Brick by Brick [or how to build a life]

We’ve known him for about five years now, but the first things we noticed about our friend Simon Kennedy besides his rakish good looks (he will read this) and his Scottish burr and humor, are his love for his beautiful wife and sweet pups, and his passion for people and service. We now know he’s an expert in lighting and sound for large events, he’s creative, he’s a musician, he’s authentic.

Simon Kennedy

One thing we didn’t know about Simon until the ten minutes it took him to loosen up around us, is that he’s a self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned LEGO collector-builder-hoarder-expert (LEGO geek for short). When I asked Simon “how did your fascination with LEGOs begin?” I was gently chided for adding an “s,” as LEGO is an adjective–acceptable plurals are: LEGO bricks or LEGO sets. He told the story of the humble beginning of the carpenter who made the interlocking blocks and named them using the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well,” which sounds very sweet and endearing until you step on one in your bare feet and call it something entirely different…

It’s wonderful to have all the facts of the LEGO company and its evolution, and hear Simon reciting his mother’s memory of the sound of her sons raking through the boxes of bricks, but the most fascinating thing about the Scotsman’s love of LEGO is how he connected it (ba-dum-chh!) to his love of Luxembourg. When the pandemic arrived on the scene and life slowed down for us all, Simon found relaxation in his love of building with LEGO. Though he had recreated other buildings around the Grand Duchy, like Ready?! Coffee in Limpertsberg, his “crowning” achievement is his replica of the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. He took pictures of the palace, studied it, and collected soooo many bricks. With its turrets, windows, and ornate balconies, it was a special challenge to recreate the grandeur and stately character of this standout landmark in the little city of Luxembourg.

Making a model of the beloved official residence of the Grand Duke and tourist hotspot (especially viewed from The Chocolate House across the walkway, avec an coupe de crémant ou de café et croissant au chocolat, of course) is a meticulous process that is not for the impatient and hurried souls. When asked how many bricks were necessary for the LEGO model, Simon answers, “I’ve no idea, but even one window took 70 bricks.” It’s not exactly built to scale, because, as our LEGO architect explained, it would be difficult, if not impossible–due to the sizing of bricks– but the replica is balanced and true to its in-person image. Understand, however, the building required hundreds and hundreds (and waaay more hundreds) of yellowish, buff-colored bricks, not to mention six months of time.

The LEGO rendition of the Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg, photo by Simon Kennedy

The turrets of the palace were borrowed from some Harry Potter LEGO collections, and the spires on the turrets are actually steering wheels from LEGO vehicles.

The true Palace, showcasing the turrets
Follow Simon on Instagram @luxlegogeek

In addition to the hours of collecting bricks, studying photos, constructing the palace, and loving his hobby, Simon connects with the traditions and history of his adopted land in real life, not just LEGO life. He has demonstrated that by serving at Croix Rouge–helping organize the donations of clothing, serving meals to residents, organizing volunteers in both of those ministries, and building relationships with those he serves and those he serves alongside. His involvement with All Nations Church of Luxembourg and the people he encounters there is a blessing and a joy. The Scotsman speaks French and continues to improve in using the language. He speaks well of the countryside and its beauty, the country and its leaders, the Luxembourgish people and their character.

Simon is one of those people who mold and conform to an environment, not just as a consumer of his space, but as a contributor to the community. He’s definitely one of those people who makes you think that you simply cannot imagine that place without him.

My friend Simon and me

Foraging for Friends

We brought only four place settings with us when we moved to Luxembourg. After all, we didn’t know anyone here, save our delightful relocation agent who was paid to spend time with us. We thought it would be just us for dinner, just us for drinks on the terrace, just us laughing at each others’ corny jokes.

For a short while, it was just us.

But then, the vacation, or “holiday” mood for you Europeans, with our new surroundings began to wane as we uncovered limited language comprehension, limited shopping hours, and even more limited parking spaces. With the dawning realization this funny, sweet little country was actually our new home came the discovery that we needed a plan–the same plan that had worked for us in our trailer in West Virginia, our funeral home and apartments in New York, our home in deep South Georgia, and back to our home in dear Fairport, NY. It was time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business about LIVING in this new place and making friends!

And now, in the present I question, “how did we make friends? where did I meet people?”  And I don’t think women are alone in the need for comrades. Not counting my delightful and enduring/endearing alliances with work friends, or friends I’ve made through my dear husband, here are some ways I (or we) have recently made new acquaintances/friendships:

  • Clubs–Though hardly all Americans (and who moves to another country just to be friends with their own kind?), the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is an excellent introduction to life here. There are welcome coffees and book clubs, travel talks and hiking groups, moms’ outings and crafting hours and cooking classes and wine tastings, and wine tastings, and wine tastings! Opportunities to meet people and get involved abound. I’m so happy joining this cohort was one of my first steps to social sanity in Luxembourg!
  • Church–Attending church has been important to my dear husband and me, not only for the spiritual benefits, but for the social aspect as well. All Nations Church of Luxembourg is an English-speaking church with people from, you guessed it, all around the world. The people are welcoming and kind,  the friendships are rich in both challenge and encouragement. There are worship services and small groups, and here’s something you won’t see in America…wine at a church potluck!
  • Service–When I reach out to others, It helps me put aside my loneliness and loosen the grip on the idea that I’m the center of the universe. Volunteering to serve meals at Croix Rouge was some of the most meaningful time I’ve spent in Luxembourg. I made a very dear friend as we passed dishes and dished stories together. Though I stopped volunteering in this way because my poor old back couldn’t withstand the standing, it’s a pleasure to see my sidekick on a regular basis AND spot a few of the patrons around town!
  • Classes–Limping along in English only was not an option for us here in Luxembourg, so Mr. Wonderful and I signed up for French classes. The group at Prolingua was small, the teacher encouraging and challenging and humorous–at least we thought she was funny, but who knows? She spoke French exclusively! Though we were “we-could-be-your-parents” older than the rest of the students, we bonded over butchering the beautiful language in our different accents: Polish, Romanian, Norwegian, Greek, and American…and dined and laughed and festivaled together. We’re due for another meet up–I’ll be in contact, Dagmara!!
  • Restaurants–In European restaurants, tables are close to one another, often abutting one another so this big-butted woman worries about being able to maneuver to the table without…butting into someone. In such close proximity at our neighborhood Italian canteen, a couple at the adjacent table heard us speaking English…we began a conversation that finished with the exchanging of contact info and planning a next meal together. We’ve now shared many meals, a weekend away, and hours and hours of conversations!

Making new connections is certainly not easy, but what a richness in being able to share meals, life experiences, laughter, and heartache with someone. And making new pals doesn’t mean we forget the old or vintage relationships. At the risk of planting an earworm, “Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver but the other’s gold.”

 

 

 

Q & A with an Expat

We never thought we’d move to Europe. Our relocation to New York from our cozy and familiar state of West Virginia was a big step for us years (and years) ago. Then our move to the Deep South was a huge difference–in accent, slang, food, and custom…The move back to New York after our nearly 5 year “exile” was not as smooth as we had hoped, but we did become quite cozy and comfortable in New York.

Then we moved to Luxembourg.

Upon our return “home” for a visit, we encounter a few types of people: those who want to know what our life is like here in this sweet little country, and those who are unsure how to approach the topic, and those who never (because of time constraints or lack of interest) get passed the subjects of family and current events. We’ve learned to distinguish the course of the conversation and, after sincerely investigating the events of their lives, we discern how honestly to answer or offer a snapshot of life outside the United States. Yet, even as Mr. Wonderful and I carefully answer queries posed, in the back of our little pea brains lie the responses with which we’d love to cut loose! Here are some commonly asked question:

1. So, how do you like living in Germany (substitute “Belgium” freely)? Answer given: Actually, Luxembourg is a country all its own, bordered by France and Belgium and Germany. Answer we want to give: You know, Luxembourg is  ON the map of Europe–perhaps you could take a peek!

2. Does everyone speak English? Answer given: Luxembourgish, French and German are the main languages used, but some people speak English, though we try to communicate in French first. Answer we want to give: Heck no, not everyone speaks English! It’s a FOREIGN COUNTRY!!!

3. What’s it like living in Europe?  Answer given: Oh, it’s hard being away from family and friends. The streets and parking spaces are small, the holidays are not the same, the language is labor intensive…but we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity! Answer we want to give: Are you kidding? Have you even looked at our posts on Facebook and Instagram? The castles, the views, the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of London, Vienna (the real one), the wine and the cheese and the bread…

4. Aren’t the people less friendly than we are in the United States? Answer given: Sometimes it’s harder to get to know people–remember, the language is a barrier at times and the culture is completely different. Answer we want to give: Do you kiss people you meet three times to greet them? If that’s not friendly, we don’t know what is! We’ve been welcomed and accepted by many of the nationalities we’ve encountered here, and it’s a privilege to call them “friends.”

5. Why did you move to Luxembourg, and would you do it again? Answer given: We had little choice in the move because we like to eat and pay our bills! Answer we want to give: Working and living in Europe is like a dream come true! We could never imagine being able to travel and meet so many fascinating and wonderful people on our own, so we knew our attitudes and approach had to match the task–to assimilate and appreciate and absorb the opportunity all around us with a touch of confidence and a ton of joy. Would we do it all over again? You bet we would!

Seasons in Luxembourg

It’s the leaving season. In the past few days, two of my dearest friends left Luxembourg, and in days to come, two more sweet women, as well as others I’ve been privileged to know, will depart with their families. If they return someday, it will be as tourists, guests, “friends who are visiting,” not as fellow expats navigating this adorable little country. It’s the heart-wrenching leaving season…my least favorite season of all…

My phone has been pinging so often, with questions to a group chat like, “Who needs a hand blender?” or “Mint extract, anyone?” or “I’ve got bottles of toilet cleaner–who wants ’em?” As those departing prepare to return to a country using 110 voltage or a different plug, and their packers have given them lists of forbidden items in the shipping container, they’re desperately clearing their homes while clinging to friendships. You see, living in an unfamiliar country or language or culture is a catalyst for relationships, as piloting through unknown waters together fastens people  in a bond held strong by experiences recounted or fear of the unknown. Butchering the language with someone is so much more enjoyable than floundering alone, d’accord? How comforting it is to laugh about the lack of online registering and the lunch hour closures of government offices when trying to renew that ever-expiring resident card? And then there are the lingering lunches on the terrace…

We don’t forget or replace our friendships “back home.” In fact, many of the people I love spending time with here in Luxembourg remind me of someone in New York. The candor and humor, the laughter and conversation, the compassion and service…I can draw lines to match Luxembourg friends to New York friends (or West Virginia family), regardless of language or nationality or accents or looks. The phrase “having the best of both worlds” takes on a whole, friendly new meaning.

family

And now,  as expats move back to their home countries or next assignments in order to be settled before the school year begins, friends and family arrive here for visits, a lovely reminder that the longevity of friendship has little to do with location, but much to do with the heart and desire. The leaving season is upon us, and though it tugs at my tear ducts,  a lifelong alliance with the leave-ER is a sweet memento of life in Lux.

Best-Friend-Symbol

 

Cooking up Conversation

I’m sifting through recipes, some handwritten, some typed, some with my editing marks. There are instructions for Kisir (Turkey), Cod Mousse and Chicken in a Pan and Cantucci (Italy), Chicken Tarragon Cake and Apple Pie (France), Orange Cake (Azerbaijan), Tart of Sintra (Portugal), and Lomo Saltado (Peru). I’m looking at the recipes with a smile, thinking of the women who contributed them…

english conversation

It’s a highlight of my week. I meet women and promote talking–about families, about cooking, about holidays and vacations (which apparently can be the same thing), about books and movies, about personality bonuses and blemishes. Because I can talk at length and listen fairly well,  it’s my privilege to facilitate the English Conversation group along with my British sidekick, Paula, at the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg.

know how hard it is to learn a new language, especially now that I live in a land of trident tongues spewing French and German and Luxembourgish. It’s encouraging to me to see these women screwing their courage to the sticking point as they speak, write and read in a language that’s foreign to them, without familiar vocabulary and grammar, without ordinary spelling and cadence. We’ve read about professions, then discussed our favorite jobs and those we were glad to see end. One woman spoke of a tutoring job she had when we was young, of a student who was “both lazy and stupid, a bad combination!” We’ve read about travel, then cited our best and worst vacations. When one member suggested her most disappointing holiday experience was in Rome, another chimed in (with a bit of an Italian accent)  “that’s not possible!”

And now our project is sharing our favorite recipes in writing for an international cookbook for the American Women’s Club. I’m learning so very much and tasting amazing food. I now know what a knob of butter is, that pearl is a type of sugar, that apple pie is delicious not only with coffee or tea but also with Champagne! I’ve grasped that to the tooth is the translation of al dente and can be used for food other than just pasta. Then there’s the realization that cantucci is not just any biscotti: this delightfully crunchy biscuit with almonds is served at the end of a meal, not with espresso but with vin santo, a dessert wine. How could I not have known about cantucci all my life? I’ve smiled as I remember that unlike French and Italian and Portuguese and many other languages, English grammar doesn’t assign gender to nouns, so  phrases like, “make the chicken into strings not before having hit him with the meat tenderizer,” or “add the sugar to the butter and beat him until he’s fluffy,” make me laugh as I think fondly of these dear women.

Though our course in English conversation may be suspended for a summer break, ideas are simmering for meaty chats in the fall. For now, here’s hoping the promises of tutoring in cantucci and meeting for  chats and coffees is, like all good pasta,  al dente.  Buon appetito!

 

 

 

 

The Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…

Physician, heal…

I should’ve listened to my gut when I called to postpone my appointment and no one spoke English. Oh, wait–my gut was the reason for having this procedure, stopping my beloved reflux medicine for two weeks, giving up coffee and wine and anything that tasted good or was called “food.” I should’ve remembered having no paper gown to cover up my broad backside when I went to the gynecologist, no ugly cotton gown with a grandpa’s pajama print to cover me while waiting for my mammogram. That time, all I could muster to keep modesty tears from my eyes was my little sister’s joke: Did you know the bra was invented by a German? He called it the “Schtoppschemfromfloppshen!” (Please forgive me, my dear German friends, but it makes me laugh–every time!).

In the meantime, waiting for November 2, I did my research on WebMD and MayoClinic.com since it was difficult to translate the brochure sent by the Centre Hospitalier. From what I could decipher, sedation would be available for those who were anxious about the procedure. I’d had an endoscopy 30 years ago; I remember little about it, only that I had a bit of a sore throat the next day. When I Googled “what to expect during an endoscopy,” here’s a portion, the portion I clung to, of what I found:

Sedation. For most examinations with an endoscope, a sedative is provided. This increases the comfort of the individual undergoing the examination. The sedative, which is administered via an injection into the vein, produces relaxation and light sleep. There are usually few if any recollections of the procedure. Patients wake up within an hour, but the effects of the medicines are more prolonged, so it is not safe to drive until the next day (WebMD.com).

Oh, yes, I recall the dreamy sleep from sedation (if only I’d had it during my children’s teenage years). I knew then, without a doubt, I would be sure to ask for sedation, maybe even some in a TO-GO bag! There was my homework before the procedure: learning how to ask, in French, for sedation without seeming like a weak American. After all, I’d labored with and delivered four children without even a Tylenol! Surely I’d earned to right to a little calm and “light sleep” while a doctor rammed a hose with a camera down my throat all the way to, well, who-knows-where…

Now, here I am, a few days on the other side of the procedure. I did ask for sedation, but I was more than wide awake and a little anxious during the endoscopy. I don’t believe what they put in my vein would even earn the label “Sedation Light,” but more like “Sedation Zero.” There are definitely lessons for me in this experience:

  1. Don’t always trust that the smile and murmuring in French is understanding.
  2. Be prepared to wait an hour past the appointment time.
  3. Appreciate the smiles and kindness of the medical staff.
  4. Just ask for drugs: I have since remembered French for “I want to go to sleep.”

The truth is that the cultural differences between Luxembourg and the United States were magnified in this experience–the U.S. medical approach values patient comfort for these kind of procedures. The truth is, I was made to feel like a weak person by asking for sedation instead of just putting up with the discomfort for 15 minutes or more. The truth is, I wanted to be a good patient and trusted the medical professionals to take care of me. The truth is, I do feel a bit violated about the whole thing, and hope it never happens this way to anyone else who prefers otherwise. But, the truth is, I’m a pretty tough cookie and I endured a very uncomfortable situation–I’ll live!

Home Again, Home Again

A week ago, we said our goodbyes, gave lingering hugs, dried teary eyes. It’s a 16 hour trip, door to door. If only there were a gradual transition from one country  continent to another, a way to ease into the cultural differences, the language differences, the housing differences, the people differences, THE STORE HOUR differences…oh wait, there is a transition…the airport. Having just wasted $5.99 seeing 47 Meters Down, a film about stupidity and diving with sharks, I see the similarity between the decompression stops a low-depth diver must use to prevent getting “the bends” to the time in the airport during our long journeys,  allowing us to adjust from one home to another.

The airport is a time warp.  From the moment I present my passport to the not-so-friendly TSA agent until the destination airport is facing my ample backside, time takes on a speed of its own. The date no longer matters, hours seem sooooo much longer than 60 minutes when the layover is expanded. But when those connections are tight, the minutes aren’t long enough, despite shuttles, moving sidewalks, race walking, and/or praying. 

Store hours are deceiving. One of the hard things about returning to Luxembourg is adjusting to the limitation of store hours, grocery and otherwise. In the airport, though stores are open 24/7, none of them near the gates have items anyone begs to purchase. How many neck pillows, magazines, and packages of gum do you need???

Airport people are a culture of their own. This time, we were the ones coughing and sneezing and sniffing (compliments of the grandson and great-nephew we loved on). We saw the rolled eyes, the grimaces, the recoil, but we were too Nyquilled up to care, until Mr. Wonderful broke his tooth on a cough drop… lacking compassion in my cold med stupor, I ignored his soliloquy on the what-if’s and if-only’s and son-of-a-guns, using all my willpower to keep from rolling a stinky young kid with a scroungy backpack off the 4 seats he was occupying so could take a nap. And those fellow travelers who love to talk, to anybody, and for those business people who participate in (loud) conference calls? The congestion in my ears was a gift!

Man-sleeping-in-airport-terminal

Now we’ve said our hellos, settled into schedules, and filled the fridge. I jumped right back on that bus to the grocery store, parallel parked for an appointment, accelerated to 140 km/h (sh!) on the motorway. When we’re here in our cozy apartment, our visits to our other “home” are dreamlike. But no matter where we are, we’re engaged, we’re busy, we’re involved, and we’re exhausted. So here’s the deal, Luxembourg–we’re back, and we’re ALL IN!

 

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again!

Who likes to go to the gynecologist? Wave those stirruped  feet in the air! Last week, this breast cancer survivor who, because of changed health insurance and fear of foreign francophone “female” physicians (but fondness for alliteration), FINALLY  had a rendezvous with medicine. Making the appointment was simple…keeping it was challenging.

Rather than using the telephone to make my appointment, I decided, because of my anxiety in speaking French over the phone, to simply go in to the gynecology practice and make the appointment in person. I had checked my calendar first, practicing the days of the week (in French) and reminding myself of the reverse order of month and day in Europe. Those things, combined with the math involved in converting military time to “normal,” gave me the confidence to march through that door, up to the counter and say swiftly, “Anglais, s’il vous plait?” The receptionist was gracious, her English good, and I walked away with an appointment card for the next week. I had repeated, “Tuesday,” with the woman, cementing that day and the 16:00 time in my head.

Next week Tuesday arrived, and we were in the midst of that hateful heat wave–90 degrees for several days in a row.  I did my chores and errands early, knowing I’d like to shower off the evidence of said heat wave before my appointment. All nice and fresh, bolstered with courage, I kept my appointment, only to have the receptionist tell me my appointment was the next day. Sigh…Tuesday had been lost in translation…Wednesday, I did my morning chores and errands, rushed home to shower off the heat wave before my appointment, and while toweling off, answer a call from the doctor’s office: she’s not in today, would I please come same time tomorrow. Thursday (still 90 degrees), I keep my morning obligations, do my chores, run my errands, and rush home to freshen up in the shower before my appointment. I arrive two minutes early, thinking there will be much paperwork to fill out since this is my first time at the doctor, but there is no paperwork, no peeing in a cup, no prior histories, just “please take a seat.”

When I’m called back to see the doctor (I only had to wait about 15 minutes), she asks me some questions about my medical history. When she asks me how tall I am in centimeters, I grin and say, “Yikes–I don’t know. We don’t use the metric system in the United States.” She looks at me sternly, asking if I have a calculator. I do indeed make that calculation on my iPhone (but okay, really I just Googled “how many centimeters is 5 foot 8 inches”). The doctor typed in the information I gave her. Next question: how much do you weigh in kilograms? Now, I’ve always been sensitive about my weight, always ashamed of being chubby. Her answer to my Googled number in kilograms was, “wow, that’s a lot.” The doctor then, in her less than warm and fuzzy bedside manner, asked, “Why haven’t you gotten your mammogram on time now that you’re in this country where you can get any medical test done and it’s paid for?” At that point, my eyes are tearing up as I relay to her that I have terrible global  insurance, not my host country’s social security assurance. She nods gruffly, then escorts me to the examining room, where I undressed behind a small screen. My only comments about the exam are:

  • There is no paper drape given for modesty
  • The examining “chair” is much for comfortable than the table in the U.S.
  • An internal ultrasound is routine
  • No blood pressure was taken, no listening to the heart, no breast exam

In the end (no pun intended!), this all-business doctor actually had a tender heart. As I was leaving, she patted me on the arm as she assured me I would get the tests I needed and I could contact her if I needed any further information or help getting my mammogram and MRI.  I paid for my visit, and made my appointment for next year–on a Tuesday, I’m sure!

MYTH #1: Air conditioning is not necessary in Europe. Today the apartment is in full “cave” mode–the outside electric shutters are down all the way, the windows are closed. It’s an almost-blistering 30 degrees outside. Celius. For those of us who have difficulty calculating 1.8 times the temperature Celsius plus 32, it’s 86 degrees, and the sun is beating down on the southern exposure terrace with the huge windows and beautiful views I can’t even see right now. In order to keep my cool, which is nearing depletion, I return to the apartment after my walk, let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and pray for relief from my compulsion about (not) using artificial lumination during daylight hours. This is day 3 of heat, with 3 more warmer days to come. And it’s only June.

When we were asked over a year ago by my husband’s company to provide a list of items we would like in our Luxembourg home, air conditioning was not at the top of the list, but it was more than halfway up (reminding me how grateful I am for the elevator!). The person who had requested the list scoffed in her French accent, “We don’t have air conditioning in Europe–we don’t need it.” Guess what, Valerie? When the estrogen runs screaming from your body faster than the cool air from your apartment and you have your own personal tropical climate raging with vasomotor instability (translation: HOT FLASH), the ability to cool the air is more than a luxury–just ask my husband!

MYTH #2: Ice in beverages is unusual in Europe. That much is true, however, when you’re hot and thirsty and desperate after a marathon through IKEA, you can claim ignorance on your premier trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, requesting “trop de glace dans un grande Coke Zero.” You think you’ve excelled at using a foreign language until the voice over the speaker says, in static-laden English, “you want ice cream in your Coke????”

MYTH #3: There is no speed limit on the autobahn. Not true. That’s all I’m saying.

MYTH #4: All stores are closed on Sunday.  That’s not true at all! The mini convenience stores attached to petrol stations are open on Sunday. In fact, you can fill your tank with diesel, purchase a delicious sandwich on a baguette, and buy hard liquor and a bouquet of flowers for your mom!

MYTH #5: All European beers are delicious. Aw geez–that one’s true!

MYTH #6: Europeans don’t like Americans.  I am so grateful that’s (generally) not true! The easiest, quickest, most honest relationships I’ve formed in the past almost year have been with my Dutch, French, German, Scottish, Luxembourgish, Irish, Romanian, Polish and Norwegian friends and classmates. Our cultural differences lend texture to my world, causing me to accept as well as give grace, spurring me to learn as well as educate. Here in this place, in this country, these are the kinds of relationships I covet, lest I tuck away in this dark apartment rather than experience the refreshing breeze of interaction before me.