Being half Luxembourgish, half Swedish, I have gotten the best of both worlds when it comes to living in this multiculti country that we call Luxembourg. I grew up in one of Luxembourg’s many tiny villages where everyone said hello to everyone on the street and basically half of the population was somehow related to each other. A traditional farmer’s village where the Luxembourgish spirit blew through the air. But already at young age I realised that somehow Luxembourgers were a minority in their own country. In school, I had more international than local friends, something that I appreciate now more than ever. At home I was surrounded by two contrasting cultures and languages, and somehow I managed to be the melting pot and create a unique version of my half Luxembourgish and half Swedish self.
Luxembourg is home to little over 500,000 people. Almost half of the population consists of foreign residents, and there are more expats living in Luxembourg than in any other European country. During weekdays the population almost doubles during daytime because of all the commuters travelling to the country to work. You never know what language the cashier at the supermarket will speak and meeting people from all over the world when walking your dog does not surprise you. On the radio you hear songs in 4 different languages and the description on your milk packet is in German, French, Luxembourgish, Dutch and sometimes English. You read the paper in one language, listen to the news on the radio in another and watch them on the TV in yet another.
Growing up in Luxembourg, all of this is nothing unusual for me. As I have travelled beyond the borders of my home country, I have however learned that people tend to find Luxembourg’s multicultural landscape rather bizarre. If they know it’s an actual country and can point to the little dot on a map, that is. You would think a country as international as Luxembourg would be more acknowledged. But yes, I have come to realise how strange it sounds when I explain the official language is in fact Luxembourgish but anything official is declared in mainly French but also German. And, there is no official grammar for the language, people just go with the flow and one word can be written in countless ways. When I explain that Luxembourgish is not taught in school, but instead we learn first German, then French and then English, people can’t take me seriously. I usually don’t even mention that we don’t take our final exams in our mother tongue, but in French, because people would probably start questioning their whole existence by then.
My Luxembourgish heart always gets annoyed when I am at the local supermarket just down the road, on the field that used to be a cow field, and I ask the cashier something and she says ‘Français, s’il vous plaît’. I speak perfectly fine French when put on the spot, but something inside me turns when I have to speak a foreign language to buy basic needs in my home country. I can’t even buy a packet of milk at the supermarket that used to be a cow field in the native language of my country. I guess it is my stubborn Luxembourgish side that shows. Because us Luxembourgers can be stubborn and old-fashioned and backwards if we want to. I have more than once witnessed the language-battle of a French speaking cashier and an old Luxembourgish lady. It’s not pretty. It goes something like ‘if I consistently and persistently keep on speaking in my language, the other will eventually understand’.
But then my Swedish heart kicks in and says that if she can’t be here, neither can you. Because that’s just the thing. Luxembourg wouldn’t be Luxembourg if cashiers didn’t speak French, milk packets wouldn’t be in 4 different languages and the news couldn’t be taken in in the language of your choice. And to be honest, if it weren’t for the woman speaking French at the supermarket, I would probably have to get my milk from the nearest farmer and the cow field that is now a supermarket would probably still be a cow field. And I most certainly wouldn’t speak 5 languages and have friends from all over the world.
Even though Luxembourg has taught me to be proud of my nationality(ies) and how important it is to cultivate the Luxembourgish culture and language, it has also taught to embrace different people and cultures. I understand now more than ever why Luxembourg is called the heart of Europe. So much influence, diversity, culture, opinions in this one little place. And no, life is not always easy with this many languages and cultures, but it works, and that’s why Luxembourg is Luxembourg.