Saturday, 14 May 2016

Living in Luxembourg.

So, here I am again, years later and no good excuse for the absence unless the bringing up of four kids can be considered one. 

The Luxembourg honeymoon is over.  Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate its qualities and that's why I'm (we are) still here.  But do not think that Luxembourg is some kind of Utopia, it certainly isn't. 

And it's likely to get worse before it gets any better.

The whole country lives on its reputation.  And what are the key pillars of its reputation?

1. Wealth;

2. Political Stability; and

3. An open, cosmopolitan society. 

Allow me to pick them apart one by one while mixing in some real reasons for considering to live here.

1.  Wealth. Yes, I can't deny it.  The numbers speak for themselves.  A top three spot in terms of GDP per capita.  However, don't forget that 160,000 out of Luxembourg's 360,000 workforce are cross-border workers, the so-called 'frontaliers'/'grenzgänger', who drive across the borders every day, contribute to the GDP, but are not taken into consideration when calculating GDP per capita.  And on top of that, at least those part of the French part of the cross-border population, have to put of with being called Heckenfranzous (literally: French from behind the hedge, a derogatory term used by the natives to describe those 'awful' profiteurs who come only to benefit economically and not to invest themselves in Luxembourg's magnificent cultural heritage).  Yes, the salaries here are relatively high.  At least if you are well-qualified or bring a rare skill.  If you're 'just' a normally-skilled cross-border worker, you are likely to be paid above the rate in your own country (mainly because of lower taxes), but you will be suffering in terms of traffic jams.  For a single breadwinner, the average Luxembourg salary (around 3,000 euros per month) is unlikely to enable you to live within the borders of Grand Duchy.  I'm sure somebody is tempted to say "I know somebody who...', but yes, that somebody is the exception that confirms the rule.  Or somebody who is prepared to live in squalor in order to state a Luxembourg address.  Rent is very high, especially when you consider what an aesthetically mediocre place Luxembourg is.  People dream about living in New York, about owning a pied-à-terre in Paris, a penthouse in Rome, a studio in London. a Georgian one-bed in Edinburgh - but have you every heard about anyone announcing their dream home as a pink two-bed in Luxembourg with PVC windows for the same price?  I thought not.  Taste is rather absent here, despite what the French might say about 'les gouts et les couleurs': read: taste is individual.  Let's be frank, most property is pretty ugly here, but it's expensive for two reasons:  there are jobs here and taxes are low here.  So if you are highly-skilled and you want to get rich, there are worse places to be.  And if you're already rich and you want to stay so, there are worse places to be.  Of course it's better to be in the latter case, because you only have to  put your name on the letterbox and spend most of your time (sorry, to be precise: 184 days) somewhere else, like by an Italian lake.  But, as I realise that I am being critical I have to admit:  If you are in the fortunate position to be highly-skilled, you are at a competitive advantage with the native population (yes, I realise that this might sound horribly pretentious and arrogant, however it is the statistical truth that the Luxembourgers are traditionally fairly low-skilled) and you are likely to get a very good salary (yet probably not as good as the rare, just-as-well-skilled Luxembourgers), enjoy low taxes if you have a large family and be able to put aside significant savings.  But it does indeed feel a little bit like selling your soul to the devil sometimes.

2.  Political Stability.  Ha!  An easy one.  For decades, the country was ruled by a very intelligent man called Jean-Claude Juncker who, because of some ridiculous espionage scandal involving, among perhaps some more juicy details, the blowing up of a telegraph pole, which everyone has since forgotten about, had to resign a few years ago only to become the President of the European Commission (a position in which he is much less harmful prmmmfhahaha).  Let's face it, Juncker is a quite an impressive, if not great, statesman, of the sort one doesn't see many of these days.  Ok, admittedly he's not quite Churchill or De Gaulle, but he certainly has a presence and an intellect which makes critical French tabloid journalists (read Pujadas) shrink back to their actual and merited size.  But at the same time, I am confident that the reason for his unusually high level of (Luxembourgish) public support was in great part due to his cronyism and protection of the so-called 'real' Luxembourgers to whom he granted advantages disproportional to their skills and contribution to society which still persist today.  When Xavier Bettel came to power, it was among cries of conspiracy, because he built a coalition of a number of minority parties in order to form a government.  The Luxembourgers cried foul play, while I am sure a lot of foreigners, including myself, saw this as a breath of fresh air, with a number of reforms having been proposed including an attempt to give foreigners (half the country's population and most of the contributors to the economy, let's face it) the vote.  It failed, of course, seeing that only Luxembourgers could vote in the referendum, but at least it felt, for a split second, like we foreigners were starting to get respected.  With Bettel in power, Luxembourg has quite nicely started to pull out of the crisis and make reforms that are increasingly making Luxembourg a respectable country, not least in terms of transparency.  But despite this, I can tell you one thing for sure:  In the next elections, Bettel will be as dead as a dodo.  Not because he's done a bad job (quite on the contrary), but because only Luxembourgers will be voting and the protection of their own lot weighs far heavier than the sort of their country as a whole.  Finally, political stability is supported by a suspiciously uncritical press.  The average Luxembourger would read the British Daily Mail and have a heart attack.  Here one doesn't mention names and people who complain never get published.  It's quite simple.  Pick up a copy of the Luxembourger Wort and you'll see what I mean.  It's all very "We're all such good friends".  The only paper which allows some critical thought is l'Essentiel (which is one reason that I encourage you all to learn to read and write French) which, despite its rather mediocre journalism, has a very active comments part.  So active and popular, in fact, that the Luxembourg government has considered taking measures to remove it, so as to keep the social peace (read: shut anyone up who dares to criticize this marvelous country).

3. An open, cosmopolitan society.  Again, I can't deny it.  Here in Luxembourg City, my neighbours on one side are the most wonderful Portuguese couple.  On the other side we have a Swedish family who invite us around for crayfish parties in the summer.  Up the road we have mixed a French / Moroccan couple, a few Spaniards, quite a lot of Irish and even some Americans and Aussies + too many other nationalities for me to recall.  And our kids all go to school in perfect harmony (well, as perfect as it can be in a kid's dramatic world).  I tried to explain the concept of racism to my kids the other day, but gave up as they couldn't even begin to fathom the concept.  This place is indeed cosmopolitan, albeit with a very European flavour.  Don't mistake it for New York or London which are true melting pots and cities in a different league.  But what you find is that as a foreigner - and I dare claim this because I have discussed it with a lot of people - most of your acquaintances are likely to be other foreigners.  It's not that the Luxembourgers don't want to spend time with you, but their acceptance seem to be conditional upon you speaking their language (which wasn't one until quite recently).  Which, let's face it, is a show-stopper to a lot.  The referendum confirmed what a lot of us suspected: They want our money and our competence, but they certainly don't want our opinions.  Before it was all polite nods.  Now you know that there's a 3/4 chance that any Luxembourger you meet in the street voted against your say in matters.  That brings some bitterness and a strong sentiment of a lack of democracy (which, by the way, we so eagerly wanted to bring to Irak, but can't establish in Luxembourg).  But that doesn't stop the rest of us from having fun.  The typical social scene here tends to be in a mix of the English and French language, even when Southern or Northern Europeans are involved and it's all quite fun really.  It's just a shame that the State and City Administration hasn't yet caught up with the reality of the Luxembourg demography - good luck trying to find any information in English on the Luxembourg City Hall website. I was expecting things to move in this area under Bettel. You will need a good friend (e.g. me) to help you out.  Funnily enough, all the business information is available in English because they do realise who is paying their world-leading civil servant salaries.  So make sure you learn one of the local lingos once you come here on your expat contract for one of the foreign companies that contribute so strongly to making this country what it is....

That's all from me, folks.  Very critical, I know, but someone needs to be (and it ain't gonna be the local press).  In Paradise.

Good night.

Willy Wauban

Friday, 5 August 2011


Having lived in Luxembourg for a minimum of 5 years, you're entitled to vote in the local elections. So do it! Let your voice be heard!

We foreigners make up half the country and 2/3 of the City of Luxembourg and we have contributed and are contributing significantly to the country's wealth.

So get involved - vote: we need them and they need us!

Civil servants want bonuses (!)

Ok, ok, I know civil servants are an easy and frequent target and that they get stick all the time, but let's face it, they really do ask for it sometimes and one frequently gets the impression that they live on a different planet.

I remember being totally outraged last year when an article appeared in the Luxemburger Wort (during the depths of the ongoing crisis) reporting that civil servants were demanding a bonus, claiming that it was common practice in the private sector to pay employees 40% annual bonus. Hang on a minute. Sorry - what? Do you get a 40% bonus? Do you personally know anybody who does? Come on, get real, we're not in the city of London here.

The civil servants should know better than complain. They're virtually safe from foreign competition as only people speaking Luxembourgish, German and French will be hired (the first of these languages being a problem to the vast majority of foreigners) and a fresh university graduate entering public service will get more than 5000 eur gross a month. It's not a myth, just have a look at any state job ad (and their salary scales). How many recent graduates get that in the private sector.

Get real.

Willy Vauban - I'm back!

Hi guys! After many nice, friendly and encouraging emails, I've decided to give blogging another go. I have to admit, having a full time job and 3 kids, blogging does not appear in the top half of my priority list. Please support my efforts by clicking on the ads on the page which will send a couple of pennies (literally) my way. I can't say I'm in it for the money, but at least it gives me an impression of how many people look at what I write and are willing to support me.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

What language to speak in Luxembourg?

I am one of those people who thinks that the most significant step towards integration in any country and culture is learning the local lingo. This is true for Luxembourg as well, but still: My advise to any expatriate coming here is simple: LEARN FRENCH! It might not be the local language, but pretty much everybody here speaks it and every important official document is translated into French. It is possible to survive in Luxembourg speaking only English, but you will never get the most out of the place. Learn French and you're 90% integrated. Learn Luxembourgish and you're a star.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

What content do YOU want to see on this blog?

Write an email to and let me know the sort of questions you have about life in Luxembourg. I'll try to answer as best I can.

Luxembourg Bus Drivers - Are they really THAT bad?

Yes. Unfortunately. I've tried to keep an open mind ever since I came here, bearing in mind the stress they're under blah blah blah, but unfortunately, a lot of them really are a bunch of frustrated, impolite tossers. Mind you, I have met a few really nice ones, but unfortunately they are the exception to the rule. I don't know what one is supposed to do to please these guys. Although the myth about them earning 5000 eur net a month is not true, they really are among the best paid bus drivers in the world. Still they behave like everybody who dares to get on their bus is a criminal. Rule number 1: Don't speak French to them as they hate anyone French or Belgian. Rule number 2: Don't speak German to them because they hate the Germans (don't mention the war). Rule number 3: Just shut up and get on the bus. If you attempt to say "Moien" with your best Luxembourgish accent, they'll just grunt at you, before speeding off before you've sat down to make sure your head gets pancaked against the rear window before you've put your wallet back in your pocket. Expect to smell the shampoo of the lady in front of you as the driver exceeds the speed limit for most of the journey only to carry out emergency braking at every single bus stop. Don't bother waving for him to wait as you're running after the bus, the fact that he's five minutes ahead of the schedule is apparently your fault. And if your an old age pensioner, expect the doors to be closed in your face as you're trying to get off the bus. Yes, unfortunately: Not everything is perfect in Luxembourg and these guys deserve all the stick they get.

Ode to the civil cervants at Ville de Luxembourg

In many countries "efficient civil service" would be an oxymoron. Not so in Luxembourg. Those who have lived in France or Spain will appreciate how efficiently things are run here. None of this running to five different places in five different parts of the city to be told five different things by five different pencil pushers and being none the wiser at the end of it. I've spent so much of my life slagging off civil servants and central administrations that I now feel compelled to give some positive feedback.

The Ville de Luxembourg administration (or City Hall or whatever you want to call it) is a wonderfully well-run place. You can do most of the essential personal admin at the so-called Bierger-Center (or Centre d'acceuil des citoyens if you prefer), which is the awful, brown building by the central post office at Place Hamilius (the central bus station). You have to take a ticket, but waiting times are generally reasonable and a sign clearly explains which of the two types of ticket you need for your particular activity or request. It's aim is to provide a one-stop-shop for all the initial admin. When you first arrive in Luxembourg, a trip to the Bierger-Center is pretty much compulsory. If you're lucky enough to have been provided with a relocation service (e.g., chances are you will be accompanied there by a local. If you have to go on your own, don't worry, it's a painless experience. This is where you go to report a change of address, apply for a local ID or carte de sejour, family certificate (you need it for child benefits etc etc), tax cards, parking permits, certified photocopies, cheques services (to be used for child care subsidies), you name it. And the people working there are generally a nice bunch.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Where to live in Luxembourg?

This is a topic I expect to expand a lot on, so consider this an early introduction only. First rule: As a foreigner, you don't want to live anywhere outside a 10 km radius of the city centre. I'm not a snob, but trust me, I don't expect that you will enjoy your experience if you do. Don't get me wrong, the Luxembourgers are lovely people, but you'll find it hard to integrate unless you live close to the buzzing, international city of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg City is divided into several "quartiers" or areas, the main ones being (I'm actually going to try to cough up all of them, just don't expect me to do it in alphabetical order): Belair, Cessange, Dommeldange, Beggen, Muelenbach, Bonnevoie, Gasperich, Belair, Gare, Centre, Neudorf, Kirchberg, Weimerskirch, Limpertsberg, Weimershof, Cents, Merl, Rollingergrund, Eich, Clausen, Grund, Kohlenberg, Hollerich, Hamm, Puelvermuhle, Pfaffenthal, Verlorenkost and I think that's it. The biggest areas are Bonnevoie and Limpertsberg.

The "best" areas are supposedly Limpertsberg and Belair, probably in that order. But bear in mind the following: Limpertsberg being the second largest (to my knowledge) has both great and not so great areas within it. Parts of it feel really remote, have very little amenities and are a significant walk from the centre. So when looking for a house or an apartment in Limpertsberg, pay close attention to the area. Being on a hill, it's relatively quiet in terms of traffic, apart from the places around the main arteries. Architecturally speaking, it's a funny mix of nice townhouses and awful apartments from the sixties. (However much I love Luxembourg, I have to make it quite clear right now that I consider Luxembourgers to have their taste in their arse when it comes to architecture and interior design. That's the danger of growing too rich too quick.) Belair is similar, but better located. Houses are extremely expensive in this area. Keep in mind that when Luxembourgers and Luxembourg residents speak of good and bad areas, it's all relative. Frankly, there are no dodgy areas in Luxembourg. Ok, you have a few tramps and druggies around the station (Gare), Hollerich and a limited area of Bonnevoie, but in most other countries the ones you do see would be no worse than your regular dinner guests. Nothing to worry about. Bonnevoie is the largest area, and probably the most exciting. No, I don't live there myself, but I recommend it to you. It has a hugely interesting mix of people and lots of shops and restaurants. For Luxembourg, it's still reasonably priced, but trust me, that will change. The area is being done up so the area is improving quickly. Clausen and Grund are probably the most picturesque areas of town - and benefit from being bang smack in the middle of everything - but the noise in the evening will be unbearable to all but the most hardened madrileños. Never mind trying to find a parking place after work. Gasperich is nice, varied, a bit away from it all, but with a nice village feel. Lots of former social housing turned young professional and families on a budget. Kohlenberg is basically the posh area of Gasperich, and boils down to what is pretty much just one street on a hill. Not really a rental market, but caters to house buyers who have significant budgets and wish to live in large, detached houses within the city limits. Verlorenkost is to Bonnevoie what Kohlenberg is to Gasperich - the posh bit. Luxembourg Cents is a great area for families with great sports facilities and a green, quiet environment. Its proximity to the airport makes it both convenient and perhaps a tiny bit noisy in some parts. However, one to be recommended. Adjacent Neudorf is less upmarket, but up and coming due to its great location right next to Kirchberg - home to the European Institutions and a lot of the banks. Its significantly Portuguese community is being slowly replaced by a very international crowd who are doing up the old houses, and a lot of homes have recently been torn down to make room for smaller apartment blocks. It's in a valley, so avoid the right hand side when coming from the city centre, as it gets very little sunlight, especially in winter. The farther away from the city you come, the more it clears up. Forget what I said earlier on about Limpertsberg and Belair being the best areas. The king of the hill is Weimershof, a small residential area just next to Kirchberg. This place is great, but very expensive and has virtually no shops and few restaurants. Kirchberg itself is one of the most busy business areas during the day, but feels slightly sterile from a residential point of view. Cessange is quite far away from the city centre and although it feels nice and landly, it suffers a bit from aircraft noise as it's under the flying path. Which brings me nicely on to Hamm. Hamm would be a lovely place to leave if it weren't for the fact that the wheels of landing planes almost touch the rooftops. This makes it into what is probably the cheapest place to live in town. On the upside, it's right next to the large Itziger forest with mountainbike and running paths aplenty. A very pretty area. Beggen is probably to be avoided due to heavy traffic and constant roadwork. However, it does have a lot of shops and amenities, including some great Asian restaurants. Dommeldange, which is next to Beggen has a cosy village feel, but is a bit of a hike from the centre. And if you're driving through and the barriers come down at the level crossing, you might as well turn around as you could be stuck for a good 10 minutes waiting for the train to pass. I'll write more about these and the other areas later.

Who should come to Luxembourg?

Let's kill the myth: Luxembourg is not as boring as its reputation. A lot of people slag off the place because they're slightly jealous of friends who've been able to find good jobs here. Ok, being a city of some 80 000 inhabitants it's never gone be London or Paris, is it? But for a city of its size, it's got a hell of a lot to offer. And I believe I'm in a position to say, as I've lived in both Paris and London, and quite a few other cities to boot. To tell you the truth, wild horses couldn't drag me away from this place.


If you're young, should you come to Luxembourg? Well, it depends. If you're from a country that offers virtually no opportunities for the young (France, France, Spain, France), then yes, for sure. Instead of spending every year of your life until you're 35 doing internships or temporary contracts (that's CDDs for you French natives), you could get a serious first experience and some real responsiblity working here -and a decent paycheck to go with it. The downside: Well, yes, like I said, it's not London, it's not Paris and it ain't Madrid or Barcelona. You'll have fun here, but just don't expect to be dancing until 5 o'clock in the morning. But then again: When you live in Paris you're so overwhelmed with options that you just end up going to your local joint anyway. I find that I've been having a much more varied life since I moved to Luxembourg. And if you're a sporty person, it's hard to find a better place than this. Apart from Switzerland, which is prettier and enjoys an even better location. But you'd have to put up with the Swiss and an ever growing number of dodgy mafiosos and pimps. But Lux: Even when you live in the middle of the city, the nearest forest is unlikely to be much more than a 15 minute WALK away. Beat that.
However: The jobs going around here are hardly very exciting. Front office jobs are very limited and the few dealing rooms you find are a far cry from what you find in the City of London. Basically it's sales which is not bad, but lacks the glamour. A lot of jobs are in the fund administration area, in corporate admin (company secretaries etc) and terribly terribly boring stuff like Big 4 accounting, tax, compliance and that sort of stuff you'll end up regretting having spent a minute of your life doing. But there are quite a few interesting jobs in private banking for the well-qualified and dynamic lot of you, just bear in mind that it's a declining area. Apart from that, Lux does have its share of interesting corporates: E.g. SES Astra, Arcelor Mittal, Cargolux, Amazon, Goodyear, Ikano, ...

If you're a family man or woman? Yes, definitely. Unbeatable work/life balance bar what you might find in Scandinavia. But in Scandinavia it rains all the time, the culture is, well, what it is and it's kinda remote. And foreigners are so exotic that they might as well cage you up and charge an entry fee. So Lux gives you the best of both worlds.

If you're knocking on heaven's door? Yes, definitely again. No inheritance tax. More or less.
Is Luxembourg a tax haven? No, at least not for those of us who have to work for a living. You pay less income tax than you would in say, Belgium or Denmark, but then again life is quite expensive, especially due to the property prices. So if you're one of the many people who come to Luxembourg thinking that your net salary will equal your gross salary, you're in for a big disappointment. However, there are quite a few advantages, which I expect to get back to in a different posting.