Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interesting little domestic differences

It's always interesting to come to another country and experience a different way of life:  new foods, different traditions and customs.  But when you're just visiting, not living there, a number of small differences aren't obvious.  This is one of the reasons I was so excited to actually live in another country, to have the opportunity to experience what it's like to live as the locals do.  Since I am now officially a "housewife" and am spending most of my day occupied with domestic matters, I thought I'd do an entry about some of the differences between American homes and those here.

First, every window in every home in Luxembourg is covered with one of these retractable metal shutters.  They block out all light and apparently insulate as well.  At first I thought it was kind of a pain to raise and lower them every single day, but now I think they're fabulous:

Second, apparently it's quite common to have a drain in the center of the basement floor.  These drains must be kept full of water or, according to our landlords, "unpleasant odors may arise."   I have no idea where this drain goes or why it's there, but I faithfully keep it topped off with water because who wants a basement filled with unpleasant odors?  I don't know if this is something common to old homes around the world or if it's unique to this area.

Third, many dryers here are not vented.  To avoid cutting a hole in the wall, people install condenser dryers:  rather than venting to the outside, these dryers condense moisture into a container that must be emptied regularly (usually after every cycle).  The dryer works great, so I have no complaints!  To kill two birds with one stone, I usually dump the accumulated water into the drain in the center of the basement floor (see above).

Also, things in general are smaller -- cars, appliances, parking spots.  We have to run the dishwasher and do laundry at least once a day.  Again, I'm not complaining, just saying:  smaller!

And, speaking of cars, here's a picture of the one that's been torturing me (and vice versa, more likely -- another reason I'm glad we're renting a car for a month or so before we buy one!) for the past few weeks.  It's an Opel Astra "Break," a brand I don't think exists in the U.S., which, despite it's relatively small stature, can contain close to 350 lbs of 7-foot long flat-pack furniture from Ikea (all of which is staring accusingly at me as I type this rather than assemble it):

Did I mention pretty much all cars here are stick-shifts?  After my first tearful, hyperventilation-filled driving session, we called the rental company to request an automatic, only to be told they don't have any.  In the U.S., it's just the opposite.  In preparation for driving here, I attempted to rent a manual transmission car at home.  Next to impossible.  The only company in the entire Bay Area that even has one (and yes, they have ONE) is Rent-A-Wreck.  Unfortunately, it wasn't available when I needed it and so I couldn't practice before arriving here.  Why do Americans almost exclusively drive automatics and Europeans stick-shifts? I have no idea.  

And the homes here all seem to be tall and narrow with steep, winding, downright terrifying staircases and no closets.  Seriously, NO closets!  (Thus the trip today to Ikea to buy gigantic wardrobes which must be assembled.)  Our house is five levels:  basement, main floor, bedroom floor with three bedrooms, second bedroom floor (also three rooms), attic.  We're getting used to the stairs, and I am definitely getting a workout going up and down the stairs all day.  

I also realized that I never posted a picture of the front of our house, so here it is.  As you can see, tall and narrow, and the attic floor isn't even visible in this photo.

Cute, isn't it? :)

I think I already mentioned that people take the light fixtures with them when they move.  At first, that was really strange to me but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  If you can take it with you, then you can invest more in choosing a light fixture you really love, even if it's fairly expensive.  Unfortunately for me, since we're only here for two years, I can't really justify spending 400 Euros on a gorgeous chandelier.  But I wish I could!  Some of the ones in stores are fabulous.  Sorry I don't have any pictures.  Maybe next time!

Off now to assemble furniture!


  1. We have the same kind of dryer that I empty into my floor drain. I also run the dw every day (sometimes twice) and do laundry about 3 times a week. How's your fridge situation? Is it the small "dorm-size" fridge, or a "big American" fridge like mine?? Even with a "big" fridge, I still have to grocery shop 2 or 3 times a week. How often are you shopping for food?

  2. Kristen, how funny! I guess the drain and condenser dryer must be pretty common here. I've never heard of either one before. We're lucky that we have a "big" fridge -- still not as big as an American one, but it's not too bad. I've been told that most people here have an extra freezer they keep in the basement, or cave, as it's called here. Do you have an extra freezer? I still need to shop at least twice a week, mostly because we run out of milk. I wish they sold milk containers bigger than one liter. We go through at least one of those a day, usually more. I find these little differences between here and home so interesting!

  3. I have the dorm fridge it seems. Forces me to shop daily. Those long weekends/holidays are a bear! Thinking of investing in a second fridge for the basement.