LANGUAGE: Letzebürgesch; French; German
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; small numbers of Protestants and Jews
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a tiny but prosperous nation in Western Europe. For 400 years Luxembourg was ruled by its Western European neighbors, including France, Spain, and Austria. However, the country retains a distinct identity of its own. The Luxembourgers' pride in their identity is expressed in their motto: Mir woelle bleiwe wat mir sin (We want to remain what we are).
Luxembourg became an independent, neutral state in 1867. It has had its own ruling dynasty since 1890. With the discovery of iron ore around 1860, the country began the transition to a modern, industrialized nation.
Luxembourg has an area of only 998 square miles (2,586 square kilometers). The northern third of the country is known as the Oesling. This forested upland region is dotted with the ruins of historic castles. Luxembourg's southern two-thirds are called "The Good Land" ( Gutland in German and Bon Pays in French). This region is home to most of Luxembourg's population. It contains the country's most-fertile soil as well as the capital city.
Luxembourg's population of 401,000 is approximately three-fourths urban and one-fourth rural.
Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Letzebürgesch, a national dialect. Letzebürgesch, which is based on German and French, is the first language of all Luxembourgers. It is learned in childhood and spoken at home. German, which is taught in primary school, is the language of business and the media. French is the language of government. In addition to their native languages, many Luxembourgers also speak English.
According to legend, Count Sigefroid, who founded Luxembourg's capital, married a maiden named Mélusine. What he did not know, however, is that she was really a mermaid. After he found out, she disappeared into the stone walls of the city. It is said that she remains there still. Every seven years she returns, either as a beautiful woman or as a serpent with a golden key in its mouth. According to tradition, she could be freed if the woman were kissed or the key removed from the serpent's mouth. However, no one has ever accomplished either feat. Mélusine is also said to knit an ever-unfinished garment, completing one stitch every year. It is said that if she completes it before she is freed from the wall, all of Luxembourg will vanish into the rock with her.
Over 95 percent of Luxembourg's population is Roman Catholic. At least a third of these, however, are nonpracticing Catholics. Luxembourg's constitution guarantees religious freedom to its people.
Luxembourg's legal holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), Easter Monday (late March or early April), Labor Day (May 1), Ascension Day (in May), Whitmonday (in May), National Day (June 23), Assumption Day (August 15), All Saints' Day (November 1), Christmas (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26).
National Day is a patriotic holiday observed with parades, fireworks, and church services. Luxembourgers also observe local and regional holidays. On St. Bartholemy's Day (August 24), sheep are driven through the streets of the capital. The Broom Parade is held in the city of Wiltz every May when the broom (a bright yellow plant) blossoms.
Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the education system is marked by many families with graduation parties.
A casual handshake is the most common greeting. Close female friends may hug and kiss each other on the cheek three times. Common greetings include Moien (Good morning), Gudden Owend (Good evening), Wéi geet et? (How are you?), and Bonjour ("Good day" in French). On parting, the expression Addi (Goodbye) and the more formal French Au revoir (Until we see each other again) are used (as well as the casual Salut and Ciao, which are popular with younger Luxembourgians).
Luxembourg enjoys one of the highest standards of living of any nation in the European Community. The country's traditional rural cottages have thick walls and heavy beams. Many urban dwellers rent modern apartments. Over 60 percent of Luxembourgers own their own homes.
The typical Luxembourg household consists of a nuclear family with one or two children. A national law requires adults to take financial responsibility for their aging parents. Parents generally live near the work-place. This allows them additional time to spend with their families enjoying leisure-time pursuits. Women account for roughly one-third of Luxembourg's labor force.
The people of Luxembourg wear modern Western-style clothing. Luxembourgers are influenced by fashion trends in neighboring France and Germany, and by Italian fashions as well. Women tend to wear skirts and dresses more often than slacks, and men favor hats. In public, Luxembourgers are always neatly and carefully dressed. Old, worn clothing is reserved for at-home wear and sporting activities.
The cuisine of Luxembourg combines French sophistication and German abundance. Hearty appetites and large portions are the norm. Favorite dishes include Ardennes ham, meat pies with minced-pork filling (fleeschtaart) , liver dumplings (quenelles de foie de veau) , and rabbit served in a thick sauce (civet de lièvre) . Luxembourg is known for its delicious pastries. Plum tarts called quetsch are a seasonal treat in September. A type of cake called les penseés brouillées is traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent begins, in February).
Education is free and required between the ages of six and fifteen. Students begin with six years of primary school, followed by up to seven years of secondary education. Many secondary school graduates attend college in the neighboring countries of France, Belgium, and Germany.
In the visual arts, well-known Luxembourgers include seventeenth-century sculptor Daniel Muller and twentieth-century expressionist painter Joseph Kutter. Luxembourg's literary figures have written in French (Felix Thyes), German (Nikolaus Welter), and Letzebürgesch (Michael Rodange). Paul Palgen is the country's most famous poet. The Grand Orchestra of Radiotelevision Luxembourg is world-famous. Internationally acclaimed photographer Edward Steichen was a native of Luxembourg.
About two-thirds of Luxembourg's labor force is employed in such service-related fields as government, trade, and tourism. Close to one-third work in industry, construction, and transportation. The remainder (about 5 percent) are engaged in agriculture. In addition, about 30,000 nonresident laborers commute to work in Luxembourg every day from neighboring countries.
Popular sports in Luxembourg include jogging, tennis, volleyball, and soccer. Hunting, fishing, cycling, and boating promote enjoyment of Luxembourg's scenic landscape. Favorite winter sports include cross-country skiing and ice skating.
The people of Luxembourg enjoy socializing in their country's many cafes and pastry shops. One can often find them engaged in informal chess matches in restaurants and cafes. The capital has a folk club, a jazz club, and a society for new music. Almost every household has a television. Movie theaters show foreign films with French or Dutch subtitles. Gardening, camping, and other outdoor activities are also very popular.
Pottery and other traditional crafts are practiced in Luxembourg. In addition, the Fonderie de Mersch manufactures cast-iron wall plaques that portray local coats-of-arms, scenery, and historic castles. Luxembourg's scenic landscapes are also reproduced on porcelain plates.
Luxembourg is free from many of the social problems that plague other developed nations. There is a high standard of living. Their country enjoys a healthy, stable economy with virtually no unemployment. Employers are legally barred from discrimination based on gender. However, women still earn only fifty-five cents for every dollar earned by men.
Clark, Peter. Luxembourg. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Delibois, John. Pattern of Circles: An Ambassador's Story. Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 1989.
Lepthien, Emilie U. Luxembourg. Chicago, Ill.: Children's Press, 1992.