22 July 2011

Cultural Differences - Fashion Edition

I'm currently on my lunch break at work. But, as I decided to make my own sandwich to bring with me (50 cents for a small baguette to make it on seems far more economical than 3,50 for basically the same sandwich had I bought it today). This means that I have some extra time in the office before I go back to work, and I thought I would take the opportunity to post part two of the Cultural Differences Saga. As you may have realized from the links on this page, I've always taken a casual interest in fashion. Walking around, I'm constantly glancing at others outfits, storing up inspiration for the day I have enough money to purchase my dream wardrobe, and musing (perhaps a bit too harshly sometimes) over how people make the fashion choices they make. This is an especially fun game to play on the bus. European fashion trends tend to be a bit ahead of American ones, and since Luxembourg is quite wealthy, many people put their white-collar earnings toward their appearance (this sounds like an assumption but it is actually based on mutiple conversations and observations of the vast amount of shopping being done). It is a trendy and well-dressed city, especially in the business districts. Some statements I have seen here have been particularly interesting. To enumerate...

1. Skinny Trousers. I don't know what these are actually called, or if they are even a uniquely labeled item, but this is my name for the skinny jeans + dress pants lovechild I saw everywhere during my first few weeks. Pants one wears to work with a suitjacket, but with the cut of a skinny jean. Both men and women wear them, and when done right, they can look quite chic. When done wrong, one ends up with saggy crotch syndrome and skankles (a word created by my friend who hated her skinny ankles in high school) peeking out of the bottom of your now-awkward silhouette. 

2. MC Hammer Pants: Floral Edition. Let me preface this by saying that fashion trends are constantly being recycled in what seems like twenty year cycles. In the early 2000s, trends from the 80s started to creep back into consciousness and, whats worse, acceptability. Now its the 90s turn. Apart from the eternally-awesome sundress + patterned tights + converse look I rocked as a six year old, Fashion in the 1990s was sort of a disaster. And here it is again. Floral babydoll dresses and denim everywhere. The other day on a college fashion blog, there was an entire post devoted to mesh workout tanktops as shirts. This blogger, who I'm sure is a lovely human being, then posed the question "would you wear this" without a trace of irony. Oh, dear. Anyway, the biggest 90s-esque trend I've seen going on here are those loose and baggy cotton pants with the addition of any pattern one could possibly envision. I've seen these imprinted with everything from Laura Ashley bed sham to leopard/zebra print safari extravaganza. And its not just crazy people - its everyone. They are ubiquitous both in the stores and on the streets. Regarding this, there are only two things I'm sure of: 1. They are super comfy and 2. Someday, those pictures will cause much regret and laughter.

3. Man Purses.Guys in America, stop being so self-conscious about your masculinity. Gender stereotypes say you aren't supposed to carry any sort of bag, but your European counterparts know full well the benefits of an over the shoulder (preferably burberry-patterned) bag just large enough to hold your phone, wallet and whatever other knicknacks will come in handy throughout a pleasant shopping trip with the bros. Man up, be practical, and stop stuffing your pockets. You know you want to. 

4. Pointy-toed dress shoes for men. I don't think I need to elaborate on this one. It is what it is. 
 
5. Scarves. I guess this has been true in the States lately as well, but they are everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. I need approximately a thousand more. 

20 July 2011

Cultural Differences - Dining Edition

Finally, the post on cultural differences. I've found that many things here are similar to the States - it is the small things that really stand out. I've been trying to make a mental note whenever something strikes me as surprising (or just plain odd) but have yet to document these occurrences in any legitimate way. There have been a lot, so I shall start with the food and dining differences. In no particular order...

1. Closing times. Shops close each night at 6:00, while supermarkets are open only until 8:00. On Sundays, the majority of shops are closed, while supermarkets stay open until 1:00, if at all.

2. Drinks. Are so, so much smaller here. Ordering a soft drink or ice tea means a small glass bottle that is less than ,5 liters. And thats all you get - no refills, no free waters. Even though I knew this before I came thanks to past European excursions, I have yet to get used to it. Or warm to it. I am thirsty constantly, and I'm this close to bringing my own damn water bottle to restaurants.

3. Pizza. Upon ordering pizza in a restaurant, the server will present you with an entire pizza. This pizza is unsliced. You are then supposed to use the knife given to you (as if this were a steak dinner) and cut your pizza yourself, slowly working your way through it with a knife and fork. Triangular slices are by no means necessary (or common). Its basically a free-for-all. This drives the New Yorker in me crazy, but the pizza tends to be delicious, so that helps make up for it.

4. Yoghurt. The amount of it here is astonishing. Like, entire aisle in the supermarket astonishing.

5. Hot Chocolate. The Europeans are genius when it comes to hot chocolate. Now, this isn't always the case, but if you go anywhere decent for a nice cup of chocolat-chaud, what will often be served is a tumbler of warm milk, along with a mug, some sort of stick with chocolate on it (like a lollipop, but so much better), sugar, and a biscuit. Its a process that is very worth the result. Basically, yum.

6. McDonalds. I sort of already knew this, but Mickey D's is quite different here. As witness, I actually go there for lunch sometimes. The last time I remember going to McDonalds for a meal in the States, I was 17, had just finished running a 5k and was about to endure a two hour bus ride home with a bunch of other sweaty cross country runners. Here, the salad is legitimate, the veggie burger is sort of delicious, and nothing is super-sized. The one slightly irritating aspect is that you have to pay extra for ketchup (or mayo, if thats your thing).

7. Butter (and/or weight issues). I don't claim to be the most worldly person out there, but I've spent a total of 4 months in Europe in the past year. I've eaten a lot of food here. I still can't figure out why people tend to be so much slimmer here. The French especially. It can't be the (miniscule) drink portions alone, and food portions are slightly smaller but fairly consistent. Perhaps its the greater use of healthier, fresher ingredients, but there is no shortage of frozen/pre-made food and people certainly purchase these at the supermarkets. The one thing I can't fathom how they do here and maintain healthy weights is the large amount of butter used. On toast, under any topping, a thin layer of butter is spread. Delicious. I bought a tomato and mozzarella sandwich the other day and was asked if I wanted it with butter, and I happily complied. Here's the thing. There are two ingredients that will make basically anything taste better. 1. Olive Oil 2. Butter. The Europeans, lucky them, have managed to figure this out seemingly without adding any calories.

17 July 2011

Dinnertime

Tonight, I was craving some classic American comfort food - a combination of watching too much Mad Men and missing home. So, like any good American girl, I took a look around my fridge and whipped up a tuna noodle casserole. With cream of mushroom soup and canned peas and everything. I had never made it before, and though I looked up a few recipes online the night before, I basically completed the project without the help of a recipe (although measurements would have been useless, as they would all need to be converted and the house has a serious lack of measuring cups anyway). I suppose the point here is, I'm in Luxembourg, becoming a 1950's housewife. Way to go, Europe. 

16 July 2011

The Week

I can't think of a theme or central thought that can best sum up the past week. But, since I still want to post for my enormous pool of readers which is basically limited to family members and my boyfriend,  I shall just give the day by day rundown of the past week in Luxembourg, using my budget calendar to assist my poor memory.


Monday, not unlike the weekend, was a fairly quiet day. I went to work, where I continued to slowly acquire information about various Steichen photographs in the MNHA collection. This has been a somewhat frustrating task, as the information on the web is limited and often not very reliable. Even utilizing the databases that my university gives me access to, I feel like I am just finding the same useless articles over and over. Luckily, when I do stumble onto good information, it is very rewarding. After work, I went to the Match to get groceries for the week. I always have to go right after I arrive home, as all of the supermarkets close at 8:00. Its a bit inconvenient when I just want to come home and relax, but I suppose it stops me from procrastinating. 


Tuesday after work I met up with my flatmate, Catherine, and another friend in the Centre for drinks. We went to the Art Cafe, a low-key bar right near my work, and just talked and had a beer. As we were heading back to Hamilius (the central bus stop) at 9 pm, we ran into a few people who work at the bank with my flatmate. They were going to the Manu Chao concert and invited us to go along. More accurately, they were going behind the stage of the Manu Chao to be able to listen for free. I had never heard of him before, but apparently he is quite popular throughout Europe - all the people I was with (who were mostly French) knew many of his songs by heart. But the music was good and it was a very fun time. We ended up right behind the stage, able to see through to the actual concert and hear everything perfectly. By the time we returned home, it was nearly midnight. What surprised me about the whole night was how many people were out on a Tuesday night. Most of the bars we passed were nearly full. Apparently, there is a whole weeknight nightlife that I have been missing.


Wednesday, I woke up feeling quite poorly so I called in sick to work. I had been feeling under the weather for a few days and my Tuesday night adventures left me completely drained. It was nice to take the day to recover - I mostly just stayed in bed, eating soup and watching Mad Men and (once again) How I Met Your Mother. I've really been catching up on my tv watching here. Sad, but true. 


Thursday night, one of my flatmates celebrated her birthday. There were copious amounts of crepes, both savory and sweet and much wine and conversation and fun. There was also a quite heated discussion about economics and politics, but thats what I get for living with bankers and lawyers. Oh, and there was a birthday gift from a sex shop that provided a fair amount of amusement. Overall, a really great night with the Maison Socrates residents (and guests).


Friday, I was meant to go out, but instead stayed in for a quiet night of ice cream with Catherine and skypage with my boyfriend. 


Today, Saturday, I actually had lunch with the other student from my university with a summer internship here and a Luxembourgish girl who will be coming to Clark next year. Lily's (the Clark student) advisor informed her a few days ago that there was a Luxembourger coming to our university, so we all met up for lunch and coffee this afternoon. It was really lovely. She is the first student from Lux to come to Clark, which means the addition of a new flag on campus, and she was very friendly and interesting - a good fit for Clark. As an added perk, it was also good for me as I will be working for the admissions office next year, meeting and talking with prospective students. So, this was a good example of what that will be like. Tonight, I will probably go out to the Jazz and Blues festival in the Grund, which is supposed to be a great event full of music and dancing and general celebration. 


Wow, that was a lot of writing. but at least now I'm all caught up. A lovely Saturday to all! 

10 July 2011

Weekend

It has been a lazy weekend in Luxembourg. Most of my roommates are gone, some home to Strasbourg, some to Belgium. Home is so much closer for them - easy enough to get to for a weekend trip. Plus, they know all of the international transportation systems better. And they speak the language(s). All in all, weekend travel is something that I am not as capable of as my fellow residents. I don't mind. In just a few weeks, I will set out on my own eleven-day adventure, visiting Brugge, Brussels and finally Paris. I've never been to Paris so I have high hopes for that leg of the trip. Anyway, back to the present. A quiet weekend on a quiet residential street in Luxembourg city. I usually like to go for a walk on Sunday and do a bit of exploring, but the weather is a bit glum so I think it will be a truly quiet day of reading and internet-ing.


Friday night I was invited to the bars at Clausen but I was a bit tired and with my roommates gone I didn't want to trek to (and back from) Clausen alone, though the area is quite fun and always packed with young people. Instead, I went to the Cinematheque's outdoor screening of Casablanca - a true Hollywood classic. The movie was shown in a fairly courtyard in the centre, about a block away from the cinematheque (although in the centre everything is basically a block away from everything else so that doesn't mean much). There was a huge screen set up and they made chairs available to however many people could cram themselves in and drinks were served from an adjoining cafe. It was lovely, and I couldn't believe how many people were there. Most were able to find a place to sit, but some just stood in the back. I hope to go again, but I now know to arrive early as to avoid bad seats or none at all.


Saturday I made a delicious tuna melt, stayed in, chatted with a few friends, and watched a somewhat embarrassing number of episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Once again, life here - not that different than life at home. Perhaps it would be if I went out a little more, constantly met new people, became a regular at a Luxembourgish bar, but I'm not really the crazy partying type. I tend to prefer to go out one night and stay in the other. I think working 9-6 Monday through Friday has made me especially keen on low-key weekends. Or maybe I'm just old.


Back to my lazy Luxembourgish Sunday.

05 July 2011

One Month (plus ten days)

Okay, so its not exactly one month as I arrived on the 27th, but I've been musing over this post for a few days and have been too lazy to actually write it. Despite all my musing, I'm not exactly sure where to start - or even what to say - about my time in Luxembourg. What I know is this: with less than a month to go, I'm beginning to understand just how short Summer is. Eight weeks is not nearly enough time. Or rather, while it is enough time to begin missing home, its not long enough to feel settled here. No - thats not quite right either. Its enough time to get settled, just as you have to leave. But it seems early to begin such sad proclamations, so I'll leave that for a few weeks from now, when I will actually be departing.


Right now, there are more than enough things to cover. 


First up, the internship. Because, you know, I have a job here. Its been going well - a bit different than I expected. I've been doing really interesting biographical research relating to the MNHA's rather impressive collection of Edward Steichen photographs. I've also spent the past week doing menial office labor (aka scanning books of old records so they can be properly cataloged) like any good intern inevitably must. But, the people I work with are really pleasant and fun and I'm allowed to listen to music while I work, so the day always goes rather fast. Also, as my boyfriend would readily remind me, its an extreme pleasure to go to a museum to work every day, even if my desk isn't directly in the gallery. 


At home, in my apartment, things are also good. I've started to get over the idea that the other residents resent me because they switch to English when I'm in the room. This feeling has been replaced by one of genuine warmth. All of the residents I interact with (there are two or three who are still a mystery, as they leave most weekends and never seem to be in the common areas) are very friendly. There have only been a few bouts of drama, both of which were resolved, or at least swept under the table and no longer discussed, before I arrived. The food situation is what I find most interesting here. I've noticed people seem to be a bit more fluid about money (in a good way) and this translates to a less stringent policy with food purchases. Everyone buys their own groceries, of course, but if you are cooking and need a little bit extra of something, there is an implicit rule that you are free to take that extra splash of milk or dash of basil, as it will all even out in the end. It creates a generous atmosphere - one in which people don't mind offering others their extras or even cooking together and combining everyone's ingredients without thought or concern. It's really how a house should be run, and I hope when I return to University in the fall I can continue this model. 


I guess the other thing is cooking. There are all of these blogs and books out there detailing how to cook for one - I know, I spent a rather embarrassing amount of time perusing them during my first week. What these lovely blogs don't address, however, is cooking for one on a lazy (and vegetarian) college student's budget (basically the same thing as my budget here, even with my stipend. The only difference is the severe lack of peanut butter and ramen noodles). I've been slowly finding out the most important ingredients to have on hand. Olive oil, plain yoghurt, and onions are useful for just about everything and will make (almost) anything taste better. I think the same rule I use when shopping for clothing applies to groceries: don't buy it unless you know at least three ways you can use it. Mostly, I've been eating a lot of pasta and rice dishes. Many nights I get home at 6:00 and just want something fast, simple and easy, and I believe I have yet to dirty more that two pans for a meal. Surprisingly, I've managed to throw together a lot of good dinners while sticking to this philosophy. Everything from vegetable curry to quesadillas with homemade refried beans has been whipped up in ten to fifteen minutes, with only a few steps and minimal chances to mess up and burn down the house. Take that, food bloggers. 


And on a related note, I now must be off to attempt to bake a cake for a belated American Independence Day celebration, which will hopefully be completed by the contribution of apple pie by someone far more adept at baking than I.


I will try to write more soon.

26 June 2011

National Holiday - the afterword

Its been a few days since the National Holiday (also referred to as Duke's Day) now, and I still just have one main reaction: Wow, do the Luxembourgish know how to do fireworks. The display was incredible - absolutely breathtaking. The show lasted for almost thirty minutes, during which tens of thousands of people stood entranced, just watching the sky light up again and again and again as swelling music played in the background. The fireworks themselves were huge - they covered the entire sky. It was honestly as if there was another, brighter, more sparkling sky on top of the clear and perfect midnight blue one that already existed. Without a doubt the best fireworks I have ever seen. After the fireworks, my group (which began as about fifteen people and was subsequently reduced to five due to people splitting off and the overwhelming size of the crowd) just hung out in the centre, eating pizza from the stand pizza hut had set up outside the restaurant, listening to music and talking until about 2:00 when, exhausted, we decided to call it a night and leave the true Luxembourgish to their all-night celebration. 


The next day I slept late and did not get the chance to go into the centre to see the parade. I did take a bus in around 6:00, by which time the festivities were over and the city was quiet again (and sparkling clean - the Luxembourgish government must employ thousands of elves to clean up after Saturday nights and celebrations. Seriously, it's always spotless).  The city now calm, I just wandered around, feeling both like a tourist and a resident. Its an odd feeling, one that I've been getting a lot lately. On the one hand, I'm only here for a few months and sometimes things still feel fresh and foreign. At times I'll suddenly remember that I'm in Luxembourg and - wow. On the other hand, I'm living and working here for two months as a resident. I have an apartment which I take the bus to and from twice a day, I can navigate my way through the city well, and I am just another foreign worker in a city full of foreign workers and stagiaire. Two months isn't really enough time to consider myself a resident, but its enough time to start to feel settled. 


Anyway, I suppose the important thing here is The National Day, which was great. If you are ever anywhere near Luxembourg on June 22nd, its a night well worth experiencing.