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!

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!

What doesn’t kill you: expat epiphanies

I’m not a weenie, a wuss, a weak-minded woman. I’ve survived – even thrived – in some fairly adverse circumstances. But, quite honestly, being an expat, a “trailing” spouse, a foreigner– can be precarious in the best of times. As the holiday season begins, as families consider going over the river and through the woods…well…for this expat, it’s all downhill from there!

I’m sure the weather here in Luxembourg (rain, rain, and more rain) doesn’t lift my spirits, nor did my husband’s extended-at-the-last-minute trip to the U.S. last week. Being alone in another country continent is plain odd. I’ve lived places in the past besides my home town, but it was with my husband AND children, so that when Mark traveled, I had the kids keeping me spinning, paired with the comfort of their “I know, Mom,” mantras. Then, as the kids (mostly) grew up and left us, I had the routine of my job, the camaraderie of coworkers, and the congregation of my church to keep time flying. Now the days are long, daylight is short, and my heart is a bit cold in relation to being away from my…relations.

Thanksgiving is drawing nigh. In the United States. There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Luxembourg, though a smattering of celebrations can be found. Here, turkeys must be ordered (and may not fit in the small ovens), canned pumpkin is nowhere in sight, and Thursday is just another day at the office (or home alone in the apartment)! There will be no kiddos stumbling downstairs and into the kitchen, no offspring sniffing the air and asking “what time are we eating?” There will be no Scattergories or Settlers of Catan or Macy’s parade while I prep and cook and watch the family fun. There is, however, a rehearsing of gratitude, a chorus of gratefulness. My dear husband and I have a strong, affectionate marriage–we enjoy each other’s company. We have four (our dear daughter-in-law makes 5!) children who are accomplished, kind, funny people. We have the cutest grandson in the world, who is learning integrity and compassion from his parents. I survived sepsis, the illnesses of and death of a parent and parent-in-law,  breast cancer, an exile to Georgia (the state), and vacuuming around dead people in a funeral home–our home–for over 2 years. We’ve (Mark is a willing and wise participant) stumbled through all this and more, regained our footing, and continued to wait on that “peace that transcends all understanding.”

This is a wonderful place to live, a once-in-a-lifetime-experience to garner. BUT it’s not easy–to live/work/drive/shop here, to be away from our kids and extended family, to work in an environment where English is spoken only when necessary, to have no friends (yet) who know us deeply and love us anyway. BUT again–we thank our God every time we remember you. In all our prayers for all of you, we always pray with joy. Thus says the Apostle Paul in Philippians. This Thanksgiving, I’m sticking with him.