Expat Living

Let me just start by stating the obvious, living in a country with three main languages, non of which you speak, means that you are predictably going to make many mistakes. I frequently have to remind myself that failure is the best way to learn. In an effort to make the most of my circumstances, I have illustrated a collection of humiliating expat experiences for you to visualize and share in my laughter.

My neighbor (who primarily speaks Luxembourgish) was very concerned that I was using the bushes that divide our backyards as a backdrop. Let’s just say, I have very attentive neighbors.

*Disclosure: Not all of these are my own experiences & for the benefit of others they will remain anonymous. Also, don’t drink any liquids and read these.

Visiting the Eye Doctor

From my recent experience of visiting doctor’s offices (from general practitioner’s, to medical clinic’s or veterinarian’s offices), the doors aren’t always labeled and it’s not always clear where you need to go. I’ll admit, I’ve sat in the wrong room or opened the wrong door. However, I’ve never gone to the wrong building or entered someone else’s private residence.

Although, I think it’s safe to say if you are going to see an ophthalmologist, you most likely don’t have the best eye sight. So it might be a common mistake to walk into and up the stairs of the poor stranger’s home that is inconveniently located next to the eye doctor’s office. Well, that’s what happened to a person I’m going to call Stuart. Let’s just say doors were locked after Stuart left.

Mange une pomme

I recently signed up to take a French class. People have asked me how do you decide which of the three main languages to learn. To me, it makes the most sense to begin with French, because it is used most frequently in official documents and in restaurants and grocery stores. One of the requirements to register for a class at the Institut National Des Langues is to take a test and make an appointment.

I took the test online, which proved I am a beginner. It didn’t occur to me that the appointment would also require me to speak French. When I was asked to describe myself, I froze. I get nervous and embarrassed attempting to pronounce French in public or to a fluent speaker. All that came to mind was, “Je mange une pomme,” (I eat an apple).

I’ll explain. While I have been waiting to enroll in a class, I’ve been trying to teach myself French with a free language app called Duolingo. The first few lessons on the app only talk about f@#*ing apples and oranges. I guess it works, because in a panic - it was apples that came to my mind.

Paying Bills

Getting my mail makes me anxious. I get nervous when I see envelopes that are addressed from Le Government Du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg. Trying to decipher my bills from French to English is my least favorite.

I also have to pay more attention to dates. When you initially make the mistake of reading 2/1/19 as February 1st instead of January 2nd then you have to translate more documents that begin with "rappel de paiement."

Mystery Meat

By the way, majority of these stories have to deal with food. I thought that if I went to Ikea, a familiar place, I would be able to order and receive the food I actually wanted.

Well, think again. What I thought were the standard Swedish meat balls were in fact, fish balls.

Do you have any idea what you want?

In another attempt at ordering food, this time at the the local butcher, I worked up the courage to memorize a phrase in French. I had just received some of my old recipe books and wanted to make a stew.

When I got up to the counter, I asked, “Une coupe de lampe s'il vous plait.” She looked at me strangely and repeated what I said in a surprised voice. I looked up to see what she was pointing to and realized, I had misspelled lamb as lamp in my google translate app.

Un chapeau s'il vous plaît

Then there are times when you just have to get creative. You realize ahead of time that “a top” is “un haut” in French. You know that you are incapable of producing the correct sounds to audibly pronounce the word you need, so you try something different.

For example, you try “ un chapeau pour mon café s'il vous plait.” Tops are really just hats for coffees, right? In hindsight maybe trying to translate the word “lid,” might have been another good solution.

What is the French version of Campbell’s Soup?

Trying to cook the same meals I used to make in the USA can be challenging. You can’t find ground turkey. You also cannot find cream of chicken.

I didn’t expect to find Campbell’s Soup at the grocery store, but I thought I might find a substitute. Google translate told me to ask for “créme de poulet.”

I don’t think I will ever be able to get the sound of the man’s voice out of my head…"créme de poulet?” “Tu veux de la crème de poulet, crème de POULET??”

The first attempt at making my own version of cream of chicken for my husband’s favorite casserole, went horribly. I am going to attempt to try it again for Valentine’s Day. This can only go one of two ways.

Parisian doors & color histories

Since moving to Luxembourg, I’ve found it challenging to find specific art materials here. So when I took a trip to Paris, I focused an entire day on researching and visiting art supply stores. After all, the paint I was looking for, flashe vinyl water based paint, is produced by LeFranc Bourgeois, a French company. The first art supply store on my list was, Magasin Sennelier.



There is history here; both in the collection of renowned artists who have sourced their supplies from these very shelves, as well as the origins of the vibrant pigments being sold. Like Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Pierre Bonnard, Èdouard Vulliard, etc. etc - I was going to Paris for paint. It may sound romantic, but the reality of carrying around heavy and often awkwardly sized and fragile supplies is not.

This Parisian art supply store, located conveniently near both the Louvre and L’Ecole Des Beaux-Arts, opened its doors way back in the horse and buggy days of 1887. It was here, that founder & chemist, Gustav Sennelier began producing and developing his own line of pigments. Luckily for me, the Sennelier store is still just as viable today as it was then. I am happy to report that not only was I able to find a pleasingly organized wooden rolling shelf system, but also rows and rows of glass jars filled with my favorite paint.


Researching sources of specific colors continued past the doors of art supply stores. Walking around with jars of paint made me notice the many colors and designs of doors found throughout the streets of Paris.

How many doors in Paris can you document in one day?

How many doors in Paris can you document in one day?

In playing the game of “how many doors can I document in one day,” I began to notice a pattern. Many Parisian doors are blue. (FYI: There is even an entire instagram account, @bluedoorsofparis, dedicated to blue Parisian doors.) So why blue?

“Westerners have a history of undervaluing all things blue. During the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, reds, blacks and browns reigned supreme; the ancient Greeks and Romans admired the simple triumvirate of black, white and red…In Rome wearing blue was associated with mourning and misfortune. (Exceptions to this ancient aversion to blue are more common outside Europe; the ancient Egyptians, for example were quite fond of it.)

…It was during the twelfth century that a sea change occurred. Abbot Suger, a prominent figure in the French court and an early champion of Gothic architecture, fervently believed in colours - particularly blues - to be divine.”

- The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair

A value chart of door swatches

A value chart of door swatches

Maggie Nelson loved blue so much she wrote an entire book about it, Bluets.

“ And so I fell in love with a color - in this case, the color blue - as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.”

My green purse matching the green door.

My green purse matching the green door.

But let’s not forget about all the greens. St. Clair’s research from “The Secret Lives of Colour,” focused primarily on verdigris, absinthe, emerald, kelly green, scheele’s green, terre verte, avocado and celadon pigments. A common theme throughout her chapters about the values and shades of green is it’s two fold and tricky nature. On one hand green is “comforting images of countryside and environmentally friendly politics” and on the other, green has “a symbolic link with capriciousness, poison and even evil.”