It’s been a year this month since the start of our overseas adventure, and I’ve realised that, because I tend to write about what’s most on my mind, some of my blog posts have focused on the more challenging aspects of our move. So here’s my attempt to provide a bit of balance – 10 things I love about living in Luxembourg:
1. It’s beautiful
We’d seen a few lovely pictures in guide books before we decided to move, but they hadn’t prepared us for the all-pervasive gorgeousness of the place. The city itself has picturesque cobbled streets, fortified city walls, and a leafy valley running right through it, and if you prefer untouched forests or pretty villages complete with castles, they’re only a short drive away (typically along a scenic road winding through farmland with a neat line of trees on either side).
2. It’s tiny
I could probably write a separate list of 10 things I love about how tiny Luxembourg is… The obvious one for us is that my husband is able to cycle to his office in the city from our home in the suburbs – not something that would work in most European capital cities! Similarly, the suburbs themselves feel pretty rural: we can hear sheep and cows from our bedroom windows. As an introvert who’s always rather valued the privacy and anonymity of urban life, I’m also surprised by how much I like Luxembourg’s slightly village-y feel – it sometimes seems that everyone knows everyone, and there’s a tendency to bump into the same people wherever you go, which helps to consolidate friendships when you’re settling into a new place. It also makes it easy to get actively involved in projects, organisations or causes that you’re interested in – with such a small and closely-connected population, someone you know is always able and willing to introduce you to the right person.
3. It’s multilingual
Living somewhere German-speaking for a while has been an ambition of mine for as long as I can remember, and I’ve sort-of-almost achieved that here, since German is one of the 3 official languages (although it’s used more in the media than in everyday communication). As far as I’m aware, Luxembourg is the only functionally multilingual country in Europe, which I find both incredibly challenging (such as when my daughter was first starting school in Luxembourgish, but all the notes home were in French so I wasn’t even getting any clues on relevant vocabulary to pass on to her) and totally fascinating. I love hearing the children start to incorporate French and Luxembourgish words into their play, and on a good day (the sort where I’ve managed to greet the staff at my son’s crèche in French, exchange a few simple words with my daughter’s teacher in Luxembourgish, and then have a chat with another mum at the playground in German), I can appreciate this as the incredible learning opportunity that it is!
4. The playgrounds are fantastic
This one may sound trivial, but it’s the sort of thing that makes a big difference when you’re trying to keep young children occupied during the summer holidays. When we came to look around on a brief house-hunting mission just before our move, one of the things we loved was seeing the amazing children’s playgrounds in every neighbourhood. Many of these have a theme (such as a fairytale castle or an aeroplane) to encourage creative play, and most even have a clean public toilet nearby! One of our favourites – the one we came to on the day we arrived here as a family – is the pirate ship playground in the city centre, which has a huge spiral slide and an extensive water play area as well as the big pirate ship itself.
5. It’s been surprisingly easy to make friends
Much to my surprise, I don’t remember there being a time when I found it difficult to get to know people here. Luxembourg has a large, and very mobile, international population, and so moving here we didn’t feel like outsiders or new people trying to break into long-established groups. There are even several active social clubs based on common languages or nationalities to help new people make friends. Most people we’ve met here have been extremely friendly and welcoming, and I feel as though we’ve made some genuine connections. I should probably acknowledge here that having young children, with the routines of school, weekly classes and playdates, and the shared interests and challenges of parenting, has also made it far easier for me to make friends than it would have been otherwise.
6. Location, location, location
Luxembourg’s central position and tiny size mean that the borders with France, Belgium, and Germany are all remarkably close. It seems totally natural to pop to the shops in Belgium or arrange to meet friends for a walk at a scenic spot in Germany, but so far we haven’t ventured into France, unless you count our recent trip to Disneyland (hardly very French!), the drive to the Calais ferry terminal for a visit ‘home’ at Christmas, or that one time my husband missed his exit on the motorway… Although we haven’t really made the most of our position at the heart of Europe yet, we are thinking of doing a few cross-border excursions soon – I’m particularly keen to visit Berlin. Even for longer breaks we’ll probably be driving or taking the train though – the only real drawback we’ve noticed to Luxembourg’s tiny population is that there aren’t that many direct flights out of our single small airport.
7. Well-funded public services
We did get a few raised eyebrows from our more politically-minded friends & family when we announced our intentions to move to Luxembourg, and with that in mind I shall gloss over the question of how it is that Luxembourg is such a wealthy country… However, in terms of our day-to-day experiences as a family, I have to say that I am really enjoying having such well-funded public services. Our daughter goes on countless outings to museums with her school, buses into the city are free to use on Saturdays, the clean and well-stocked public toilets I mentioned earlier continue to amaze me, and our local commune offices (town hall) are in a large shiny modern building full of people ready to welcome you into their office (no appointment needed) and process your request immediately.
8. High levels of trust
I think this is a side effect of the combination of the small-town feel brought about by Luxembourg’s tiny population, and Luxembourg’s generally prosperous society: I’ve found that people here tend to be far more trusting than I’ve encountered elsewhere. To give one small example, the front gardens in our area are dotted with expensive-looking garden ornaments that I’m sure would be kept in a fenced-off back garden anywhere else I’ve lived. This point was brought home to me most strongly at a recent event where a local children’s author was signing her lovely books. When I got to the front of the queue and realised she was only able to take cash (which I didn’t have) she suggested I take a book anyway and pay her later – and then asked me to fetch her handbag so she could give me her bank details. Things then started to seem quite surreal when I went in search of the bag and, rather than question me, the people clearing the stage actually helped me look for it!
& finally, a couple of slightly paradoxical benefits of having chosen to move abroad that aren’t specific to Luxembourg…
9. It’s challenged us
Perhaps surprisingly, I think that one of the things I’m most happy about when I reflect on our move here is that it’s been challenging at times and has pushed us out of our comfort zones. It was hard to watch my daughter struggle to learn Luxembourgish and make new friends at the start of this academic year, but the other day I saw her happily disappear off into a friend’s house for a (Luxembourgish-speaking) playdate, despite not really knowing the other mother or having a common language with her, and I could see how much she’s grown. I’ve also been forced to become a bit more outgoing – my typical approach of dealing with admin online doesn’t tend to work here, so I’ve had to get braver about just picking up the phone (& hoping whoever answers will speak a language I know), and I’ve also been forcing myself to take the initiative in asking people for their phone numbers or inviting them for coffee, which has definitely sped up the process of settling in.
10. It’s made us closer
When I asked for my husband’s input into this list, he said that the closer bonds he has with the children now are one of the biggest positives to come out of the move for him – when we moved away from our incredibly supportive extended family, I was lucky that he responded by getting even more involved with the children, often taking them to a playground or swimming pool on his own at the weekend so that I could get some housework done. Moving away from their existing friends also meant that we saw our children start to play more together and become more affectionate to each other, something that appears to have lasted (as a background to the usual squabbling) even now that they are more settled and connected here. Embarking on a big adventure together, especially at the start where we knew nobody here, really does seem to have brought our little family unit closer together.