There is something especially charming about a European state that can peacefully retain its national identity despite a tiny population (c. 520,000) and shared borders with the massive presence of France and Germany. (Sorry, Belgium, you don’t quite count as massive in my book.) Even better when it has managed to retain an active national language that is used nowhere else in the world. Yes, Luxembourg, I’m looking at you.
Everywhere we go on our Easter tour of Luxembourg, we are surrounded by Letzerburgesch. The country’s national motto is “Mir Woelle Bleiwe Wat Mir Sin” (“We want to remain what we are”).
But with no prior knowledge of this ancient tongue, I don’t immediately recognise just how widely it is used. On entering a shop from whose doorway can be seen the border with Germany, I assume that when the proprietor greets me with something that sounds like “Morgen” (German for “Morning”) with the “g” missing, he’s using a relaxed version of German. Only when I consult my trusty Rough Guide do I realise that what he actually said was “Moien” – Letzerburgesch for “Hello”.
Spoiled for Choix
French, it seems, is Luxembourg’s official language for government business, and both French and German are widely spoken, interchangeably. But when local people meet and chat to each other in the street or in shops, they use their own historic dialect.
In our first day or two in Luxembourg, I’m not sure which language to use. I know enough French and German to get around, but I’m not sure which will be perceived as more courteous. I don’t want to appear rude to any of these courteous, pleasant people. I tend to favour French, unless actually in Germany, (a) because I’m better at it and (b) because I’ve found it less likely to cause offence.
I’m sorry if that statement offends any German speakers, but this attitude stems from an unfortunate incident when I was travelling alone, many years ago, on a Greek bus from Lefkas to Athens. I knew a little bit of Greek, but when the Greek bus driver asked me whether I was going all the way to Athens, I accidentally got my languages mixed up. Instead of replying “Ne!” (Greek for yes), I said “Ja!” (the German). I spent the rest of the eight hour journey trying to look English, while receiving hostile stares from my fellow passengers, all of them Greek, who clearly still hadn’t forgotten the German war-time occupation of the Ionian islands.
But by the end of our Luxembourg adventures, the answer is clear. The most courteous thing to do is to go as close to native as I can, and use the only two words of Letzerburgesch that I’ve grasped: “Moien” for “hello” and “Adi” for “goodbye”. Respect where it’s due. Well, mastering any language begins with a single word.
Other recent posts about our trip to Luxembourg:
The Benefits of Speaking a Foreign Language
Coming soon: “Nous Sommes En Panne!” – camper van breakdown, Luxembourg style!