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.