Luxembourg in a time capsule: The working years
In the final instalment of her walk down memory lane, Mindful Mimi recounts arriving in glamorous Paris for work. She returns to find Luxembourg a changed country despite itself, and the more international place to work.
I left Luxembourg at age 19 to live in Paris. In retrospect and now that I have kids, I am amazed that my parents let me go. Moving to Luxembourg City at age 17 was already a big step, but Paris was a whole different ball game.
I started working at an interior design company on prestigious Avenue Matignon. On a Friday evening, three weeks after finding a small 38 m2 apartment in the 14th arrondissement, I came home from work to find my entrance door in shambles. Clearly someone had broken into my place. As I had only just debarked in Paris, the burglars must have cursed when they saw the mattress on the floor and a huge, ancient and bulky TV set that represented my prized possessions.
I went to the local police office only to hear that they could not take my deposition as it was five minutes to seven, they closed at seven and taking a 'proces verbal' was clearly going to take longer than five minutes. I can't remember how, but I convinced them to do overtime and when they asked me for my ‘carte de sejour’, I knew this was not my lucky day. The carte de sejour is THE document to have with you at any time. I had of course requested one and it hadn't arrived yet. Luckily I was a citizen of the European Community or else I think I would have spent the night at the station...
Back at my apartment I called around to get the door, which was basically wide open, fixed. But on a Friday evening, such a thing is a challenge, even in a worldly city such as Paris. I ended up finding a company willing to come replace the door the next day and I asked a friend to spend the night and fend off any further invaders. The door was duly replaced the following day attached with a bill of FRF 4500, which was more than I could afford to spend in any given month.
What a great start! Of course I had to tell my parents about the burglary but I spared them details about the broken door and the costs. After all I wanted to prove that I could handle things on my own.
I had to tell my employer though, because I needed an advance on my salary to pay the bill. Luckily they had an angel called Jean-Marie who not only paid me in advance, but also agreed to stagger the amount over several months so that I didn't have to sleep under the bridge when the next rent was due.
But my luck was not about to turn. A few days after the burglary, someone knocked on my door. I had of course become suspicious by now and asked who was there. The guy outside said he was my neighbour and wanted to talk to me. I asked him, still through the closed door, what the subject was. And he said the words I will never forget 'Open the door, or I will break it again.'
Again?! I immediately called the cops, who to their credit, arrived only ten minutes later, Miami Vice style. By then, the guy was bonking at the door. When the cops asked me to open and requested my carte de sejour, I almost laughed. Nerves, I'm sure. Ironically the cops were disappointed that the guy had not broken the door, for that would have allowed them to take him in. Oh sure!
The guy did come back a few times, for he was indeed my upstairs neighbour, but after some weeks he had moved and things became quiet for the rest of the five years that I lived there.
After five years in the big city, I had had it and was craving some quiet. So I returned to Luxembourg in 1994. While I was looking for a job, I lived with my parents again for a month. I was 25 by then but, going by my parents' behaviour, one could think I was still a teenager. 'Where are you going? What time will you be home? Have you written enough letters to find a job yet?' and so on.
I was very glad I found a job after one month, allowing me to move out. I think they were as delighted as I was for it was again my father who found me an apartment in a small village called Flaxweiler. As he used his door-to-door policy again, I think I know why I was never able to plant my roots in this village.
Coming from a shoebox in Paris, the place seemed huge though. At first, it felt strange to exchange the noise of people and cars for that of cows and flies, to trade the subway for a little Opel Corsa. But it was great to be 'home' again and it's funny how fast you fall back into your old ways.
Surprisingly, working in tiny Luxembourg was much more international than working in cosmopolitan Paris. I was almost the only foreigner in the Paris offices, whereas I was only one of many nationalities at work in Luxembourg.
I also found that Luxembourg had changed. Before, there always seemed a delay in life in Luxembourg. Things arrived later in Luxembourg, fashion was a bit more dated, the country seemed to always fight any change.
But after five years of absence, I found that it had become a truly international and modern place. It was still the stubborn child that wants to remain who it is, but it had left its door open and things had sneaked in that weren't unpleasant. I had the feeling that Luxembourg had grown up, become a little wiser and open-minded.
I still get annoyed regularly about slow and complicated bureaucracy. Instead of volunteering information, they seem to withhold it and actually enjoy your parcours du combattant (obstacle course) to find out what help you have a right to and what you need to do to get it.
I still don't understand how it can claim innovation but at the same time insists to do things the way they have always been done. I for example struggled a lot with the incomprehensive roadmap when you move within Luxembourg City. I remember having to go to at least five different places to get all the paperwork settled. (This has now changed with the Biergercenter at the Centre Hamilius and the Guichet Unique, although that site is still only available in French.)
I still shake my head at the locals' seemingly inborn stubbornness and perceived arrogance. Then again, knowing many of them as I do, I know it’s often a mask they put on to hide their insecurity.
I recently attended a training course called 'Bridging the Cultural Gap'. I always thought I was pretty international, culturally savvy, but that course showed me that I am more Dutch than I thought. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
So before throwing all those Luxembourgers in the same boat, remember that you are sitting in it too...
And if you have any questions about life in Luxembourg specifically or in general, let me know via Expatica's Expat Aunt & Uncle pages.
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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