Settling in to a city, and finding all those things (people, places, events) around it that make it really “your life” there, can take time. If you’re lucky, you sort out your work, a place to live (with nice roommates even, perhaps), a few friendly colleagues, and other (often random) acquaintances you pick up here and there — and if you’re really lucky, they’ll take you out to see some of those nice things the city has to offer.
You get more used to the culture, in little things like the level of friendliness that is appropriate for greeting people in cafes, shops, and even you’re hair salon, if you’re really brave*. You learn how much, if at all, local people really are expected to tip. That’s a real coup, if my experience is anything to go by. (*It was easier, actually, the time when I got my hair cut in Paris, just as a visitor and with no grasp of the local culture or language at all — having no illusion of control, and therefore excitedly giving it over to their discretion to do whatever they liked. And the results were actually fanstastic!)
But I digress. I have in fact now found a salon, and a regular hairdresser who can even give me tips on color and highlighting options (in English, of course, this is Frankfurt afterall) which on one hand makes me feel terribly grown-up, but is all just to say that I have luckily, finally, found a bit of stability in my life here. But now a new phase of searching begins — finding all those “extra” things that really make it a full life, not survival. Being an English teacher is invaluable in this process, as I can pretend to be stoking conversation skills while actually polling hundreds of students for restaurant, travel, theater and even opera tips. And this can pay back in dividends — for example when casually mentioning that I’m interested in art and museums led to a student bringing me an invitation for the opening of an exhibit at the modern art museum last week.
Ah, the museum opening, AKA free access to peruse the museum at your leisure at night, dressed up a little even, but it’s also really code for “free white wine.” Always white, for some reason. It’s actually going back to my roots for me (the museuming, not the wine drinking) — back in my college days I used to get invited to these types of things, and even helped out once or twice, when a friend worked at a contemporary art museum (One such evening required being the one to demonstrate over and over again some moving pieces of art, putting a little metal ball down a maze or chiming a bunch of tiny bells). And in NY, after graduating, I worked for a while for a small private gallery and was in the loop about these sorts of happenings around the city, or rather had to be, having the task of cataloguing them for our clients in our newsletter.
But I had been decidedly out of the loop so far here in Frankfurt, in part by choice — to make plenty of room for finding new, unexpected, unexpectable things and hobbies and friends — and in part by default — Frankfurt is quite a small city with a handful of decent but pocket-sized art museums, and a more visible theater/opera/concerts life than fine-arts scene. But then here it was: out of the Yves-Klein-blue, a hand-delivered literal invitation inside something I didn’t even think was there.
There are two lessons to be gleaned from this I think: always keep looking under the surface, even when you think you’re settled in and know what’s going on. And always be nice to students, of course.