January 30, 2017

Things I learned as a cross-border worker/student in Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a unique country. Placed in the middle of Europe and surrounded by big countries such as Germany and France, in a working day in Luxembourg over 200.000 people cross the border to go to their jobs. Recent studies show that they are over 44% of the Luxembourgish working force (Statec). The European terminology calls them "cross-border commuters" or "cross-border workers". I am one of them. I live in Belgium and work/study in Luxembourg. I get that for someone who has never been to this area, it is hard to grasp, but that's the situation here. Just to give you an example, it takes me 20 minutes by train to go from Arlon to Luxembourg Gare (Railway station) and 25 or 30 to go by car to the City Centre. There are more than 3 access roads from Arlon to Luxembourg, including the highway and the rent is cheaper :)

So that's that. In more than 4 years of cross-border commuting I gathered some advice to give to the newcomers. Here they are:

1. You always have to take your passport with you, always. I have a Belgian card, but you always have to have a border crossing document with you. It happened to me once, I was going to a BBQ at a friend's house in Germany (so leaving Belgium, crossing Luxembourg and going to Germany, crossing in the process two borders) and I thought that it was not necessary to carry my passport with me. As my luck goes we got stopped by the border control and I had no papers with me, nothing. 24 euro fine. I was lucky though and being the first time, they let me pass. So remember, always take your passport with you!

2. As a mentioned, I can go to Luxembourg, by train, bus or car. Choose very carefully your means of transport according to your needs. I've tried them all and although it's not very ecological, I prefer my own car. A 20 minutes drive by car turns into a 45 minutes to an hour ride by bus, because the bus stops and believe me in Strassen there are stops every 100 metres and the bus stops in all of them. Train would be the most comfortable and logical solution, if the Belgian railway were to be trusted, but they aren't. The train never leaves on time, even if it starts from Arlon. They are on strike maybe once per month and if something breaks the Luxembourgish are to blame. I am sick and tired of "signalisation" (read it in French) I don't even know what it means, but apparently the "signalisation" is responsible for me being late. I understand that the trains leaving Arlon at 7 and 8 in the morning manage somehow to have insignificant delays, but with the others is like Russian roulette, you never know if you will be in Luxembourg on time. Most of the times everything is ok, but when it happens...

3. When the Belgian railway workers are on strike or the "signalisation" problem comes along the easiest way out of Arlon is first not to get nervous (it never happens to me), then gather three or four people in the same situation and cross the border by taxi. 27 euro to Kleinbetingen Gare and the Luxembourgish trains are rarely late. 27 euro split by 3 or 4 is not that much. It's a lot if you think the monthly ticket is around 98 euro, but to get on time to work is not that much. I keep saying that at some point I would ask for a refund from the workers on strike, but it never happens.

4. Don't stress about being late, depending where you work, that is. For me being late and coming from Belgium, is an obvious fact. At first I was stressed, I would excuse myself until my boss told me one day "you live outside Luxembourg, it's a miracle you get in at all" and she was right. Plus all the places I worked or interacted with allow people being a little late.

5. Speaking about being late, in Luxembourg nothing starts on time. Don't count on that, cause you never know how the luck goes, but that is my experience. You hurry to a concert, arrive on time, find a decent parking spot and enter the door just before the starting hour, just to find out that they start half an hour to an hour late. The movie is always at least 5 minutes late. People don't stress if you are late to a meeting and in general everyone is laid back about punctuality. I'm learning.

6. Speaking about being late, in Luxembourg and everywhere else for that matter, it is polite to tell the people you are meeting with that you will be a little late. It happened to me once in Bucharest, I waited for my friends for 45 minutes and since then I am crazy about waiting for people, as in I never wait for no one, especially if they don't bother to call or let me know somehow that they are going to be late. I noticed that as being the rule in Luxembourg, too. If you are late and you don't let people know that you are late, you get weird stares at you all evening or meeting, and you are lucky to get a second meeting. It sounds right to me and I like that it is this way.

7. Also about being late, travelling by car, you know you are in Luxembourg when the roads get smooth. It doesn't matter if you enter Luxembourg using the highway or the tractor road, once in Luxembourg the roads are smooth and not bumpy. So I apply my make up on the car :). Of course I'm not driving, but being in a hurry, I apply only a coat of primer or cream at home and get out of the house. Once on Luxembourgish roads I can safely apply makeup, I even colour my inner eyelid, rimmel my eyelashes and put lipstick. And I am not the only one. I have to say that I am not at the level where I can put makeup in public, but on the bus I saw some pros on applying makeup on the go. So the roads in Luxembourg are so smooth that you can safely apply your makeup on your car.

8. Stay in town at night at your own risk. Of course, I'm not saying it is dangerous to stay in Luxembourg during the night, on the contrary, it's just that from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. the trains are not circulating, neither are the busses. I know people who rented a room when they had a late meeting (or party) in Luxembourg city and I know my master colleagues who would wait for the first train on a bar or in McDonalds. It's a risk. Of course you have the taxi possibility, but from what I've heard from Luxembourg to Arlon the taxi is 150 euro. I would say that a room in town is much cheaper than that.

9. Plus, or more like a minus, the railway station is closed by night. It closes at around 10 p.m. so if your plan is to wait in the railway station you have to change your plan. It is a downside of being a cross-border worker: you are always dependent on your car.

10.There are of course a lot of advantages as well. First one that I can think of is saving money from the rent to travel. Luxembourg is literally in the middle of Europe. I saw in a travel brochure the distances in hours to the most important capital cities of Europe: 2 and a half hours by car to Amsterdam or 1h30' by plane. 5 hours by car to London, or 1h10' by plane, 2 hours by train to Paris, 1h50' by plane to Rome, 2h20' by plane to Madrid and of course 2 hours by car to Brussels. And what is even nicer is that you have low cost airports close to Luxembourg and from there you can literally go anywhere. I like to have options so when I plan a holiday or just a trip I check all the airports and all the flights and I managed so far so have nice and well scheduled trips. I went once to Dublin, leaving Luxembourg on a Friday evening from Brussels and arriving back on Luxembourg on Sunday evening from Frankfurt. I love Dublin, but that was the downside there, you had only one way out of the country and that was by plane and that was used by everyone.

11. I can practice all my language repertoire on one day and I like it. Of course my strong language is English and I get to use it daily, I speak Romanian at home or with my friends, I speak Spanish and Italian at work and I use French when interacting with people of Luxembourg. I even picked up some Luxembourgish words and my level of understanding German is rising. I am one of the people who thinks that speaking as many languages as possible and being able to interact with as many cultures as possible makes me a better human being. My master was trilingual (English, French and German), but my colleagues came from as many as 20 countries. 20 countries and 20 cultures and 20 new ways of seeing things that I discovered just by going to school. It was amazing and this things happen daily in Luxembourg.

Of course I have a hard time explaining to people where I live, cause I do live in Belgium, but what do I have to do with Belgium except sleeping in Belgium? It happened to me once that one of my colleagues invited me to coffee and she was in Brussels and she thought that I can easily get to Brussels within an hour :) I couldn't. I post pictures with me in Germany or France and my friends and family home think that the only thing I do in Luxembourg is travel. I have to explain every time, that my favourite British or Irish stores are only in Germany, that I go to work or events or meet with friends in Luxembourg, I go grocery shopping in France and I sleep and live in Belgium. It's complicated even to me, but I've grown to like it.

As usual, if you enjoyed the article, you can like my Facebook page: a Romanian in Luxembourg.

No comments: