What brought you to Luxembourg?
I’m not sure I’d ever have come to Luxembourg if not for my partner, who only knew about the country because she’s from here. We met during our studies in Edinburgh, but only began dating in the final week of the degree program. (Magnificent timing.) Then she moved home while I searched for work in these environs, but the closest I managed was Maastricht. So I moved to Maastricht, where I taught academic writing at the university for a few years and ate a lot of waffles. After a bazillion trips on the Maastricht–Liege–Luxembourg rail line, I finally moved to Luxembourg in 2015.
You recently published a collection of essays about living as a foreigner in Luxembourg. What fascinates you most about the country?
I can tell you what disappoints me most, and this might be true about Europeans generally: people here love Texas. Hey, are you from Texas? Do you have a cool accent? No, I’m not from Texas. I’m from Michigan, where we only need one syllable to pronounce “cat.” I need people to understand that I’m glad I’m not from Texas. It’s like, the status of Texans gets completely flipped once you leave the country and nobody prepares you for it. What gives?
But peripheral diatribes aside: Luxembourg is seriously messed up. I mean, there’s no part of its culture that isn’t touched by its size, languages, and foreignness. How can a country be defined by “foreignness”? Defined by that which it isn’t? It’s paradoxical. There’s so much talk about what Luxembourg isn’t: it isn’t Belgium, it isn’t France, it isn’t Germany. And yet part of being from here is being able to speak, besides Luxembourgish, the languages of these borderlands. Famous Luxembourgish authors might write in French or German; most locals spend their university years abroad; and so on. In essence, Luxembourgers adapt to their guests more than vice versa—and in that way the country can’t, and doesn’t want to, escape the influences of its neighbors.
But that has to square with a concept of Luxembourgishness that does exist. Of course there’s a language, culture, customs, attitudes, things you don’t get anywhere else in the world. So you can live here and approach the Luxembourgish “ideal” through learning about all that: eating Gromperekichelcher, partying on the eve of what isn’t the grand duke’s birthday, not blinking when someone switches in a fingersnap from English to French to German to Luxembourgish. And there are the more culturally nuanced things too, a world outlook and a political spectrum and social habits and all the rest of it. But inflecting all of that Luxembourgishness is a kind of “native un-Luxembourgishness,” and that’s weird as hell. I absolutely love it. I’m here for life.
How do you unwind?
On a weekday, as soon as I’m home from work, I crawl into the kitchen and grab the nearest food which I shovel into my mouth while watching TV on the couch. That takes me right up to bedtime, where the unwinding continues during sleep.
On weekends I like to make pancakes (the fat American pancakes, not this crêpe nonsense) after which my partner and I spend ten or fifteen minutes justifying aloud to one another why we can postpone cleaning the apartment another seven days; then we take walks, shop for stuff, see friends, cook a big dinner, drink beer, watch movies. Nothing fancy! On Sunday we eat a huge lunch with my in-laws, a tradition that my little American stomach has never got the hang of (in the USA we’re a small-lunch/big-dinner people). Consequently, Sunday afternoon is always completely destroyed by the need to sit very still, digest, and check my own vital signs by uttering soft noises. This happens on 52 Sundays out of the year.
(Crêpes are great, but they aren’t pancakes.)