In the November 2011 issue of Delano magazine (Luxembourg), writer Aaron Grunwald, interviewed Eleonora, a Brazilian expat who has lived in Luxembourg for the past eighteen years. One of her first comments in the interview was that “Luxembourg is like a trap, a gilded cage. The moment you come, you always think, ‘I’m going to leave in three years.’…Everyone does, it is just so easy to live here…” After living in Europe now for nearly three years, I would have to agree with Eleonora.
The interview continues with Eleonora suggesting that if people plan on staying [in Luxembourg] for at least a year that they actually look for a place to buy because both housing and general living expenses have only increased in her experience. Germany is a little different, it seems that people here only buy a home if they know they will get married start a family or they are simple happy to rent away. This also seems very different from the American idea of home ownership as a way to the American Dream and security, ideas which are hotly debated today in the US.
Eleonora was then asked the difference between the work habits she has noticed in Luxembourg and her home country, Brazil. She observed that people in Luxembourg seem “to drop their pens at five o’clock” which she explained didn’t happen in Brazil. I would have to say the same thing about the US as well. One of the more frustrating parts of my husband’s job is that sometimes his coworkers too easily leave an open project or assignment for tomorrow because the work day is ‘over’. Now, he has mentioned that this is both frustrating and a blessing sometimes because American work culture seems to lean toward not leaving any work – or as little work as possible undone or incomplete at the end of the day. Which means that Americans will work themselves to near death for their jobs. Not necessarily their careers or their families or passions, but their JOBS. They often tell themselves that they are doing the work (and the extra work or hours) for their families, careers and/or life…but I would be willing to bet that it doesn’t pan out as much as they hope it would.
Before coming to Europe, my husband was working a dime-a-dozen dead-end job that didn’t seem willing to be flexible with him, so he could get a second job to pay off as much of his debts in America as he could, to save money to come to Europe and to save money for our wedding. The only extra jobs he could get were on the weekends or graveyard shift delivering papers (which did not offer ANY days off). He was only really able to get ahead of his bills was if he worked overtime, which was either non-existent or upwards of 10-20 extra hours a week, and he did it because he knew there was something bigger on the horizon. Week after week it all would leave hims so exhausted that he didn’t want to do anything other than sleep on his time off, which is all he barely had time for. Here there is a different mentality, sometimes he says he misses the drive that people often had the in the US. However, he does wholeheartedly appreciate the ability to not feel guilty if all of his work isn’t done at the end of the day, there will always be more tomorrow anyway!
Leonora claims that Luxembourg lacks a lot of culture. I can’t speak about Luxembourg personally, but I have heard that sentiment from others who have lived and/or worked there. However, I would like to counter that I have also said, at times, the same thing about our town. I understand that part of this is coming from being slightly homesick for the ease that was anything cultural in Portland, any and every day and night there was something for anyone. Part of that though, I understand came from my living there of and on for nearly thirty years! I knew so many of the cities secrets. I often wonder how much I know about it now after being away for so long. I would also like to add here, that we live in Europe for heaven’s sake!! If the place you live doesn’t have that much culture to you anymore, ANYWHERE else in Europe or Africa or Western Asia/Russia is not that far away. Think about if this woman still lived in Brazil, how far away would all of this be then? I think it is funny when people here complain about Norway or Spain or [insert any other country in Europe here] because it is usually at least three-six times farther away from the US, let alone the western part of the US. Count your blessings and go on a weekend trip with Ryanair or another inexpensive airline that lets you simply say the weekend you are free and then surprises you with cheap tickets to [x place].
The last question Grunwald asked was on advice: “What advice would you give newcomers?” Here Eleonora offers some sound advice: learn a language, any language!! I can’t express to you just how much harder it is for me here since I didn’t stick to learning a second language. Mind you I know I have had it easier than most since the professor I worked with my first year had a great support network already set up for me here. It could be much worse, I know. My lacking in understanding of the German language has left me out of many positions I could be likely highly qualified for. Yes, as a tourist or general visitor you can get away with people being polite and speaking English with you, even if they are not that confident in their ability. In the long run it is necessary to know more than your mother tongue though. Even my husband is a fluent Spanish (and English) speaker, which does benefit him here. Our German language abilities are getting better daily as we have committed to becoming somewhat fluent before moving on. Not knowing the language of my adopted home feels at times like I am not in the inner circle yet, stuck on the peripheral. If this experience has taught me anything, it is a better understanding of what immigrants in the US must experience.
The final tip offered by the person interviewed is to travel, travel, travel! We are looking into how we can afford to travel to Italy once a year while also visiting some of the other amazing places in Europe that we have yet to see together. We have time, oh do we ever, but we just don’t have enough money for all of our amazing adventures yet… unfortunately, this needs more planning. How can traveling not be a good idea!! You become privy to other cultures and people and can appreciate both your origin culture/ home and your adopted culture/home that much more! My husband and I both appreciate the simple life we have here
I think a lot of what is mentioned here can easily be applied to more than just Luxembourg. I understand that some countries in Europe are doing better than others, and that I happen to now live in a country with a strong economy, which affords its own perks. I would argue that this mentality isn’t unique to Luxembourg or Germany though. The standard of living is different, the mentality is different, the people aren’t that different though, in that sense it reminds me a lot of Portland, which I joke is like a cult because once you live there it is hard to move on. I could argue just how much Portland too is like a trap, but I will save that for another time. It is easy to get caught up in living and loving here in Europe. My husband and I certainly have.