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!

Oh, Pat! I have been thinking about you and praying for you so much lately. You’ve been on my heart. Have you become accustomed to your return to 24/7 shopping and English being spoken? I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment after all your years of living in Zurich, then Luxembourg.

First things first! Your crockpot makes me feel like I can cook again–no small feat in this country, being unable to read labels and find ingredients! Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to adopt your slow cooker. It’s so wonderful to come back after French class in the evening and smell ready soup or roast or chicken. The aromas make our apartment feel more like “home.”

Yes, we’re still learning that darned language–finishing the second course level. Mark remains incredibly determined, but I’m ready to throw in the serviette.  I’m ready for a little more relaxation–Monday and Wednesday evenings are anything but!

Speaking of relaxation, I don’t have much of that compared to when we first arrived. You can probably comment on the syndrome of the trailing spouse who, looking for things to fill the time while her husband is at work and/or traveling, over commits to (good) things in order to feel useful and productive. I’m almost happy the programs will be coming to a holiday soon–I’m tired!

I’ve taken on the English Conversation group at AWCL–I was tapped for this as the current leader is returning to the U.K. Though it’s apparently preferred that a British person speaking proper English facilitates the group, someone fancied my lack of accent (they haven’t heard my trying-to-be-funny-West-Virginia accent) and my friendly, patient manner. Thank goodness they didn’t contact the Lockhart children or my husband for references! The group of women involved are a sweet, fun bunch; the nearly 18 expats are Italian or Spanish or Chilean, or Ukrainian or French, and who knows what else! I’ve said many times, “I didn’t move to a foreign country to be friends with just Americans!” These women are gregarious and accepting and work so very hard to improve their English. It’s a joy to spend time with them–and you know how I love correcting grammar!

I’m also serving lunch to the refugees at the Croix Rouge. I enjoy seeing them at lunch very much, but it’s not convenient for me to get there! If Mark has the car at work for the day, I can walk to the center, but then also stand on my feet for over 2 hours and walk home 35 minutes…yikes! I just haven’t quite figured out the bus route, despite the fancy schmancy app on my phone. I’m ashamed to be complaining about getting to the refugees…imagine their voyages to make it to a safe place…

I lead a Bible study for women on Monday mornings. It’s the way I need to start my week, to ensure my heart is in the right place, because we all know what’s down in the well is what comes up in the bucket! Mark and I also attend a small group from church on Tuesday evenings with wonderful people from all over the world. Once in a while, we spend the Sunday morning service either helping in the nursery with the wee ones, or before service starts, we greet those who come to church.

I sit at the welcome desk at AWCL for three hours on Thursday’s. (I get so see your friend Pauline when she comes to scrapbook. She’s a lovely person!). Answering the phone or being a smiling face for someone new to Luxembourg–I think I’m equipped for that =)

We’ve had a couple visitors and look forward to having more! It means so much to have someone here, seeing where we live, how we live, that some parts are wonderful and others are quite tricky. It’s fun to “show off” this country and the people and the beauty. I know folks think it’s a grand adventure to live here–and it is–but it’s not easy. I’ll stop there, lest I complain about silly things that don’t really matter!

It’s been a privilege and such a blessing to us to see our children flourishing in our absence. They’ve all had great success at work or school this year, and they seem to have grown closer as siblings. That part–that huge distance–still hurts my heart and brings a lump to my throat. I can’t fix it, so I pray it changes me for good.

I believe people are in our lives for seasons–to teach us, to love us, to encourage us, to challenge us. You, Pat, were the most welcoming person to me when we arrived. I’m so grateful to know you and won’t forget you, as I try to follow your  sweet example.

Take care and keep posting beautiful photos of Alaska!

Hugs to you,

Diana

 

Re-entry

Aaaaand…we’re back. Back in a routine–work and language class and small groups and American Women’s Club and volunteering, meeting friends for movies and coffees and meals–in a different town, in a different country, on a different continent. Our dear pastor’s wife had emailed back in December, before we departed for our Christmas vacation, with these wise words: “coming back will be difficult…..hope you don’t mind me butting in to say that, but just would encourage you to have a re-entry plan…..as in several “fun” things scheduled within the first 2 weeks you are back cause it can be rough—re-entry….” I followed her advice. While my husband is busy with his career, I’ve been busy with the business of busy-ness!

Returning to expat life bears resemblance to a vacation of sorts. Here in our neat little apartment there are no offsprings’ socks on the floor, no dishes left by the sofa, no towels on the floor, no questioning, “What’s for dinner, Mom?”, no adorable grandson running circles around the kitchen. Despite my dear husband’s extra long work days and travel for business, life here does, indeed, mimic a break from the “real” world as we knew it–before our expat assignment. Yard work, painting, repairs, and snow shoveling are unessential tasks in our apartment.

I’ve loved returning to walking to reach a destination rather than for exercise, especially as my legs returned to chunky gams while we were “home” because I don’t (walk). As I prepared for an early schlep this morning in the fog, I checked the weather app on my phone, remembering Groundhog Day is February 2, when celebrity Punxsatawny Phil predicts the remaining length of winter by observing his shadow or lack thereof. (If only the future of a Presidency could be predicted in the same manner, but I digress)! The mild winter here in Luxembourg, with temperatures rarely below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, has been a respite from snow and ice and bitter winds, but we’ll look forward to the fog and rain vanishing when spring returns–6 weeks according to the calendar–and according to Phil…big surprise…I’ll look forward to a coiffure without the fog-and-drizzle-frizzies! Good hair days are a throw of the dice anyway, but throw in that Luxembourg umbrella and it’s all over but the cryin’…and straightenin’…

The gloom of the Luxembourg skies are not helpful for this mamma’s heart missing her kids and grandkid–their voices, their hugs, their laughter. We are incredibly grateful for technology that allows us to see them and chat and almost make the distance disappear. With a few special dates on the calendar and the hope of some visitors, family and friends, I’m singing the lyrics of Lee Adams with Tony Bennett: Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face…Spread sunshine all over the place, so put on a happy face!

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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.