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How Luxembourg changed my "Normal"-meter

How Luxembourg changed my "Normal"-meter

3 min. 06.05.2016 From our online archive
Spending a lengthy time outside your country of origin can change your outlook on what is perceived as normal virtually without you noticing, as Mike McQuaide found out on a return trip to the US from Luxembourg.

By Mike McQuaide

Recently, I returned to America for the first time since we moved to Luxembourg more than three years ago. And boy oh boy, it sure was great to catch up with friends and family, and to revisit old haunts!

It was great too, to realize that should the Loud Orange Buffoon whose name rhymes with ‘rump’ get elected president, my family and I should be just fine. We’ve already left the country.

In many ways, my trip to the U.S. was a journey of personal discovery. I discovered that living in Luxembourg has recalibrated my personal Normal-meter. That is, what I consider ‘normal’ has changed. Now, our rushed Sunday mornings dominated by the panicked anxiety of will we or will we not make it to the grocery store before it closes at 1 p.m. seems perfectly normal. And supermarkets, Taco Bells and drive-through espresso stands that are open 24 hours a day seem strange.

Female rest room attendants in men’s rooms who go about their business (mopping the floors and such) mere inches from where I too am going about my business (standing at a urinal recycling the morning’s coffee, as it were) now seem normal, and ‘Closed for cleaning’ signs seem odd.

And being serenaded during my quotidian pursuits by Luxembourg’s multi-lingual symphony--most of which I can’t understand but which I love listening to--is perfectly normal, while the hard consonant-heavy sounds of American English now sounds completely foreign.

The other thing I discovered during my U.S. sojourn is that while I am OK at learning languages, what I’m really good at, and have a unique skill and proficiency at, is forgetting them. I’ve been taking Lëtzebuergesch classes twice a week for more than two years and all it took was a week in Bellingham, Washington, during which I heard and spoke no Lëtzebuergesch, for me to lose every last lick of the Grand Duchy’s tongue.

Every gefalen and probéieren, every ugefaangen and spadséieren. Gone. Vanished into thin air, just like that!

My Lëtzebuergesch, I discovered, was a sand castle built too close to the water. Just one big wave (my U.S. trip) and it was destroyed. And now, it’s like I’ve stepped back in time to when I first moved to Luxembourg, when Lëtzebuergesch sounded like nothing more than a bunch of ‘Hoya-heya-ugehiya’ sounds.

And so begins my Lëtzebuergesch rebuilding process. Admittedly, I don’t have much to rebuild. My skills were never much more than what I call Noun-Verb Lëtzebuergesch.

You see, for me, speaking Lëtzebuergesch has always been like crossing a rushing river. I was fine stepping from big rock to big rock to big rock--that is, speaking from noun to verb to maybe another noun. But things got iffy when I needed to maneuver smaller, slippery, moss-covered stones that I wasn’t sure were even stable. Slippery stones such as prepositions, pronouns and the like--e.g., definite and indefinite articles that for some bizarre, impossible-for-a-Mother-tongue-English-speaker-to-understand reason can be masculine, feminine or neutral. (A bike, ‘e Vëlo’, is masculine but a bike trail, ‘eng Vëlo Pist’, is feminine--really?!)

It’s those slimy stones that have always made me tense up, lose my footing and confidence, and that plunge me into the rushing rapids below--that is, I revert to speaking English.

So that’s my Lëtzebuergesch--nouns and verbs and that’s about all. It’s not much, but hopefully I’ll get it back soon. And everything will return to normal.

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