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.

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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.

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We’ve done lots of people watching in the past 6 months. We’ve watched diners and tourists, parents and lovers, business people and trailing spouses. Concocting tales about the public we observe is not only a fascinating pastime, but a helpful tool for us to frame  our casual considerations and assimilate (or just pass the time). Here are some of the novelties we’ve experienced as expats:

Everyone in Europe wears a scarf. I’m thinking it’s not as much a fashion statement as a protection against the cool, damp air. Despite the fact that puffy jackets suddenly appear here when the temperature dips below 60° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius–doesn’t that number make you feel colder anyway?), I have yet to wear a winter coat this season, as the combination of  a scarf tucked jauntily into my collar and hot flash keep me toasty–or downright sweaty–as I walk or bus about Luxembourg City.

Men carry purses. Okay, maybe they don’t really “carry” but wear them–cross body or on the shoulder–bigger, smaller–it seems purses for men make up about 50 percent of the luxury purse market. Hmmm….maybe I have seen as many men as women in the Gucci boutique in city centre as I drool outside the window. The bags don’t make the men look less masculine, just more European “and sensible,” said the woman digging her husband’s sunglasses and wallet from her formerly adequately-sized cross body reticule.

Girls on bikes are beautiful. They have good posture, long flowing hair, charming hats, and skirts that don’t get caught in the spokes or the chains. And they’re not sweaty as they peddle away  with colorful flowers in their baskets–how do they bike and not be drippy???

Watch your step–dog poo plagues the path. And by plague I mean it’s everywhere on the sidewalk and in parking lots! Here we are, in beautiful Europe…one of Mark’s colleagues told him, “Ah, I see you’ve made it to the civilized part of the world,” yet in this refined age, men are still Euro-peeing and leaving dog poop on the sidewalk! My heart rate would be a lot higher on my walks if I didn’t have to dodge feces missiles every meter…or maybe seeing that special litter is what elevates my pulse.

European drivers are mercurial. Stay a second too long when a traffic light turns green and someone at the wheel behind you will certainly lay on the horn–it’s not just a little tap–he or she must certainly be reclining on the horn. On the motorway, he sneaks up on you while you’re driving the permitted 120 kilometers per hour, flashing his lights until you can skirt the truck moving at a speed of only 100.  Yet, when making a left-hand turn onto a busy street, that same someone would surely stop, not just slow down, to allow you to enter the road safely. It’s a conundrum….

The Dutch are very tall. I’m not a short woman…I’m taller than my sisters and my mother and my daughter and my husband’s sisters (and my husband), taller than most of my friends, but when Mark and I wen t to the Netherlands, I felt incredibly short. Our casual observation (and aching necks) are substantiated by the website liveandinvestoverseas.com, which states that, yes, the Netherlands is the tallest country in the world. In fact, the Dutch government recently promised to change building regulations to increase the height of doorways. I’ll wager that means the Dutch have bigger feet–this Sasquatch mama needs a new pair of shoes!

and, finally

There is nothing cuter than a little kid speaking French. Period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Absence Makes the Heart Grow…

We’ve been “home,” back in the U.S. for a visit, for 5 weeks now. The reunion with our kids was sweet, the holidays with them poignant and hilarious. Visiting with my mother and extended family was precious. Lunch dates, dinner dates, coffee dates (finally a huge, refilled cup of coffee!), breakfast dates, shopping dates–time with friends was so very special–recharging us, refreshing us as we caught up on lives and families and jobs–and the weight we’d lost when in Luxembourg! Stretchy pants have never been so appealing!

So now we prepare to go home…to a home in Luxembourg, while we’re home in New York, after we made a trip home to West Virginia. Have I betrayed my home where the kids grew up, the home where I grew up, by saying maybe I’m ready to “go home” to  a tiny routine in a tiny apartment in a tiny country in Europe? How on earth do we balance life here with life there? How can we be so very grateful for the decades long friendships we have here, along with our beloved family, yet yearn for the months long friendships we’ve formed in Luxembourg?

What is home? Where is home? My permanent address, my habitat, my sense of belonging are some components in the home construction. Author Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in Smithsonian Magazine (May 2012)  that home is a way of “organizing space in our minds.” If there’s no place like home, and home is where the heart is, and a house is not a home, and a home is built of love and dreams, and you can feel “at home” yet not be home…I’m wrestling with the organization of that space in my racing mind and my fickle heart.

But here’s what I do know: my home is with my dear husband, my French study buddy, my fellow adventurer, my best friend. We’ve made a home together in a trailer in West Virginia, funeral parlor in New York, a neighborhood in rural Georgia–why not an apartment in Luxembourg City? While we’ve been home, I’ve enjoyed my 24-hour Wegmans and Walmart, large and plentiful parking spaces, hearing English all around, and toting my monstrous dollar coffee from McDonald’s. I’ve cherished the time spent with family and friends.

Yet, we’re anticipating a return to cultural cacophony and feeling at home as we navigate the hurdles in our home across the sea–continuing to learn another language and the public transport system, continuing to forge friendships and connections, continuing to explore the history and beauty of another continent.  My heart is in this transition back to Europe, and yep…it’s true…home is where the heart is.