An American In Luxembourg

The International Fist Bump, that's Luxembourg!

Photo: Shutterstock

By Mike McQuaide

I recently started taking Lëtzebuergesch classes again after having taken a year off. My first day back, I arrived early and plunged right in, making Lëtzebuergesch small talk with a woman, a fellow student, who’d also arrived early.

“Vu wou kommt Dir?” I asked. (Where do you come from?) My fellow students are always from a bazillion different countries and it’s fun to find out where they call home.  

“Irak,” she answered. “An Dir?”

“Ech kommen aus Amerika,” I said.

This did not please my new classmate. She became agitated and in French, spoke forcefully about how America’s wars and bombings in Iraq had devastated the country and created thousands and thousands of refugees.

Certainly, I understood her distress, but all I could do was assure her (in English, which she didn’t understand) that I personally didn’t do those things, and that I’ve never been a supporter of the administrations that did. (For good measure, I added that like three-quarters of Americans, I didn’t vote for Trump either.) Jackie, our Lëtzebuergesch teacher, calmed things down a bit and my fellow student and I shared a semi-authentic hug.

Onto that day’s Lëtzebuergesch lesson …

Jackie led a discussion about hobbies and we students talked about things we liked to do.

“Ech fuere gär mam Vëlo,” was my contribution. (I like to ride my bike.)

Seated next to me, my Iraqi classmate said she liked to sew.

“Ech bitze ganz gär,” she said. On her Smartphone, she quickly found a photo of a beautiful silk dress she’d sewn and showed it to the class. “Ech bitzen de Rack,” she said. We all oohed and aahed.  

As the lesson continued, my dress-making classmate kept scrolling through her phone and from time to time, tapped me on the shoulder to show me another of her hand-sewn dresses. They were colorful and shimmery, and that she chose to spend hours and hours doing this, impressed me.

Over the following weeks, this sort of became our thing. Each Monday, in broken Lëtzebuergesch, I’d tell my Iraqi classmate where I’d ridden my bike over the weekend and she’d show me photos of dresses she was working on

Photo: Shutterstock

One day, we students worked in groups of three creating a short story (in Lëtzebuergesch) from a handful of cartoon images. They were scenes of a man walking into or out of a library, a pharmacy, a doctor’s office, etc.

Our group--my Iraqi classmate, a terrific Scottish fellow and myself--went for the dramatic and tragic. Our story revolved around a dubious character named Mike who stole books from the library and then bought cigarettes and candy at the newspaper store. These made him sick and so he visited a doctor who prescribed him medicine to which he was allergic.

“Zum Schluss geet de Mike an d’Spidol, fir ze stierwen.” Essentially, Mike ended up in the hospital where he died.

The three of us had great fun concocting this story, laughing like children with each sentence we came up with. Upon reading it aloud to the rest of the class, it was met with a mix of amusement and confusion, and a few looks that seemed to say “What is wrong with you?”

But we didn’t care; we were flush with a sense of accomplishment from a job well done. (Done, anyway.)

By way of congrats, I held out my fist to my Iraqi friend to share a fist bump. She looked at my hand, and then back at me and smiled. She had no idea what I wanted.

I turned to my Scottish classmate so that we could demonstrate and it hit me--this right here is Luxembourg. An American and a Scot demonstrating how to fist bump for an Iraqi in a Luxembourgish class.

Luxembourg is full of folks far from their countries of origin, but united by one thing or another. For us, it’s by our attempt to get a handle on the intricacies and peculiarities of the Lëtzebuerger Sprooch.

I turned back to my Iraqi friend and held out my fist. She nodded, smiled in understanding, and we got ‘er done. Bump.

That’s Luxembourg.

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