Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just some stuff about living here in the summer

In a way I think it's fortunate timing that we're hitting the predicted culture shock stage right about now, in the middle of Luxembourgish summer.  At least the weather is nice, our schedule is really flexible, and we can be as busy or not busy as we want to be.  In general, we aim for just enough activity to keep occupied and not slump into a bad state of mind for lack of other things to focus on.  So far it's going pretty well, but maybe it's just a delay of the inevitable...

But it's kinda funny here right now.  August is the absolute peak of European vacation season.  In Luxembourg, everyone gets 5 weeks total vacation, no matter their occupation (Pete will too!), and most people take a big chunk of that in August.  In the city center, there are always people eating at restaurants and cafes, or touring around on their own vacations from other countries.  But other than this and the occasional evening rush at the grocery store, the rest of the city feels almost deserted at times.

Case in point:  There is a real estate agency directly below our apartment.  One morning, the two gals who work there just didn't show up for work.  The office was closed with no sign or notice posted anywhere.  That afternoon a young man came to drop off some papers and buzzed our door when he couldn't get into the agency.  I explained that I didn't know where they were but that they must be out on an appointment at a property and that they'd probably back soon.

That was 2 over weeks ago.  They just got back yesterday.

Businesses close and people disappear for weeks, and it's just normal.  You just can't imagine that happening in the US.  As Pete reminded me, part of the cultural mindset over here is that they are willing to leave some money on the table in the name of a rest, enjoyment, and balance.  It's kind of nice, actually.

(Along the same lines, if a store is supposed to be open until 6:30, the lights are turned off at 6:15.  At 6:30 the employees expect to be GONE and you'd better be too).

Anyway, the flip side of the August=Vacation culture is that everyone who is here and is working at ANY point during the month of August tends to be grumpy - as if someone forced them to work on Christmas and without holiday pay.  So, combine that with my language handicaps when communicating with these poor unfortunate souls, and let's just say I've received my fair share of eye rolls and scoffs this summer.

One more note about groceries - the shops run out of stuff quick.  If you don't get there by 5, they're not just out of the kind of bread you want - they may be out of all breads, period.  Yesterday I was there right before close and they were completely out of any and all leafy green vegetables.  I think part of the reason they don't stock as much is because perishables here spoil quite quickly.

Some other observations, some summer-related, some not:

  • Europeans love their bottled water.  They buy a constant supply of giant packs of giant bottles.  The water here is very hard, but as far as I know quite safe to drink.  In the States, you tend to get the impression that Europeans are quite eco-conscious, but apparently they didn't get the memo on that one.  At least they seem to do a good job of recycling them.  In other possibly related news, Luxembourg just installed its first public drinking fountain.  No joke.
  • At parks and playgrounds, I'd say there are far fewer parents on their smartphones (even just taking pictures with them) than I noticed in Oregon.  They are most often engaging with their kids or chatting with each other.  The trade off:  there is also a lot more smoking at parks. (I think it's pretty well known that Europe hasn't fully digested the memo on that one either.)
  • Many pools require males to wear Speedos, or at least tight-fitting swim shorts.  We have not yet visited a pool where this is required, and it seems unlikely that we will in the near future if Pete has anything to say about it.  However, this does not change the fact that we've seen plenty of dads in Speedos.  Nothing says, "Why yes, I DO live in Europe" like hanging out at the local pool with vaguely Italian-looking dads smoking cigarettes in their Speedos.
  • Air conditioning in a home (and many stores) is quite unheard of.  I don't think most people even own a fan.  They don't see it as worth it for the maybe 10 days in the high 80s or low 90s each year.  We don't have a fan, and will probably just sweat it out, so to speak.
  • And speaking of sweat, people don't take off their layers when it's hot.  They seem to say, "I've assembled this outfit perfectly and I'll be darned if I ruin it by taking off the jacket component!" Honestly, I think this corner of the world would smell a whole heck of a lot better if we'd just embrace the removal of layers.  It's what they're for, right?  Must have been on the same memo with smoking and water bottles.

The kids have had a playdate here and there this summer, but most people have been gone or busy with their own families' visits.  My plan to get them some good Luxembourgish exposure has pretty much failed, aside from watching the three Luxembourgish DVDs from the library a few times.  I've gotten pretty lazy on my French studying as well.  Oh well.

We've got nearly a month until school starts September 17.  I don't see a whole lot changing for us between now and then.


Anonymous said...

I remember we had to get the shopping done fairly early, since they would run out...So...fresh food every day, no preservatives. Not sure that still happens at Sainsbury's and Tesco's, though.
P.S. Need some good french CDs?

Katie Toppel said...

I forgot to let you know when I got it, but I got the note from Daphne early last week. SO cute! We start school in just two weeks...getting ready for my new crop of kiddos, but this year I will only teach in the AM and will be sharing my room with the new PM teacher. I hope I get another sweetie like Daphne!!