The Exorcist and the C(o)unt: or How I got the Luxembourgish nationality 

IMG_3329Time has arrived to look back on my personal experience on becoming Luxembourgish. I applied for the Luxembourgish nationality in 2016, pre Brexit and before the new law.

For this, I studied Luxembourgish for 3 years. But don’t you schwätzt wann ech glift méi on me! I can do small talk in the language of Rodange and Dicks. However, small talk is something I generally hate, so … I rarely use the language.

However, I know enough to to understand hate comments on the RTL website, especially those articles about foreigners’ right to vote or Flüchtlingen. Funny thing is that I also know enough to see that those comments about how one cannot use his own language in his own country! are 90% of the time not grammatically correct.

Luckily, this is not representative for real Luxembourgers. In fact I found here more acceptance and more freedom than in any other place where I lived. I was blessed to know a few exceptional Luxembourgish  to whom I am and will always be grateful for their support, kindness and open-mindedness.

I truly think that knowing at least a few words in the language of the country where you live is a must. However, it takes more than this to make a nation: culture, history, etc.. In the process of learning this language and during my 9 years here, I discovered music, traditions, expressions and the UNITED ZOHA*. And I made friends.

The second challenge on the way is the civil right classes. I had to attend 3: Human Rights, History and law and an optional. Now the system changed and there are more hours of courses to attend.  Back then the class would have around 25 people. Now they do it in amphitheatres. Thank you Brexit and Trump!

During my 3 classes I came across the same people, a colourful crowd from all over the world. Each class had its share of peculiarity, but by far the one that marked my spirit for a loooong time was the Human rights class. It became a tale of dark humour and awkward cultural misinterpretation.

Introducing the characters, people who were in the room:

  • O, a Romanian woman with an identity issue on the edge of falling asleep. Ok, that’s me.
  • Islam – an intelligent man from Bangladesh cursed with this surname
  • English guy (this was pre Brexit) with red cheeks who was holding his eyes with his hands in an attempt to stay awake
  • German woman with a superiority complex
  • The pedantic Danish couple who already knew all the laws
  • The American – a Jewish older guy with glasses who could at any time play Woody Allen (if old Woody ever stops doing films)
  • Two African men dressed in white robes with kufis
  • A Belgium woman who winked at me after the class

And last but not least, in the leading role: the teacher.

I walked into a room and I wondered if I needed an eye control. The first thing I saw was a woman at a desk. It came to my mind the time when a photographer gave me a tip: don’t combine dots and stripes. How about combining dots, on the sleeves, stripes all over and checkers on the margin in all colours of the rainbow? This was the teacher. She had white hair that gave a literal meaning to the expression: “A bad hair day”, but, but… very important: she had a Vuitton bag… and a bright pink expensive brand coat.

The class began and everyone had to introduce themselves in spite of the class “only” being two hours long. The teacher addressed us with the speed of snail going up a window and warned us that her English skills were not so good, because English was her fourth language. She also told us that her ancestors were Prussians who came to Luxembourg because they were fed up with Prussia.

So why did everyone want the nationality? First, we all agreed that the Luxembourgish passport makes travelling life easier.

Then there were other reasons. The German woman was in search of her true national identity, which was in-between English and Luxembourgish. I would have asked her if she wasn’t in search for her manners too, because she spoke with her feet on the table. The Asians and Africans obviously wanted  to live here without paying visits to the authorities every few years. The Danish couple wanted their children to be part of national sports teams. Yes: they were good looking and smart and their kids did performance sports! Plenty of reasons not to like them! The American because in Europe there’s a thing called “social protection”. The Englis was concerned about the (yet improbable at the time) perspective of Brexit. At least this I think he meant when he said that he was afraid to lose his own nationality. Or maybe I was in the wrong institution.

After all these, you probably won’t believe the reasons why I wanted the nationality. Besides the passport, I wanted it because of pure selfish pride, stubbornness and rebellion. I refuse to define myself through one nationality. Without disrespecting my origin, we do not have only one identity. Out of the numerous identities one can posses, some are not even cultural. And secondly because I sincerely love this country. I came to this place because this was where I wanted to live and I made this place my home. Being Luxembourgish is a symbol of all that, and it’s my story.

After that introduction round that lasted a small eternity, we started the class. I fell under a sort of sleep state.

I was waken up several times: one time when the teacher exclaimed: “I’m so glad that people exorcise Luxembourgish at home”. She was wrong: this language is nowhere near being exorcised. This language will haunt us for a long time, especially if Brexit happens and all the Brits living in Luxembourg will have to learn it. This language will haunt us through the new generation of kids who will stay home until they will be 30. It will haunt us through parents will have to learn how to communicate with the kids schooled here. This language will haunt us through the motto of resistance to change (mir well bleiwe watt mir sinn). No, dear, this language will not be exorcised! Still, I imagined the scene of an exorcist coming into a dark house, looking around and saying: A strange language has gone into her. I think she is possessed.

The second time I woke up was when she was giving us a lesson of history. Luxembourg was founded by a cunt. In fact several “c unts” have come to Luxembourg trying to settle with their horses, but one particular “c unt” named “Siegfried” managed to stay here. Most people in the room didn’t notice the mispronunciation. Just the Serbian next to me smiled. The English guy and Woody Allen were both playing with the phone. In the end most of us came in this world through a “c unt”, so what’s the big deal.

The lesson continued through the history of the women rights in Luxembourg, at which point the two African men interrupted her with a question. It was the first question of the evening. She was so happy to have finally a question that she didn’t come back to the subject. That question was: Is it true that they plan to increase the minimum salary? Of course, no, answered the Danish instead of the teacher. Everyone simply ignored the sudden change of topic, considering normal that minimum salary to be discussed at the same time as women rights.

And finally, towards the end, there was time to talk about the integration of the foreigners. The discussion turned to the Portuguese. And here, there was a phrase from the teacher which capture the whole essence of Luxembourg: “Since there was a migration in the 17th (she wanted to say 70s but I forgive her) we are trying to sensibiliticize them to learn the language. But it is very hard. Very, very hard. Because… men work outside and women work inside”. To be mentioned: there was no Portuguese in the room. They were probably having the same class in Luxembourgish.

Now, there’s one thing that I want to make clear: I don’t hold anything against the teacher. I’m sure she did the best she could to give that class. Everyone does fashion mistakes. I do plenty and my hair on a usual day looks awful. I also do funny language mistakes in English, not to mention Luxembourgish. Thank God no one cared so much, when by mistake I directed people to the “horny lady” instead of the “golden lady”.

I am certain that she didn’t have mean intentions. I’m sure that for her it was something normal, inoffensive to classify all the Portuguese in the country into housewives and construction workers. I’m also sure that if she ever reads this she will feel offended, but, I hope that she’ll understand that this text has a satirical scope.

What I would also want to say is that she is wrong again. The new generation of Portuguese speaks very well Luxembourgish. As well as the Italians who came before them. They are (as a friend said) very ambitious and they will succeed where the old generations of Luxos won’t.

And of course, I don’t see the problem with men outside, women inside, when they obviously won’t learn Luxembourgish from each.

Towards the end Islam raised the most intelligent question related to human rights. I was so concentrated trying not to laugh about the exorcist and the cunt that I couldn’t listen to the answer given by the Danish couple.

But please, don’t think that all teachers are like this or that these classes are useless. I learned important information from each of it, especially from the history and politics. These classes introduced me to the overly complicated voting system. Learning the history confirmed that Luxembourg was not actually founded by a cunt but by a count. I learned that there were other capable men and women who made this small country a place where people want to join the nationality.

And in the end, how would you exorcise fear and obsolete ideas imprinted in the conscience of a nation with an identity issue, if it’s not through … humour?

* United Zoha , also called the N rule is a grammarian oddity in Luxembourgish (that most native speakers don’t know as such) consisting of adding N at the words ending in E, when the following word starts with U, N, I, T, E, D, Z, O, H or A. Simple, isn’t it?  

Little drummer girl

Little drummer shoes

Years ago, one cloudy December, I bought a CD called Putumayo – Celtic Christmas. It contained among others, an instrumental adaptation of that Christmas “Ram pam pam pam” song, called Little Drummer Girl on which I obsessed for a looooong time.

Seasons changed. Spring came and I reached my maximum weight and I did my best to show to people that I don’t give a damn. Well, I succeeded!
I watched people running every day and I was secretly admiring them. I could barely walk more than half of hour before becoming too tired. Though, I’ve always done some sort of sport regularly, I could not run more than 50 meters.

Some people told me not to run, because it will be bad for my knees. Others told me,  that everybody can run. Sure! Easy peasy! Well, many people can, however, it was not easy for me when I started.
If now I have a few extra kilos, back then I had a few more (18 to be more precise). If you’re a pretty good runner with a normal weight, try getting those flexible weights for the arms and legs, a backpack full of sand in front and another one in your bag and try doing your normal routine. That’s how running felt for me.

However, it was not the extra weight that introduced me to this sport. Like all the hobbies and passions that I built over the years (cinema, writing, yoga, sauna, facebook…), this one also originated in times of distress and deep frustration.

It was the summer of my separation. I was still living in the same apartment with my ex partner, though he was there only the weekends.
One sunny Saturday, I woke up too early, with a very uncomfortable feeling. Back then, during the rupture of a relationship that lasted almost a decade, the world seemed to fall apart. My world. The apartment has become too small and I could not stand the idea of being under the same roof with him, who was peacefully sleeping while I was contemplating my failures. I grabbed the first clothes that I’ve seen which happened to be a t-shirt and a pair of leggins, I’ve put on some sports shoes (the only ones I had anyway) and I went outside in the park.

As I stepped under the light and the warmth of the sun, with my ipod, I shuffled this song Little drummer girl. Here I was: the first warm day in Luxembourg and me listening to a Christmas carol.
But there was something in the rhythm, a force that pushed me into running. And I did run, up to the middle of the song, more than ever before in the previous 10 years. I walked the rest of the song. It was a tiny little step, but a step forward.

Next day, I imposed myself not to stop until Little drummer girl was over. It worked. One Little drummer girl. I walked another one, and I managed to even run up to its middle again. That summer I started to count my workouts in Little drummer girls. I managed to 3 without stopping.

What went in my head during this instrumental 3 minutes was a mix of motivation and despair. Towards its last third, the song has a short pause, as if it stops “Pam pam”. At that point my brain starts cheering “Yupii!! I did it!” But the song starts again Ram pam pam pam…
And then I get those moments when my mind just screams to me to stop:
“You’ll suffocate”
“You’ll drop dead in the middle of the street. Inexperienced runner found dead on Kirchberg! That’s what L’essentiel will show tomorrow!”
“Look, a hedgehog! There are snakes around! Stop!”
“Look a squirrel! How rare in Luxembourg, honestly, never again will you be able to take a picture of a squirrel in these parks.”
“You’re gonna’ loose your hair band, the hair will blind you and you’ll be hit by a car!”
“Look, a hair band on the street. Is it yours?”
“Look, what a beautiful view on the city!”
“Are there two people having sex in that house across the street?”
“Your bra will break. Is there a crack in the pants that makes you feel like a airflow in your back?”
“Look! A field full of poppy flowers. Did you know what can be produced from poppy seeds?”
“You ran 3 songs in a raw, now you can stop!”
“The ground seems so close! The sky is falling! It’s the end of the world!”
In those moments I started to motivate myself back:
“Comme’on one more song, one more pam pam pam!”
“Common’on! You ran two songs in a raw, you can’t stop now!”
“Comme’on. You don’t even have the hair so long for the hair band!”
“Comme’on. One more pam pam pam. I’ll show you, you little drummer girl!
“I’ll show you, you little bitch! I’ll beat you with your little drum, smug little bastard!”

During those conversations with my imaginary little friend, one day I could not stand to hear the same song  over and over again. So I created something incredible called a playlist.
My first playlist consisted of : Little drummer girl and Du Hast from Ramstein – which fitted my feelings for the girl towards the end of the workout. Then I started to add all kind of songs like Daughter – Home or Sweet Dreams from Eurythmics. At some point there was even some opera there.

Then it got to a point when doing a number of Drummer girls didn’t help any more to increase my resistance and then I learned the secret of alternating running with brisk walking.

Little drummer girl is still my favorite song to start my workout. In the meantime the frustration that started all this has gone. The apartment was cleaned of memories and I found new rhythms. My knees are better than ever, but I do listen to them. It’s all in the rhythm. In these two years I increased my average workout distance from 0.5 km to 6 km and I earned two things: courage to run in the ING Team Run (tomorrow!!!) and hope that one day I will manage to hold more than 100 drummer girls which would be a whole marathon.

Little by little, step by step, I’ll do it. I promise you little girl, one day you and I will do more than what seemed impossible the day I bought that CD.