Luxembourg in a time capsule: The childhood years
Born and raised in Luxembourg, blogger Mimi is nevertheless no Luxembourger. As an 'almost-expat' here for over 30 years, Mimi offers a remarkable perspective on this little country over the years.
As I was born in Luxembourg, you might say I don’t know what the real life of an expat is like. My parents had been living in Luxembourg for a little while, and bought a house and such, before I came along.
But I am of Dutch nationality and all my extended family still lives in the Netherlands. So neither was I ever the typical Luxembourgish kid.
I grew up in a tiny village in northern, rural Luxembourg, which at the time (we’re talking the seventies here) had a proud 400 and some inhabitants. We had street names; the village 2 km further north only had house numbers – I kid you not – and I think they still do. (Contact me for the name of this tourist attraction!)
School in rural Luxembourg
Going to local kindergarten and primary school was easy. We all either walked there or were chauffeured in a little VW van by a nice older lady called Ketty, Tréisy or something maiden-like. She was probably in her forties, but of course that’s ancient when you’re under 10.
When I entered kindergarten, I did not speak Luxembourgish (Dutch being my mother tongue). Luckily there was little Alberto, a Portuguese kid, who had the same problem and we wiggled our way through the first weeks of complete and utter incomprehension. How we managed to talk to each other is beyond me, but being in the same situation must have made us resourceful.
In primary school, two grades shared one teacher and we were about 15 or so per classroom. I vividly remember the little yellow papers marked ‘bonne note’ we received for good marks or deeds. I can’t remember what we received when we had collected a few, but they were THE thing to work hard for.
Our teachers were quite strict. Funnily enough the strictest one was the one I preferred. He did use a ruler to hit our outstretched hands when we were unruly, but he also told the most amazing stories and above all took us to discover the great outdoors. He is responsible for the fact that I still know many flowers with their Latin, German and Luxembourgish names, though the dried flowers have withered and the book that held them has been lost in the attic forever.
My brother and I were almost the only foreigners in the village. There was one other Dutch family and one Portuguese family. Kids liked to tease us and call us 'kaaskop' (‘cheese head’). The Dutch were heavily promoting cheese in the seventies and ‘Frau Antje’ represented both the Netherlands and cheese at the time.
After school, we spent our time mostly playing outside. We would roam the woods, build tree houses, start little fires, become the village detectives desperately looking for something to happen and play pranks on neighbours. There was a lot of freedom and very little danger; adults did not always accompany us. We would take the bus alone to the next bigger village and walk 2 km up the hill to the local outdoor swimming pool.
We only had terrestrial television, which gave us bad reception of a few German channels and, if you were lucky enough to live on the hill, you could capture a Belgian channel and watch Goldorak. We were not on the hill and this debut of manga culture completely passed me by. The choice being limited, we all watched the same programmes, which created a close bond and similar likings.
Here is what was popular in my village:
- Die Rote Zora und ihre Bande
- Michel aus Lönneberga
- Karlsson auf dem Dach
- Das fliegende Klassenzimmer
Growing up in a rural village, my childhood lasted quite long and I could still be seen playing with dolls at age 12.
Not one of the locals
Besides being a ‘cheese head’, I first realised things were different in our household when we did our first communion. In Luxembourg, a very catholic country, this is a big deal. We had a weekly religious class (which we all disliked equally) and, weeks before communion in April, classes were cranked up a notch. We all had to wear a white angel-like tunique and had the honour to be initiated into the catholic church rituals.
Traditional white tunics at a first communion
After the ceremony, I went home. End of story. But my Luxembourgish friends had a whole day laid out for them with lunch, zillions of expensive gifts, family visits and dinner. I remember being jealous about the gifts but my parents were ingenious at explaining why we didn’t get any, and I ended up being happy to have escaped endless boring family luncheons.
We didn’t go to the cinema. The only one was in Luxembourg City which was 40 km away and the first time I made it there was when I was 13 or 14.
We didn’t go to restaurants either. Though that was mainly because we were Dutch and had a stingy dad. :)
We were also different in that we often went to Holland to see the family and coming back with items (toys, clothing etc.) that stood out because that fashion hadn’t made it to Luxembourg yet and probably never would.
Going to Holland was the great adventure. It took more than three hours to get to where my family lives, and my dad started preparing days in advance. We would spread out on the backseats – no seatbelts available – with cushions, Mom had cookies and drinks, and we would listen to songs and play games.
We loved Holland. Things were ‘different’ and thus cool. It was a home away from home. On the way home the car was loaded with things and we had to pretend to sleep when crossing the border because we were always ‘smuggling’ coffee back home as it was soooo much cheaper in Holland.
Come to think of it, knowing my dad, it was probably just for a few guilders that he made his kids his partners in crime!
Look out for the second part of Mimi's story, 'Luxembourg in a time capsule: The teenage years'.
Mimi is a working mother of two little boys, who likes to out her creativity through writing, painting and photography. She blogs about self-improvement, creativity, her hobbies and much more at Mindful Mimi.
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