How to avoid embarrassing moments with Luxembourgers
It can be quite awkward when you greet a woman in Luxembourg and you start with the wrong cheek for kisses. Or you only expect two kisses and the other person goes for a third one and you land on each other’s noses. Avoid it if you can! Here are some other face-saving facts you should know about Luxembourgish etiquette.
Don’t be late for business meetings and call ahead if you’re more than five minutes late. People tend to question your overall performance if you can’t even make it on time to a meeting. Don’t be early either or your business partner might not be ready for you. There is little time spent on small talk during meetings, too, and they tend to be quite formal.
Private dinners allow for a little more flexibility. Aim to be on time to a maximum of 15 minutes late.
If you are meeting someone new or if you are in a business environment, the most common greeting is a handshake.
Once you get to know someone on a private level, it is customary to exchange three kisses on the cheeks. Some people only give two kisses but the standard seems to be three.
Kisses are given amongst women or between women and men but not amongst just men.
Start the kisses on the right cheek of the person you’re meeting so that your right cheek and their right cheek touch, which brings me to the next point: don’t actually kiss their cheek, touch their cheek with your cheek and kiss the air.
Giving hugs as a greeting is quite rare among Luxembourgers and reserved for close friendships.
When addressing someone directly, use their family name until they tell you to use their first name. Also use titles such as ‘Madame’ and ‘Monsieur’ and address the person using formal pronouns (Dir, Iech) not informal ones (du, dir):
Moie Madame Wenger, wéi geet et Iech? Hätt Dir eng Minutt Zäit? Hi Mrs. Wenger, how are you? Would you have a minute?
Appointments are necessary at least two weeks in advance, in business and in private. It is not common to drop by someone’s house unannounced. If you do, chances are you will make your host feel unprepared and uncomfortable.
Luxembourgers are a cautious people. This is true in business and in private where developing relationships is slow. Be patient, trust is established over time and not necessarily a given.
People don’t tend to mix professional and personal lives and may remain quite private even in an extended working relationship. Stay on the safe side and make small talk about the weather or traffic and don’t ask personal questions.
Et ass schéint Wieder haut, gell? It is nice weather today, isn’t it?
In general, Luxembourgers don’t overindulge in small talk, especially in business where they prefer going straight to the point.
If you are invited for dinner bring flowers, good-quality chocolates or a small gift for children. Wait until asked to take a seat before you sit down. Equally, wait until your host or hostess has taken their first bite before you start eating unless of course, they tell you to just go ahead. Eat everything on your plate. If you would like more of something, ask your host:
Kann ech nach e bësse Spargel kréien, w.e.g.? Can I have a little more asparagus, please?
Kann ech mir nach e bësse Spargel huelen, w.e.g.? Can I take a little more asparagus, please?
Kids birthday parties
Planning your child’s birthday party can be stressful for many parents, especially when you are in a foreign country and you have to take your guests’ customs and expectations into consideration. I was once at a children’s birthday party in Sweden where I learned that it is customary at the end of the party for all the kids to “fish” for their goodie bag, rather than it being handed to them. They use a home-made fishing line that the kids throw over a curtain blocking their view from the adults sitting behind it, secretly attaching the goodie bag to the fishing line and finally throwing it back to the children all the while snickering uncontrollably. I have certainly never seen anything like that in Luxembourg but I do love the idea. As far as I can remember from my childhood in Luxembourg, a small goodie bag is handed out to each child at the end of the party just before they leave.
A lot of parents ask when a child should open their birthday gifts at a Luxembourgish children’s party. Opinions differ on this, some say right away as soon as they get the presents and others find it more polite to wait until after the cake to open them in front of everyone.
Do you have to offer a glass of Cremant to the parents when they come and pick their children up from the party? No, you don’t have to and if the parents have to drive their children home, it might not be wise to do so any way. This doesn’t prevent you from offering your guests a drink though should they be sticking around for a bit before taking their children home.
Even though I’m sure Luxembourgish people would appreciate the gesture, it is not a tradition to write thank-you cards to either the guests or the host after the party.
If you are having dinner or drinks at bars, cafés and restaurants, tipping is customary but not as obligatory as in North America. Not tipping is a sign that you were not happy with the quality of food or service you received. Waiters and waitresses are paid a salary, tips are a bonus. People generally tend to leave between 5% and 10%. An exceptionally good experience may warrant 15%.
The majority religion in Luxembourg is Catholicism and most Catholic holidays are also national holidays. A lot of these holidays are celebrated with family, the same goes for Christmas. It is not customary to give gifts to anybody but close family around Christmas. This is true except for teenagers who often choose to give small gifts to their best friends around that time of year. Christmas is also the time of year where many Luxembourgers donate to charities and local clubs.
A lot of foreigners ask if they have to leave some money or beer for the postman or garbage collector around Christmas. It looks like this custom vastly depends on the village you live in. I personally have never done so but some people I asked told me they give money to the postman, others give money to the garbage collectors and still others give money not on Christmas but around New Year’s Eve. The best advice is probably to knock on your Luxembourgish neighbour’s door and to ask them how they do it.
People are polite but quite reserved and modest, at least initially. Boasting about achievements or exaggerating claims is considered rude. People will say what they mean but rather subtlely and prudently. People are frank but not very direct.
Luxembourgers are very proud of their independence and language. Don’t brush off Luxembourgish as a dialect. As I’m sure you know, it is one of three official national languages among French and German.
Ps: The Luxembourgish radio station Eldoradio published a Luxembourgish summary of this article on their website. Click here to listen to it.
What have been your experiences in Luxembourg? Do these tips ring true to you or do you have additional advice to share?