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?  

Something´s happening in Luxembourg



Yet another Nationalfeierdag has passed with fireworks and crowded places. The bridge is healed, the tram is getting ready, constructions still rise everywhere and the population of Luxembourg is growing. I saw yesterday a sea of people, much more colourful and diverse than 8 years ago when I arrived here. Luxembourg is changing, is growing. There are so many cultural activities, networking events that flourished in the last year that I heard many times people saying: “something´s happening”.

Though a part of me already lingers for a piece of lost paradise, the lost paradise of quietness and long walks on empty streets on a Sunday evening, some other part of me tells me that now is a good time: a time for renewal, for hope. Something´s happening, and I think that what we feel are the tectonic movements of our society moving towards a new decade. I heard this somewhere, that the cycles of the world last for about 10 years. And somehow it’s true: why else would we talk about the 90´s, the nostalgic 60´s, the lost 20´s? Though in the core of it, human nature doesn’t change, we indulge in the hope that society does.

I remember also a story of my own about cycles. It was probably 2006 and I was friends with a woman who used to work for the library of the university who had a passion for astrology. She wasn’t the naïve horoscope reader, and, in spite of what one may think, she had a lot of knowledge about stars because her father was an astronomy professor. She was just throwing a symbolism on the astronomical events. So, one day, at a coffee in this old room smelling like old books she read my natal chart and she told me that Jupiter (or Saturn) was about to move in my sign in the following year and this is a cycle that will last for about 12 years, that soon I will undergo a huge change in my system of beliefs. Right, I said… and I moved on. However, as Saturn (or Jupiter) started to move towards the constellation of Scorpio, I did start to change beliefs. I was in my 20s and, as I found out later, there is a psychological equivalent for what was happening to me, and it´s called the “social identity crisis”. Just to give you an example of beliefs that left my constellation that year: the belief that God only resides the Orthodox Church and that he counts the number of times you do the sign of the Cross, the believe that the entire world has something against my nation and the belief that we are all soo different, the idea that sex is shameful, that moving to another country will be a failure.
The fact is that I didn’t just changed. It was part of a process, part of a journey. All that helped back then though, was to take the changes from the environment and try to swim on the wave. That year Romania joined the EU, the economy was up and things were looking good. And then the financial crisis came and we were faced with new challenges. I remember the wave of concern. Where I was working it was like the end of the world was coming. And yet we survived.
And yet the prophecy turned true, not because of Jupiter or Saturn (or maybe, who knows) but because it was time to.

And this is how I felt on the evening before the National Day in Luxembourg.
I attended this play by Serger Tonnar with refugees about refugees: Letters from Luxembourg. This is an emotional journey through concepts like “freedom”, “God” or “home”. It shows the human face behind this term “refugee”, with satirical glimpses on the bureaucratic system. It shows people who miss their loved ones, who ask themselves questions of identity and escape a sea of water to drown in a sea of paper.

But the simple fact that this play was put in place is a step ahead. I watched the dedication and the emotions of those people through the glass of my own becoming and I feel grateful to be the receiver of this artistic act. I am grateful to see people putting a piece of their heart out in the world, expressing, creating in spite of tough things they went through. Having the chance to do so, is already a seed of freedom that we can grow.

Yes, something’s happening. We now have a comedy scene starting, a poetry scene coming behind a little bit more shy, we have festivals, art events and open air concerts. For me they all are linked by an invisible thread which is the need for expression and creativity. In this part of the world where our basic needs get met, the need for meaning starts to show its shy head. I know that still the majority lives in the hamster wheel of “eat-work-sleep”, but there are more and more people who reach out for more, for something to feed their soul with.

If I say that it’s already a very positive thing, because you don’t know it but I was born and raised a pessimist. Me acknowledging that there is hope for our generation is like an acrophobian saying that he might consider sky diving in the coming year. At least this is the effect that these tectonic movements had on me: they turned me into an unexpected optimist. Don’t worry, there is a downside to optimism: since I’ve become an optimist, I tend to go out without an umbrella. Which not always works.

Don’t get me wrong: there are still a lot of problems happening around. There is still hate, there are crimes, stress. There were 3 major accidents on construction sites and there are still refugees welcomed with suspicious looks. There are still poor people on the street and there are those who get fired without explanation. There are still burnouts, oh there are more burnouts than ever, in fact. But I also found more people rising from their own ashes than ever. As I noticed from my life experience, for someone or for a structure to grow, either one has to learn from the others (and how do I know, most people don’t have the capacity to do so as we are never encouraged to), or to get to a place which is so uncomfortable that one starts to feel the need to get out. Sometimes we need to go down to hell, like Dante, to walk our way up, through purgatory to paradise.

And the road from hell is a long road uphill. Like these valleys that surround Luxembourg and its plateaus. Sometimes you seem to have reached the peak but you didn’t and you get down again, deeper in a new valley, and then you go up again on the old fortification towers and so forth and so on.

But when something seems to be happening, we can still look with curiosity towards the future and maybe… maybe if we have the courage, to look for what we can contribute to this change.

You know it’s October in Luxembourg when…

My first Jack-o'-lantern

Pumpkin missed its chance to become soup

Did you hear? Autumn is in town, blowing it’s redhead temperament over the Grand Duchy and its countless forests, and you might still not want to believe it… Well, good or bad news, October is here and it’s planning to stay at least 3 more weeks. As for me, I find it difficult to explain (to others) but fall is my favorite season, and October is it’s high time. It’s a good month to draw some lines, start some projects, let some creative thoughts kindle the inner Jack-o’-lantern.

However, if you happen to be in denial, here are some hints about how to identify the month of October here. So, here we go.

You know it’s October (or simply fall) in Luxembourg when:

… Everyone get nuts about going to the nut fair Vianden, a perfect occasion to buy nut liquor while moving along in a sea of people.

…When people start panicking that WINTER is coming!!! even in those years when we’ve been blessed with an Indian summer. You hear the first people setting appointments for the winter tires and women whispering to each other: “I have to admit it… I could no longer resist it. I know I shouldn’t have done it but…. I did it. I turned the heating on. …. Did you?” “Oh yes, I’ve sinned too!”

…When expats complain most about the depressing weather in Luxembourg.

…When Cineast starts. In case you do not know, this is a film festival bringing Eastern European productions to Luxembourg. The subjects of these films are limited to a manic-depressive sphere. We have deranged family drama and revolutions (Romanians are the specialists here), deranged politics with a glimpse of religion (go Poland!), Czech films with jokes about Slovaks that no one understands, war drama and tragedy (any ex-Yugoslavian country excels in this) and obviously, immigration and poverty which are the two topics that unite us all in the Eastern + Baltic bloc.
To break the bitterness now and then comes a Balkan music concert or a comedy (usually dark comedy on the above topics) and culinary events.
And despite all the drama and the depressive tone, the festival (which I LOVE by the way) seems to expand every year with new selections, new countries and to last longer. Maybe in a few years it will cover the entire month of October and all cardinal points.

…When you start planning the month of December and you realize that you no longer have any day left without a End-Year Party, Christmas party, charity party or team dinner, friends gathering dinner, let’s-go-to-the-Christmas-market-dinner-lunch-or-Sunday-afternoon-party and you start thinking with horror how you are going to run for Christmas presents between the 21st and 24th of December.

…When Auchan sets up a mushrooms stand and Cactus starts selling stollen (traditional Christmas cake).

…When you’re panicking because either you don’t have any more holidays left or you have too many. In any case you’re not allowed to complain because you’re in Luxembourg and you have more holidays than the rest of the world.

…When you understand that soon you’ll do most of the things in the dark or artificial light.

…When you start looking for flights to places where it’s sunny.

….When in your office you have arguments about whether it is ethical for someone who coughs to come to work or not.


A Jack o’ Lantern called O. October.

As for me, I knew it’s October when I realized that I had received this mini pumpkin in September. It was a gift from a friend’s garden and it was supposed to become part of some soup. Instead, by the time I got to my kitchen a month has passed. So, I assigned it a new destiny and it became my first  Jack-o’-lantern, to lighten my balcony.

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.


I’m lucky to be a woman in Luxembourg

Lucky to be a woman

Thanks to all my lucky stars for being a woman now and here.

Yesterday was the

international women’s day. For me it comes in a busy, confused and overwhelming period, and the sun shining over the city put some light on my thoughts.

Being a woman has not always been easy. I had a normal life from childhood to now, I’m not traumatized, but now and then I was put into situations in which being a woman was considered low or meaningless.
I remember just a few snapshots of life: being whistled on the streets, called names if I wasn’t accompanied by a boy in school, being told by a teacher that sometimes women and girls are responsible for being raped and not being able to stand against this statement, being ignored in a group of men, being annoyed at the sauna by an individual who had to receive three NOs before accepting that I wasn’t interested (luckily for him, because the 4th No would have been a punch in his exposed male parts), a day at the university in France when a teacher told one of my colleagues: “could you please explain to her, girls takes more time to understand”.
And my favourite example of karma: We were in the bus, coming back from a student’s fair with the colleagues at the Computer Science (3 girls for about 50 boys). It was the last year. One boy said out loud that before finding a job, he needs to do a trip in the East of Europe because there, he could have “two whores between three dicks at a blink of an eye”. When someone pointed out that the only girl in the bus was from the “East”, he said that he actually meant “two girls between three pens”, as a way of saying that women from Eastern Europe are very “studious”. At the end of the trip, as I seemed unimpressed by his comment, he did another gesture: he offered me a pen. I am glad that I just politely refused instead of doing what I wanted to do, which was to stick it up his… That was spring 2008 and because I was a woman from the East and I had to apply for a work permit, I started to search a job in summer when for IT in Luxembourg there were plenty of jobs. The others wanted to have fun, so they postponed the job searching for autumn. In autumn the big crisis hit hard the job market and I was one of the few to have a stable job. I hope he had his whores at least, because from what I heard he wasn’t able to find a job in the coming years.

That being said, still, being a woman is the best thing that happened to me, as a wonderful lady, Hedi Hoka wrote on the dedication of her book (Love to be a woman).

Let me say something first: I LOVE men. I have a group of honourable male friends and acquaintances that I really appreciate and value, who’s different style have brought me a lot of comfort and joy in times of troubles. But I still prefer to be a woman. I like the way the male mind is built to take an easier approach on life, but I still prefer the feminine complexity.
There comes a time when we all should acknowledge how lucky we are.

I am lucky to be multitasking… to have multiple orgasms… multiple thoughts of multiple kinds… multiple questions (comments from ex boyfriends to be done in private, please!).
I am lucky to have a more feminine type of creativity, to feel less pressured to compete and to perform and to see more details, that sparkle on things that men sometimes miss.
I am lucky to live in these times, in this place where I don’t have to keep my mouth shut, to be able to express my opinions as a woman. When I started dating I was once told that “I am one of those twisted women who like to steal men’s souls” which made me think that in other times I would have been a good candidate for “a witch”.
I am lucky to be able to show my face, my hair, and my legs and even to walk naked in a sauna, and say NO.
I am lucky not to be expected to be pregnant most of my life.
I am lucky to have my clit intact and functional and to have the possibility to embrace freely my sexuality.
I am lucky that I (and the other person) can decide who my long run partner will be… despite the difficulties of the process.
I am lucky to have a job where I can openly say to my boss what I think and I am lucky to be able to choose it, in the first place.
I am lucky to be able to express myself in writing, speaking and to say how many times I want “Fuck, it’s good to be a woman”.
I am lucky not to have the perfect body, because, let’s face it, how much perfection one could take? 🙂 Seriously speaking: I am lucky to be as I am, not to have to fit in any procrustian standards.

And Gentlemen, there is something for you as well. You, who live in this place in these times, are also lucky.
You’re lucky not to be expected to give your lives for causes which are not your own.
You’re lucky not to get circumcised at 12 or to have to provide for a bunch of women to show your status.
You’re lucky to be able to choose independent, smart, sexually free women or even a man, if that’s what you want.

We are all lucky to have a choice. We are all lucky to be able to live together, different and diverse and to put our forces together to create better, more constructive relations.

We are lucky to be able to be human! Let’s not forget that.

The day when I took a nap

SOMEtimes all you need is agood sleep

Since we get close to the big event, I feel that I have to confess that I don’t really like December (this is what I’ll celebrate on the New Year’s Eve: its ending).  It’s a month with a lot of pressure: buying presents, social events, finding ideas for season’s greetings (at which I suck, by the way). There’s also this delusional deadline we put on all our small achievement, the father of all deadlines: before end of year. Buhuhuuu! (guess why I’m writing on the 30th!)

It’s also the month with the winter solstice, the darkest of the year. I noticed that the older I get, the more sensitive I am to the solstice. I might be in denial but my body knows it. So, as we approach the solstice this wonderful body of mine starts to send signals of exhaustion: muscle pain, bad sleep, dark shades under the eyes. From time to time, it just shouts: have a break!!!

This reminds me of a day when I took that break. It was a day (in December) when many urgent stuff started to cumulate at work in a short amount of time. Most of my colleagues were on holidays. I couldn’t sleep the night before.

At the coffee machine two people told me that I look “really sick”. I did my best to deny it and smile. As the morning progressed, I started to fall deeply into stress. With every new email that seemed to be urgent, my hands were shaking. With every new file I was trying to work on, I was doing more and more stupid mistakes. Then I would realise that I saved and closed and that, like Sisyphus, I needed to start over again to correct and I would do another mistake.

When I got to a 3rd trial of a task, I had an enlightening moment. I took two hours for lunch, went home and had a nap.
That was the first time in my life when I experienced a power nap. I barely had time to throw my shoes off, I dived in the sheets, closed my eyes and the next thing I knew was the alarm that 45 minutes have passed.
I dreamt during those 45 minutes. I dreamt the warmth that was surrounding me, the void in which there was no thought about work or deadlines or emergencies.
And when I woke up, I brushed my teeth, I threw cold water on my face, and looked in the mirror. Indeed, I was looking very bad, but better than before. And most importantly, I could keep going.


I was looking in the mirror and I started to recall the other big time when I took a break, despite all the emergency alarms which were shouting at me: You already had enough breaks! 
It was the day when I presented my final project and paper for my Bachelor degree. Stakes were high, and I had had many (unhealthy) breaks. So many that my project and my paper were still not entirely finished at 5 a..m.. in the morning. That’s the exact hour when I came home from the printer shop, which, thank’s God in some countries these shops. are open 24h/24. I was still determined to work until the last minute and started to do a last fine tuning of the software that I was supposed to present and… tadam! I broke it.


That’s when, I turned off my PC, confident that I have a backup of the previous version and I decided to take a break. I slept until 10 and I went to have my presentation at 11. It turned out that I had taken the wrong version of my project: unfinished and not working, but somehow, in the torment of my stressed mind, the sleep had made an effect and I pulled out of my ass a joke which saved my presentation. And the most important: I didn’t fall that day in my bathroom and didn’t hit my head on the bathtub.


No, that had happened the year before when I needed to submit another project and hadn’t been taking a break. It was the enlightening experience that makes me today listen to my body. I only had a bruise, but I was lucky.

Coming back on the day when I took two hours for lunch. I came back and my phone was flashing red. There were three call backs. I took me an hour to have the courage to return those calls. In the meantime, for all three of them, people had found solutions without me.

The moral of these stories is pretty simple. Sometimes is good to take a break. Sometimes is absolutely vital. Usually your body knows it and the world keeps turning even if you take a nap.

Unfortunately in Luxembourg, in the world of banks, audit, traffic jams,  under a constant threat of losing your job, we can see through the glass building, but not through ourselves.

After I finished my bachelor degree, I’ve never been close to a burnout. That was a question of choice. That morning at 5 a.m. after coming from the printer shop, I took a short video of birds singing and the sun rising over the city and I promised myself solemnly to never get there again. Ever. And I kept my promise.


I do know, however, (too many) people in Luxembourg who have been in the territory of burnout. The law does not fully recognise it as a medical condition nor are people very empathetic about it. Like many other things, it’s a big taboo.

For the coming year, that’s one of the things I hope for to change. Among others.

I’m wishing you a hopeful year 2016!