Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
No, there was nothing available. We did extensive research online, read books and asked tons of questions.
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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?
We were told that English is widely accepted and used throughout Luxembourg and that we should be fine. We were aware that there are 3 languages used in addition to English; German, French and Luxembourgish. We had a little vocabulary of "survival" French but have found out that isn't even close to being enough. Upon our arrival we were shocked that so little English is actually used and that not only is French a good first option for growing our languages but the reality is we need to know some German and Luxembourgish as well. We are surviving but could really flourish with the added languages. We are currently working on our French and in time will add the others.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
Having visited Europe several times before moving here we weren't too concerned about the culture shock. European friends helped to prepare us and we had already begun to incorporate lifestyle changes in anticipation of our relocation. I wouldn't say we've been too shocked about things but more surprised and mostly for the better. Before our move, we had worried about our children connecting and school options. We were prepared to really struggle to make friends. We anticipated trouble with food/shopping since there are food allergies in the family. We thought about feeling lost or out of place...things like that.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
To our amazement and most pleasant surprise, we haven't had many problems with the issues we anticipated! Our kids are doing great and getting connected. We have made a bunch of friends and actually have to watch ourselves so that we have down time too. With so many friends, some with food allergies too, it has been relatively easy to locate the "special diet" foods in the markets and restaurants. With each passing day, we feel more and more at home and know this was a great choice for our family. There are a couple things that come to mind, though not serious, have been a struggle. The public transportation system isn't all we had hoped. In the outlying areas, the late evening and weekend access has been disappointing. It's very affordable though especially for students. We had hoped to have better access to "mom & pop" type shops which we've seen through Europe but here it seems that the "mall" has taken over. It's pretty much one-stop shopping, even groceries, but can be a hassle to get to without a car. The banks are incredibly restrictive and using transfers and cash as a way to pay bills has been troublesome. All in all, the culture shock has been minimal and we seem to be able to overcome each obstacle as it comes along.
Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?
There are times when frustrations about an issue arise but they are usually small and easily resolved. I can't say that we've been through the stages in any order though there are days when we go through them all and the next day it's fine again. I think for us, it's more situational not necessarily the whole relocation. For the most part, the honeymoon phase ended after about the first two weeks. The reality of daily life, chores, school, work and errands came at us quickly and we just seemed to transition straight into that with a few bumps here and there. I think, for the most part, we are at the cultural adjustment phase. We came with the mindset of being flexible and willing to make changes (within reason) to fit into the culture, not make the culture fit us.
What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.
I think the biggest shock for us was how much walking happens here! We all lost a lot of weight fairly quickly. It was a good though we hadn't planned for the issue of having to replace clothes right away especially winter clothes. That was a huge expense for the entire family! We had done our research on everything from school to transportation to daily life so most of our frustrations dealt with languages barriers in the beginning. We had been warned that is was VERY expensive to live here and we thought we were prepared but we were quite shocked at how much more expensive it has turned out to be. The financial aspect has caused some anxiety and frustration, especially since there are so many variables and unknowns even for the locals.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
We truly appreciate how kind people are here! That really surprised us. For the most part, people are very helpful and considerate. We love that it's a small country and that they take very good care of their people. The medical system is really good. The cost for all public transportation within all of Luxembourg is only 45euros for a monthly pass which to us is very reasonable. Students can purchase an annual, all access pass for a little more. The very first thing we noticed was how quiet it is here, even in the city. It's a very clean and neat country. It's fairly safe here too. We love the diversity of cultures that have merged here.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
The biggest challenge we faced was trying to figure out how to shop and save money! In the beginning, our grocery budget doubled! Everything is VERY expensive here! New friends have helped us find the good and affordable ways to shop by going to Germany, France and Belgium on a regular basis. It's pretty cheap to take the train or bus. We go to Germany several times a month for everything from our washer (delivered and installed), to clothes, food and most recently Christmas gifts. We use Ikea in Beligum as well which is literally just over the border. Our country is so small, that within about 30 minutes in any direction, we can be in another country--so cool! Shopping outside of Luxembourg is the most common and widely shared "secret" to saving money.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
I think the most humorous blunders for the whole family have been because of translation and mispronunciations issues. With 4 languages it can get quite confusing. We've had a few conversations where we thought we were talking about air and hair and the function of our radiator when it turned out to really be horses but the English mispronunciation back to us was "whores". Between the 4 languages, air, hair, horse and whores can all sound very similar and when ever so slightly used incorrectly can erupt a room into laughter. We can hardly talk about hair and horses anymore without busting up with laughter every time. On a recent visit to Germany I wanted to practice a couple phrases I learned, to order our favorite lunch. I got to the counter and successfully made the order but at the end one of my kids changed their minds but I hadn't practiced the new choice. I must have looked so lost because the lady spoke up, in English, and asked if she had heard my child correctly and this would be the final order. I was shocked, assuming she didn't know English and confirmed the order. When I asked about her English she said, "oh yes I speak a lot of English but I thought you wanted to practice your German so I just let you"!! *blush*
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
The best advice is don't be afraid to laugh at yourself, it eases all sorts of tension and helps to lighten a conversation or awkward situation! Be willing to arrive with a mindset to be flexible and willing (within reason) to change yourself and not expect the culture to change for you. Last but not least and what just about everyone else will share too is to learn at least some of the language. Even reasonable, blundering efforts will be appreciated and you will be surprised how willing someone will be to "rescue" you with needed words to complete a thought. You might even find that they speak English but they won't volunteer it until after you've made an effort. Make the most of your time to experience the culture around you don't just live here or be a tourist on a long visit. Sit and watch taking it all in, listen and just let it encompass all your senses. It will enrich your life and those around you. It is an amazing adventure and with a little effort, you really enjoy it! Vill Gleck op Letzebuerg!
More Expat Advice about Culture Shock in Luxembourg