From New York to Luxembourg City - Expat Interview With Dawn

Published: 29 Jan at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Luxembourg
Dawn and her husband moved to Luxembourg 18 months ago for his job. When she told people where they were moving, the most common response (after a blank look) was, "in, er, Germany? Belgium? Ah, right, France!" Turns out, Luxembourg is a wonderful little country and a great place to be a foreigner! Dawn knew living abroad was an invaluable experience since she'd previously lived in London, but it turns out living in a (primarily) non-English-speaking city is an eye-opening, mind-enlarging, cherishable journey. Since Dawn is a writer and photographer who obsessively takes photos everywhere she goes, her blog, shoot+scrawl (see listing here), was a natural way to document her new life and spread the word about marvelous little Luxembourg. Hopefully she's encouraged a visitor or two!

Meet Dawn - US expat in Luxembourg
Meet Dawn - US expat in Luxembourg

Here's the interview with Dawn...


Where are you originally from?
New York, NY

In which country and city are you living now?
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've lived in Luxembourg for 1.5 years and plan on staying indefinitely.

Why did you move and what do you do?
My husband accepted a job with a company based in Luxembourg. Currently, I am writing a novel and capturing this corner of Europe in photos.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, both my husband and I live here.

It's easy to create a fulfilling expat life in beautiful Luxembourg
It's easy to create a fulfilling expat life in beautiful Luxembourg
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition was not that difficult. I've lived in London and traveled a lot, so I was comfortable landing in a place where I didn't know how to do anything or where anything was. It helped that Luxembourg is a tiny city in that all essentials are within a quick walk. Luckily, we had a relocation agent who provided marginal (though better than nothing) help and my husband's company's law firm helped us with visas.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It's taken awhile to make non-expat friends. First off, there's a language barrier. Locals speak Luxembourgish, French and German. Most speak English, but it is not what many are most comfortable with. Although I speak high school-level French and am taking lessons, it's sometimes challenging to communicate. Also, since the Luxembourg population is around 50-60% expats, many locals aren't incentivized to make new friends since many expats are transient and here on 2- or 3-year rotations.

Though I have made a number of acquaintances and friends, most of them are English-speaking expats. I continually strive and struggle to enlarge the circle to include locals.

The Grund neighborhood is the city's oldest
The Grund neighborhood is the city's oldest
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Luxembourg is centrally located, so it's easy to drive or take the train to other parts of Europe. Many enticing places are within a few hours' ride. Make a list of places you want to visit; it will be easy to start checking each item off!

There are countless local things to do, like hike (Luxembourg is filled with forests and gorgeous countryside), visit a wine region, take in museums and attend the many, many festivals that happen year-round. We are never bored here. This tiny country has an impressive calendar!

To future expats, I would recommend approaching everything with an open mind and seeing as much local culture as possible. Things that seem like they would be familiar usually have an interesting twist - specific customs and behavior, unfamiliar types of people and surprising foods are just some of the treasures that you will find.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Luxembourg is a very laid-back, quiet city and it is easy to get around. I enjoy its simple lifestyle with easy access to as much or as little as I feel like doing.

Esch-sur-Sûre is one of many nearby towns
Esch-sur-Sûre is one of many nearby towns
How does the cost of living compare to home?
Luxembourg is cheaper than Manhattan. Although dining out tends to be more expensive (Luxembourg lacks low- and mid-range neighborhood places), housing is much more affordable. Taxis are a lot more expensive in Luxembourg because people rarely need to take them. The cost of groceries is comparable. In both New York and Luxembourg, we are careful to buy organic as much as possible and were thrilled to find some organic services over here akin to a CSA. Gas is much more expensive in Europe. Our total utilities are about the same. Since we don't need air conditioning over here, our electric bill is lower in the summer, but since it's a cooler climate, we spend more on heat in the winter.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The weather! It's oftentimes grey, cool and rainy. A mere week or two of hot weather each summer is not uncommon, and you won't see the sun all winter.

Another negative is the lack of direct flights to the U.S. Typical layovers are through Paris, London or Amsterdam - all huge airports that sometimes require a change of terminal. You learn which flights are preferable, but it's still a major time-suck. I should mention the Lux airport is tiny, well-run and refreshingly hassle-free.

Also, the food over here leaves a lot to be desired. There's a lack of diversity and many places are meat-heavy.

Wine lovers will enjoy the nearby Mosel region. Drive a little further for the Alsace, Champagne or Burgundy regions.
Wine lovers will enjoy the nearby Mosel region. Drive a little further for the Alsace, Champagne or Burgundy regions.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
I would advise any new arrival to open his/her mind and be willing to roll with the punches! There are a lot of mysterious/frustrating/annoying things that occur here, like language mishaps, shopping challenges, seemingly nonsensical driving rules, etc. You have to be able to laugh things off.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The hardest aspect has been having to make new friends and construct a social life. Starting over with everyone you meet becomes very tedious, especially if the commonalities are few.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Attend everything you're invited to! You never know who you will meet. Luxembourg is crawling with people from every country. Or maybe you'll meet a local who has intriguing anecdotes and unique knowledge of the area.
  2. Let go of brand-loyalty and be open to discovering new products. You will not find everything you are used to and when you do, it might be laughably more expensive. A facial cleanser I used to buy at New York drugstores for $12 is €20 (approx. $26) here.
  3. Learn at least a few basic French phrases and words before you get on the plane. No one here is going to be amused by your lack of communication skills. Many people you'll need in the early days such as locksmiths, handymen, housecleaners, dry cleaners and grocers do not speak English. Pantomime will only take you so far.
  4. Remember that you are the outsider and conduct yourself accordingly. In Luxembourg, that means be patient! When I first arrived, I was surprised at the total lack of urgency here. It drove me nuts! Everyone takes the time to have a full conversation (even when there's a growing queue), count out every single small coin, block aisles, stroll three-abreast so that no one can pass, etc. Furniture deliveries happen only when the delivery company feels like it, regardless of when they promised it. I was forced to quickly temper my expectations and alter my ideas about what constitutes polite behavior (for example, chit-chatting with a vendor is more polite than hurrying to avoid holding up the line).
  5. Remember to look after yourself in your home country. Keep up your credit history since oftentimes foreign creditworthiness doesn't register in your home country's system. Consider obtaining things like a duplicate license from your home country with an expiration as far out as you can push it and regularly renew it. This will save you future legwork if you ever move back, it will allow you to easily rent a car back in your home country if you need to (the Luxembourg driving license is a piece of paper with a photo stapled to it. Try showing that to Hertz.) and you will have a duplicate license to trade in for a Luxembourgish one. Get a VoIP or other Internet-based phone service so friends and family can easily contact you. Consider using a mail-collecting and forwarding service to ensure reliable communication from banks and other institutions with whom you need to maintain relationships. For me, the mail service was easier than burdening a friend or relative. Plus, if I need to purchase something from a U.S. website that does not deliver to Luxembourg (very, very typical), I can ship it to the mail service and they will send it to me.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My expat blog, shootandscrawl.com, is a photography and travel blog. When I started it, I intended to chronicle my expat experience, but it quickly turned into more of a travel blog since I was visiting so many places. Though I still encounter quirks and interesting things, I quickly settled into daily life and found that amusing tidbits, interesting food and arduous processes only occupy so much time! So I went with the natural progression and began chronicling my travels more.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I would love to hear from anyone contemplating a move to Luxembourg! Contact me via my site or on Twitter @shootandscrawl

Dawn blogs at http://shootandscrawl.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. shoot+scrawl has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Dawn, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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