Punks and Apologies

We were excited for our long weekend in Barcelona. Mark and I researched what to see and do when we met up with family from the US in Spain. High on the list was the Picasso Museum, tapas and sangria, the Gaudi architecture, sangria and paella, the Mediterranean Sea, sangria and tapas, the Magic Fountain, paella and…well…Besides those anticipated highlights, I’d been told by two separate acquaintances of purse snatching in Barcelona–both had lost phones, money, credit cards, and passports–pickpockets have mastered their trades in the city. All advice pointed to keeping passports in the hotel safe and carry copies, wearing cross-body bags with all zippers zipped, putting wallets in front pockets while keeping your own hand in that pocket (minimizing room for an additional hand!). Beware, we were told, of busy intersections, distractions. and the biggest attractions.

Exploring with my dear cousin, Laura, and her husband was such a treat! We enjoyed each others’ company so much, and appreciated Craig’s fluent Spanish to help us along the tapas trail from the Picasso Museum to the Sagrada Familia. As our quartet approached the structure (still incomplete after 100 years!), we sang our “watch your pockets” chorus, checking the position of belongings, going into high alert mode. We walked around the funky, beautiful church, looking up and admiring both the modern and the gothic side, taking pictures, chatting about the history of Sagrada Familia and the architect who designed it.  As in many parts of the city, hawkers of trinkets spread their cheap (imported–not even handmade!) wares on a cloth on the sidewalk. As we talked, I noticed a young man setting up shop near us.

Moments later, I was snapped out of the conversation with a yelp (Mark called it a girly scream) as someone stomped on my foot, and I teetered as I was shoved, nearly losing my balance! My first instinct was to grab my purse and look around to alert my family–I was afraid this was an attempted theft. Yet, as I turned to speak, a policía passed in a blur, tackling the young man I saw running with his bundle of goods. We all looked at each other–our eyes huge–as Mark and Laura and Craig made sure I was in one piece. As the policía walked back toward us, holding the kiddo by the scruff of the neck, we tried to move out of the way to allow their passage. Instead, the officer walked right up to me, holding onto the boy, speaking to him in Spanish. Then the boy looked at me and spoke–I had no idea what the words were, but I knew he was saying he was sorry for hurting me. The surprise of that nearly rendered me speechless, as I muttered, “Thank you, I appreciate your apology.” As they walked away, Craig said the policeman said to the young man, “For 4 Euros you hurt this lady?”

I was not badly hurt–my foot remains a bit sore. At the time, a “bit” of sangria and tapas removed the pain and fear! We told and re-told the story, laughing, exaggerating, musing what consequences awaited the kid. The remnants of my surprise, however, are at the manner in which the police handled this situation. The conversation Craig relayed to us reminded me of a father speaking to his son, of a parent teaching a child to ask for forgiveness and to count the cost of his actions. The lesson for me is to remember who has forgiven me all and taught me to forgive in return. The example is deep, the practice endless–on both sides of forgiveness.




This little piggy

Convenience:  anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort,etc., according to Dictionary.com.

From this definition, there are different categories of convenience–an electric mixer or having laundry facilities close by definitely saves work! I wanted to make chocolate mousse last week, but having only a whisk and flabby old arms…well, I made brownies instead. Having a vehicle to use definitely adds to our ease of getting out and about, that is, until we encounter minuscule parking spaces and the need to exit the car through the rear hatch because the doors won’t open wide enough for the body matching those arms! And how this hot-flashing woman longs for the comfort of air conditioning, or screens on the windows…

This weekend, Mark and I had planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday. Not a big deal, you may say. BUT!  Stores here are open until 6:00 some evenings, 8:00 others. We had a very full day Saturday video-chatting with family (it’s not convenient to do so during the week, due to the 6 hour time difference). We tidied up, chatted with one family member, then another, then another… and before we knew it–7:30 pm. No time for the grocery store! (We still had coffee, wine, and cheese, thank God!). Plan B: DelHaize closes at 1 pm on Sunday, swing by after church and buy the toilet paper and water and laundry detergent and milk and bread…Needless to say, whisk a loquacious pastor into the mix, and this little piggy did not get to market!

The good thing is, Mark and I are learning to plan ahead–for shopping, for dining, for traffic and filling up the gas tank. Our tummies are syncing with the restaurant timetables (no early bird dinners!). Our fridge compensates the small quantities in which foods are sold here. While I waffle (we’re very close to Belgium, you know) on the reasoning behind such a way of life here, it does remind me of a simpler life, of a better balance between work and leisure,  rushing and resting.  In the meantime? This little piggy’s running to DelHaize to get some roast beef!


Dining Out, or the 200 Euro Fish

“Wow…wow…”  Mark says, every time he looks at a menu in a restaurant (whether here or in the States). He does not refer to the amazing menu, les risottos or pâtes, viandes ou piosson. No, my dear husband makes a commentary on the pricing of the menu–whether dollar or Euro–it seems he cannot hold his tongue regarding the cost of satisfying that same tongue with delicious cuisine.

In April, after we’d signed a lease contract for an apartment here in Luxembourg, Mark suggested we have a celebratory dinner. He made reservations at a restaurant on Place d’Armes at the still-too-early-for-Europe hour of 19.30 (7:30pm–military time is not for me)! Though the company paid for our meals while on this trip, Mark and I decided we would, from our own funds, pay for a special bottle of wine to accompany the meal, a bottle of Sancerre Blanc, which is definitely more pricey than the Barefoot or Dark Horse brand of wines we typically drink. We dressed up a bit and arrived at the restaurant at the appointed time. After the requisite “wow,” and pouring over the menu, we decided on a lovely fish soup as a starter. Wait staff attended us well, placing the napkin in our laps, allowing us choice of the bread they would then place on our plates, keeping our water glasses and wine glasses full. I made my request for Blue Stone Crab for dinner. The waitress looked at Mark as he said, “I’d like the Sea Bass,” which was listed on the menu for 12.90€. Mark had chosen the least expensive item on the menu. The waitress exclaimed, “oh, Monsieur, it is enough for two!” I saw my blue stone crab crawling away as Mark looked at me, eyebrows raised. I agreed to have fish as well.

The wait staff presented the uncooked, whole fish to us for our approval. We looked at each other, smiled, then nodded our agreement. Mark and I continued to delight in the attention of the staff, and the owner, as we relaxed in the restaurant. As if on schedule, the cooked, whole, salt-crusted fish is ceremoniously revealed to us, then filleted in our presence, and served. The sea bass was good, though I still had a yearning for crab! We lingered over the fish, then crème brûlée and café. It was a wonderful evening. When we eventually requested the check, Mark perused it, did a double-take, read it again, then called the wait staff over with a menu. It was explained to us that the Chilean Sea Bass we had ordered was indeed 12.90 Euro–per 100 g. The dead fish we’d been shown pre-meal weighed 1 kilo! I’m not incredibly proficient in math or the metric system, but I was astute enough to realize that fish had cost us 122.90 Euro–over one hundred fifty American dollars, not to mention the wine, starter, dessert and coffee.

Needless to say, we did not submit that meal to the expense account–we paid it all from our own pocket! Needless to say, we learned a lesson about reading the menu–look for the small print! Needless to say, we felt foolish, country bumpkin-ish. Since then? We’re not crabby.  We’re not perched on a high horse. We laugh, just for the halibut!




Salt and Light

Hidden away in a drawer in my kitchen is a stack of user manuals for all the appliances in the apartment–those that came with the apartment, and those for the devices we’ve since purchased. The pile is 22 cm high (that’s about 8 1/2 inches for us metric illiterates!) because they contain at least 10 languages each. Wading through those pages, hoping/praying the very next page will contain English words, is a gamble. Then, just when you think you’re on the road to using that dishwasher, you see the words, “BEFORE FIRST USE: FILL THE SALT CONTAINER.”

I love salt. I fill my salt shaker often– I sprinkle salt on my eggs, my vegetables, my potatoes…all before taking my prescription for high blood pressure. But in my DISHWASHER? A (hopefully) new friend commented the other day, “On moving here, I felt like every competency I’d ever had disappeared.” She expressed just how I’ve been feeling–cooking, cleaning, shopping, talking, driving–everything I’d done well less than 2 months ago is now a lesson in humility. Determining what kind of salt, where to buy it, where to stick it (I know where I’d like to stick it, Mr. Engineer who designed this dishwasher!) and how often is just as tricky for me weighing and labeling my produce at DelHaize, determining how vigorously Mark and I pursue interaction at church, and practicing a phone call to a restaurant asking “reservation pour deux, s’il vous plait.”

So now what? Will we let the language paralyze us as we navigate life here in Luxembourg or will we gear up on  practicing with Duo Lingo–after all, I am 5 percent fluent in French! Will we stay in our cozy apartment and ignore the culture around us, or will we have a 200 Euro fish dinner and get stuck in a parking garage (really–more on that later).  Nope, my next challenge is finding microwave popcorn I can fix in my newest appliance. The good thing is, I can season it generously with salt!

So…is Luxembourg in Germany? and other questions about expat life

Almost two years ago, my husband arrived home with news: “They’re closing the Business and Research Center here and they’ve asked me to go to Europe.” Because we like to eat, because we like to pay our bills, because we like to live together (considering our 32-year deliriously happy marriage), because my husband has worked so hard, we moved to Europe a month ago. We live in Luxembourg, not in Germany or Belgium. This sweet small country, a bit smaller than Rhode Island, with a population smaller than the Greater Rochester area of NY which we called “home,” is beautiful, with hills and greenery and rivers–and CASTLES!! The language is Luxembourgish, or French or German, and, contrary to popular belief, not everyone speaks English! So Mark and I live in our little apartment in Luxembourg City, within walking distance to City Centre, a grocery store, brasseries, and boutiques, trying to navigate the differences, yet tickled to see any similarities in people and culture.

In the midst of this adventure in a foreign country, we miss our children desperately. Yes, they are adults and intelligent and more than capable, but as my husband works long hours and travels long distances, I yearn for the conversations and shared meals and sneaking twenty-dollar bills into their hands. FaceTime is amazing, but I can’t touch or smell the newly bathed head of my grandson. I’m so grateful for encouragement from my friends “back home,” who would run to help our college-aged kids in a heartbeat, who keep me laughing with silly texts, who remind me I have a mission here just as much, if not more, than in the United States. My husband’s  and my dear sisters don’t forget us, and my smart and witty octogenarian mother surprises me with video calls through Facebook! What a treasure!

Our family slogan, in the midst of frustration and (outright) complaining about the tasks or life in front of us, has been to say  “But the good thing is…” So here, the good thing is my husband has a job he loves. We have a comfortable place to live. We are learning, learning, learning so much. We’ve met some very kind people. We can laugh at ourselves (which is so important when you buy a 200 Euro fish dinner–more on that another time!). We have each other–whether near or across the ocean–we have each other. Yep, that’s the good thing.