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.”

 

 

 

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…

Talking Turkey

Lest I beat a dead turkey, I cannot let this Thanksgiving holiday pass without my inventory of gratitude. Because that list would unfurl like a roll of toilet paper, I’ll confine my obligation to five things I’m thankful for in dear little Luxembourg…

The weather 

As I look at the weather app on my phone and see days and days of 6°C, as compared to endless tundra of -9°C in motherland, this mother is grateful it’s cool enough to ward off hot flashes, yet balmy enough to keep those nose hairs from freezing! And how very humorous that a country with a distaste for air-conditioning also has a law against allowing the car to run on cold mornings simply for the purpose of defrosting the windshield!

The views

Maybe I’m just not over Europe, but there’s still a sense of awe when I look out my window. As I look past the dead (nearly) geraniums in the window boxes on my terrace and see the roof-line of the houses below, small billows of white from the chimneys, I fall in love with Luxembourg all over again.  I feel comfortable in the landscape here–the countryside reminds me of my native West Virginia until that moment of “Oh look! a castle!!”

The history

I’m mesmerized by World War II–the facts, the families affected, the fallout. I’m drawn to the resiliency of the people, the resolve to move on, the remembrance to honor. Whether it’s Gëlle Fra –the Golden Lady in Place de la Constitution, or Winston Churchill (in his own Place), or the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, tears of gratitude come for the sacrifices for freedom. And then, just as you’re out for a leisurely stroll, you discover this       marks pic

and the tears come yet again…

The wine

A picture is worth, well, you know!wine

The people

Over the years, we’ve had friends from many places in the world–Italy, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa, Germany–and friends who’ve lived many places in the world, either as missionaries or in private industry. We’ve always enjoyed those friendships, appreciated the differences in culture and traditions. But there’s nothing like now meeting those friends on their soil. The generosity (in word and deed) of my Dutch friends, the laughter and warmth of my Italian friends…the humor and encouragement of my French friends, the energy and sass of my Spanish friends…and the acceptance and love of my Luxembourgish friends, to name a few! I adore my friends from Poland and Ireland, and Romania and Uruguay and Finland and Scotland, and Canada and England and Slovakia and Germany…see what I mean? What a wonderful mix of personality and nationality, and I’m more than grateful this anonymous quote applies so well to my life in Luxembourg ♥ “A friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”