilty about it for once—maybe he could even try lying in bed and doing nothing, an art form which Italy had long since perfected. It sounded like a sufficiently lazy thing to while on vacation, anyway, since most of the time Germany wouldn't consider doing such a thing unless he was deathly ill.

"Well according to Spain," Romano said, "I'm supposed to be playing the gracious host now." He threw Italy's bag through the doorway, aiming for the bed, but it slid across the sheets and landed on the floor on the other side with a thump. "So I'm telling you that you both get separate rooms."

"Um," Italy said, watching the fate of his bag, "that doesn't really make sense, Romano. If you're giving up your room then where are you gonna sleep?"

"I'll sleep wherever I want. But you aren't. You're sleeping here and Germany's sleeping down the hall because I said so."

Ah. It dawned on Germany that this probably had very little to do with who slept where, and a lot more to do with just making sure Romano got his way.

"Are you entirely sure this is necessary?" Germany sighed.

"Yeah, come on, let Germany stay with me," begged Italy. "Germany's already really far from home and being in Spain's house probably makes him feel weird so what if he gets lonely without me? And don't worry, Germany!" Italy quickly turned to him. "I don't mind sharing a room with you! We like sharing, don't we?"

"Yeah," Romano snapped, "I bet you don't mind sharing."

They all fell silent for a moment, and Germany could feel his cheeks tinge pink.

"You're doing this on purpose, Romano!" Italy accused, flailing his arms. "All I want is for Germany and I to have lots of time together while we're here! Just because you've always got to be nasty to him doesn't mean you have to tell him what to do!"

"Germany's room is down that way," Romano said, sternly. "And if you don't like it you'll have to argue with me about it."

For a moment, Germany really did want to argue about it, but he remembered that arguing with Romano had always been about as effective as arguing with a brick wall. So maybe he should just put his luggage down inside the room and shut the door. Maybe be should skip the part about the luggage and just hit Romano in the face. No, forget all that, he'd rather have just gone back to the beginning of this conversation and hit him really hard in the face then and there. Now that was a tempting idea.

"Fine," said Germany. He realized, sadly, that if even he couldn't be mature about this then there was no hope for any of them. He made up his mind that it would be easier admit defeat for now and talk to Spain about it later. "Alright."

Italy jerked toward him, opening his mouth to protest, but Germany shook his head.

"It's fine. I'll just go put my stuff away, it isn't a big deal. Let's not fight."

Germany turned around and made for the room that was supposed to be for both of them—it was just as nice as the other one, so it wasn't like he was being forced to sleep in a closet, at least. Germany went in and closed the door behind him just as he heard Italy shout "Romano!" and the subsequent argument exploding into full force down at the other end of the hall.

Culture Notes

For all you Americans out there, 32°C = 90°F