I’m writing this as I sit on a…wait for it, because it was 10 minutes late…a bus! I’m on my way to meet some ladies for a cinema matinee. My hope was that an American movie would provide for me the inspiration and motivation I needed to hop on the bus. Returning home to our almost cozy apartment will give me the guts to get back on! As I waited for the bus, a pretty, older woman who was also waiting asked me a question, in French, of course. I understood! I was able to tell her, in French, that this would be my premiere bus ride, that indeed, but number deux cent vingt deux was en retard; we had a short dialogue all in French. We communicated, and just like that, one of the cultural limitations here was conquered (or at least encountered without my stammering “Je suis Americaine,” and running away). A second chain of culture was bent when I stepped up on the bus. These two little things truly bolstered my confidence and my courage.
Yesterday, Mark suggested I drive him to work, since I had my (first) hair appointment and the need to have a document notarized. As we were making our way toward Mark’s office early yesterday morning, seeing the sign, “Belgique 8 min” amazed me all over again. When I drove to the other side of the city, I saw the sign pointing to Germany. And we’ve been to France a few times since we arrived. So there was something special to me about arranging my errand for the notary, since I had to go to the US Embassy. What I was expecting when I saw the American flag waving on the property behind the barriers was maybe a warm welcome, a bit of small talk, a little “where are you from?” and “how about Donald and Hillary?” As my bag was being searched and I was escorted by uniformed men who were not American, I realized the folly of my fantasy. However, kindness was indeed employed on both sides, and, for a large fee of 50 US dollars, my document was notarized. In one day, I drove solo through the narrow, busy streets of the city, drove on the highway, went through many roundabouts, paid for parking in a lot and parking on the street, prayed (as my hair was processing) my car wouldn’t be towed due to an expired parking pass, and visited a tiny little bit of my country.
That was yesterday. Today? Good thing I got that conversation and bus thing going, because I’m going to have to do it all again next Friday–I was a week early for the movie!
I’m in possession of a little card that’s burning a hole in my pocket. It’s not a credit card or a gift card, but is as good as cash–Euros, that is. The value of the card is not the factor causing my tight grip. Nope, my grip is activated by fear–fear of making a mistake, fear of getting lost, fear of appearing stupid when I don’t know how to use that little card and the system it represents.
It’s no secret that public transportation is prevalent, necessary, and encouraged in Europe. Roads are teeny tiny, parking is limited, fuel is expensive. We’re a one-car-family here in Luxembourg. My husband takes the car to work and I walk. I walk to the grocery store (1.1 kilometers away) and buy what I can carry home. I walk to the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg, or my friend Karen takes pity on me and picks me up on her way! Mark and I walk to our language classes near the City Centre, then walk to dinner in the City Centre, then walk home again (nearly 4.5 kilometers).
Walking has been good for me. The waistband of my pants is a little less painful, my skin is glowing (from sweat or hot flashes), and I’ve got a bit more zipadee in my doodah–whatever that means! Alas, the weather will soon be cooler and wet, and perhaps I’ll want to purchase more than I can carry for a distance. It’s time for the next big step, the one that gets me on the bus. I have a handy-dandy bus card, filled and ready for 10 trips–even more if trips are within a two hour window! I’ve studied the maps, memorized the stops, plotted my journeys. Yep–it’s time to screw my courage to the sticking point and hear the driver say “move on back,” en français, of course!
Duolingo only goes so far. In French, I now know how to refer to a black cat, the red dress, and to identify men who are rich and calm. The bells and pings associated with correct responses on the app are incredibly rewarding, and when that bubble pops up saying I’m 15 percent fluent in French–oo la la! At that point, I’m positive I can have a meaningful conversation with all of French-speaking Luxembourg! And then…I’m in DelHaize in the checkout line with my little pull along basket instead of the bigger “chariot.” A friendly associate approaches me in the busy store, français flying, and I attempt to decipher her words, expression, and gestures. She doesn’t understand why I don’t understand, and just like that, we’re in a language stand-off. I’m defeated again, as the sweet cashier takes pity on me. That’s right…this has happened before…
Now my dear husband and I spend two evenings a week in a classroom. Our beginning French class includes students from Norway, Romania, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Russia, and Australia. Mark and I are the oldest in the class by 30 years, we’re the only Americans, the only ones who speak only one language. The teacher is young, kind and encouraging, speaking French alone all class, as she directs us to dialogue with each other. After four classes, our confidence is growing. Just last weekend, as Mark waited for me at IKEA, he phoned and made reservations at a restaurant–EN FRANÇAIS!! Last night as we were dining with friends and were introduced to the owner of the restaurant, he asked if I spoke French. I replied in my most practiced, “Je parle un peu de français.” His comic response, with his Luxembourgish accent was, “Sounds to me like you speak a little American!”
Truly, the people in Luxembourg have been warm and welcoming. The language barrier makes us more uncomfortable than it does them. Mark and I will most likely never be fluent in French, and we’re okay with that. We would appreciate, however, being able to skipper this European adventure in a more manageable way, without language blowing us off course! In the meantime, I’ll be practicing…les robes sont rouges…la femme mange une pomme…and using Google Translate.