Time Flies When You’re in a Foreign Country

It’s hard to believe we’ll have been here three weeks on Tuesday, and while we’re talking about things that are hard to believe – Tuesday really can’t be Christmas, can it?

I’ve started writing this at least once every couple days, and each time I’ve abandoned what meager progress I’ve made. Maybe this time I’ll figure out how to summarize the couple weeks that have passed since my last update….

When last we left our heroes they were generally awash in a sea of French, and had managed to negotiate the purchase and delivery of a clothes washer and dryer.

Washing clothes, it turns out, makes a huge difference in our ability to feel settled in a place. Never mind that loads take two hours to wash. And another ninety minutes to dry. Or that the dryer is a condenser, so you have to empty two lint screens and a water collection vessel after every load. We have clean clothes, damnit.

Since buying the washer/dryer – we’ve purchased pretty much an entire apartments worth of furniture from Ikea, learned that for 40€ they’ll deliver up to 500kg to the curb outside our (4th floor) apartment, and learned that moving 500kg of flat pack furniture up to the fourth floor is serious freaking work.

Especially hoisting the 160cm mattress up five flights of stairs when we discoverd it wouldn’t fit into the lift.

Never mind getting a bunch of that 500kg up the spiral stairs in the apartment. Or putting it all together.

As of now, the bedroom (bed, including mattress and linens, our nightstands and reading lamps, our dressers, an Nise’s armoir), the dining room (table and six chairs), the lounge room (a couple sideboards, coffee table, and sofas that’ll be delivered on the 5th), our dishes, glassware, silverware, dish towels, and nearly everything else non-consumable is Ikea sourced.

And somewhat to my surprise, the place doesn’t feel particularly generic. Ikea has figured out how to provide enough variation in each category that you can mix and match, and feel like you’re putting “your” collection together.

And I have to say Ikea’s designers are nothing short of amazing. Not only coming up with finished pieces that can be assembled with a hex key, a phillips screwdriver, and a mallet, but optimally packaging, and producing nearly idiot-proof assembly instructions without a single word of any language. Seriously impressive.

We’ve seen a movie (Wreck it Ralph), bought a TV, ordered cheese in french from the cheese monger and got what we wanted and managed to sign up for the various hypermarche loyalty cards (ok, those are really Dawnise’s victories, but I’m sharing it vicariously).

We’re getting down to the last few major items we know we need – which is mostly rugs, ’cause every surface in the apartment is hard, and it’s a giant echo chamber.

And that’s good, ’cause were both totally sick of shopping.

Perhaps most impressively, we’ve managed to feed ourselves, which – if you know us – is no mean feat. We realized that we hadn’t seen prepared chicken stock in any of the shops we’d been at – and chicken stock is something of a staple of our diets. Dawnise makes great risotto, starting with chicken stock. And fantastic split-pea and lentil soups – starting with – you guessed it – chicken stock. Turns out the closest we could get was either bullion or fond – so we decided to do what any self-respecting cook would do.

Roast a chicken and make stock.

At which point we learned that the chickens we could find are quite small compared to what we’re used to, but were actually quite tasty as well. (And the roast chicken and veggie stock was a great base for the lardon and mushroom risotto, which we’re totally making again.)

We’ve enjoyed the baked goods, the cured meats, the cheeses, and I’ve quite enjoyed the wine.

And we’ve both managed to lose weight since arriving.

So that’s pretty nice.

We’re keeping our eyes out for a suitable quiche pan. I fear the weight loss won’t last.

Oh, and we’ve gone to Germany. Specifically, we spent our anniversary wandering around Tier and seeing their Christmas market.

Including Belgium (Ikea is just across the border) that’s three countries in as many weeks.

Four for me if you count the day business trip to Paris.

Now that’s what I’m taking about.

Day Three: Wherein our heroes get a shot, buy appliances, and generally fail to comprehend things

Thanks to a sales guy who was willing to use his rough English (still worlds better than my French) we’ve bought a washer & dryer and they’ll be delivered and installed Wednesday morning.

After looking a bit online and comparing prices, we went to Conforama just up rte. d’Arlon. The sales guy recommended Zanussi (a division of Electrolux) saying they offer good value for money, they’re reliable, and if you do need service it’s quick to schedule. He steered us away from some of more expensive *cough*German*cough* brands, mostly because getting service if needed can be a real scheduling hassle.

Unfortunately, the model he pointed us at was only 6kg capacity, and we were pretty sure we wanted at least 7kg. (Actually, we wanted an American I-only-do-laundry-every-couple-weeks-and-cram-it-all-in capacity, but they don’t seem to make those here.) Turns out we wanted *exactly* 7, ’cause going to 8 or more added over 100€. He didn’t have a 7kg Zanussi, so between us we found a suitable model. But he didn’t have any in stock. So he pointed us at a normally more expensive model and said it was on promotion for the same price as the one we picked.

So he entered the order and gave us the charge slip. We did a bit more looking around before heading to the counter to pay. The cashier proceeded rattle of a bunch of french that we didn’t understand, and then we signed something.

I told Dawnise that the form was permission for them to steal our soles.

Subsequently we were in a housewares store in the mall and Dawnise was looking at a hanging spice rack. The sales lady wanted to show her that it rotated the spice at the press of a button and said something in French. Dawnise looked (even to me) that she understood.

Moments after the exchange, I told her “that’s it, she can steal your soul.”

Dawnise lost it and then admonished me for making her snort while laughing in a foreign store.

So that was today. Mostly.

We also saw two doctors, got the first part of the government mandated TB test (the injection) and have to return on Tuesday for chest X-rays.

Oh, and we bought a toaster, a coffee grinder (huzzah!), and a french press.

Banking in Luxembourg – First Impressions

Had the appointment to get a bank account setup this morning. It seemed to go ok, until I realized that the last bank account I opened state-side I did completely online, had immediate access to the funds electronically (once they hit the account) and had my debit card within a couple days.

The process today took the better part of an hour-and-a-half in an office with a person (two, actually), and involved me handing over a small stack of cash which won’t be accessible for two days, and we won’t get our debit cards for two weeks.

I tried their online banking this evening. Every time I login I need to provide two mostly un-memorizable bits of information (a 10 digit client id and a 6 digit secret code) along with three randomly chosen digits from a string of 16 random characters they gave me on a credit card with a silver scratch off strip.

I learned I could go through a lengthy and buggy activation process to replace the last of those three with a one-time password from the (physical) token they gave me, but I gave up when the registration process switched from english to french in the middle.

It gets better – regardless of how much I have in said account, my weekly ATM cash withdrawal limit is 1500€, and I can transact another 1500€ at point of sale per week. If I want to make a large purchase, I can call them and “within a couple hours” they can raise the limit for a week or two.

I’m sure the cashier at Ikea will be happy to hang out for a couple hours while that gets worked out. Note to self: bring American credit cards on our shopping trips.

So I went to the ATM in that branch, after opening an account with that bank, and used one of my US debit cards to withdraw a couple hundred Euro in walking around cash.

I’m beginning to undersand why Europeans save so much more than Americans – they can’t get easy access to their money.

In other news, we (with a bit of help from Irene, our helpful relocation contact) started the registration process with the local government this morning. That was a reasonably short meeting – 45 minutes or so, most of it taken by the state agent making multiple certified copies of (all pages of) our passports.

Tomorrow morning we go for the mandated medical exam, tomorrow afternoon we have someone coming to fix a leaking faucet in the apartment, and hopefully once they leave we have time to go shop for a washer dryer, which I imagine I’ll rant about later.