The process of relocating from our home state of Oregon to a temporary (and too brief) time period in Ireland, and finally moving to Luxembourg has been a whirlwind. Life in Luxembourg has been really good, but it hasn’t been an easy adjustment. It’s now been eight months since we moved from Ireland, and this whirlwind is settling down. We are finding rhythm and feeling more comfortable here. It’s actually more about being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. That being said, I want to document the range of emotions and experiences we had in our early months in Luxembourg. It’s easy to forget some of the silly, simple things that felt so challenging at first.
For several months, it felt INTIMIDATING to be here. I really believe it all stems from the language barriers. It’s common to speak French here (or German or Luxembourgish) and we unfortunately only know English. The language barrier has caused previously simple tasks to feel stressful and difficult to navigate. Not being able to read our apartment rental contract or government immigration documents just really shook us. I also like to connect with people, and that’s difficult when my only words are “bonjour” and “merci”. We immediately missed Ireland where thick accents were our only barrier to communicate.
This language barrier has forced us to get creative and use our resources. The day I discovered the camera feature on my Google Translate phone app was life changing. I am constantly using it, whether translating the official government documents (written in French) or the washer/ dryer settings (written in German). I use it frequently in the grocery store. Although, it seems the translation might not always be perfect.
Besides Google Translate, I really rely on facial expressions and context clues if I’m trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. I’ve had some situations where I’m pretty impressed with the creativity of hand gestures. Phone calls with local companies will probably forever remain challenging because I don’t have the luxury of using context clues or hand gestures. It was comical how long I was on the phone with a local rental car company, trying to ask about snow chains. Thankfully, Neal remembers some French from his high school/ college studies which means I sometimes send him texts like this…
Shockingly, the Arlon, Belgium IKEA has been a surprising source of comfort. We’ve been to the Portland, Oregon IKEA many times, but I didn’t expect the Arlon store to feel so familiar. Crazy to realize how much comfort can be found in recognizing brands, but I take it as an indicator of how unfamiliar we had been feeling in Lux. Visiting IKEA in Portland was always a fun idea that turned into a stressful event. It’s a busy, chaotic store. Suddenly, going to IKEA here for our Luxembourg apartment was a breath of fresh air. A place I recognized. A system I already knew. Helpful, because we had a few very successful IKEA trips that resulted in an overly full rental car. Neal’s really good at playing Tetris. Turns out we could have/ should have brought a lot more of our Portland furniture with us.
Of all the countries Neal’s company could have asked us to move to, I am so grateful that we landed in Luxembourg. This country is unique because of how many other expats live here. I have made more friends than I ever expected and it feels so cool to get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds. We have a lot in common. Most people did not know where Luxembourg was before they moved here (like me). Most of my new friends do not have work visas and cannot practice their professions while they are here (like me). Most of them are struggling with learning French (LIKE ME). I am so thankful for those friendships. It’s really nice to start building community.
Because Luxembourg has so many expats, the government gives every new resident a book called, “Just Arrived”. It’s a resource guide on everything an expat could need: from integrating culturally, sorting recycling, navigating administrative procedures, locating nearby health clinics, listing public holidays, truly EVERYTHING. It’s amazing that the government would have such an organized system in place for welcoming new residents and give them resources to be successful in this tiny country.
There really are many reasons to be thankful we’re in Luxembourg. Luxembourg has free public transport (trams, buses, and trains) and it makes Neal and I so happy that we don’t need to own a car. Also, wine is incredibly cheap here. Although we cannot find Mexican food and miss it terribly, we have identified our favorite pizza shop, and it’s only two blocks away from our apartment.
The city is so small, and yet I still discover new things all the time. For example, I’ve walked by a particular museum many times, but I never knew these old fortress walls and a gorgeous view were just behind the building.
One day, I went for a walk in city center and ended up stumbling upon a royal visit from the King and Queen of Belgium. As I walked by the Grand Palace (where the Grand Duke of Luxembourg conducts business), there was security, members of media, and a small crowd of people gathered, all waiting for something. Once the military band started playing, the royalty processions began. Oh, Luxembourg. I can’t believe I just stumbled upon this.
It’s a magical country. I’m so thankful we get to have this unique experience of living here.
A few lessons we learned early on, guaranteed to make us smile as we read this later
- When I thought saying “Thank you very much” in French was “Merci Voo Cue”
- We thought Auchan was a German grocery store, and pronounced “Awk-Can”. Turns out, it’s a French grocery store and is pronounced “Osh-ON”.
- The ongoing discussion about how to pronounce the name of the National Sports Center, “Coque”
- That time we bought used book cases from a “neighbor” through Facebook Marketplace, not realizing Google Maps doesn’t account for elevation change. Like a scene from The Three Stooges, we (Neal mostly) carried book cases up and down the hills of Luxembourg in the dark back to our apartment
- Finding comfort tuning in to OPB/NPR and hearing familiar voices
- Learning people say “Take Away” here, not “to-go” or “take out”
- Buying tickets for public transport and wondering why no one else was
- My urge to respond in Spanish instead of French
- Losing my phone (TWICE) and the process of retrieving it
- When Google Translate and two nearby people couldn’t help me communicate with the internet installation guy, I’ll never forget that cave means basement
- The process of finding peanut butter for Neal, ordering it in bulk from the UK