Luxembourg and our mis-understanding of others

Honking horns, beating drums, and revving engines are breaking the night. Shortly after Portugal wins the Euro semi-final, Luxembourg becomes not what a normal night would be.

I can only observe from the distance. From where I live—in the infamous Rue de Strasbourg—people on the street are in euphoria. Some people dance in the middle of the street, blocking other cars from passing through and cheering the passerby to let them know how happy they are. Cars and motorcycles are equipped with Portuguese flags and they make convoys in the city. At this night, Luxembourg is in a different state.

If statistics is of any indication, Luxembourg’s 570.000 inhabitants are populated by 47% foreigners. Of which, 93% is Portuguese (Statec, 2016). Portuguese are part of the deep substrates in Luxembourg’s society. So, imagine when there is an event with a magnitude of the Euro Cup and Portugal proceeds to the final, Luxembourg will certainly not be quiet and cool. If you live there, you are not only hearing the celebration in a handful of bars, but you hear them on the entire city. All night.

The blast of the horns are still filling the air when I write. Perhaps, some people are puzzled by seeing the celebration of the match they did not win. And as a father with two little kids, I cannot neglect the noise either. I feel alienated.

And there you have it. When you are faced with something that is foreign to you—in particular a behavior of a group—it is tempting to attribute any explanation of it based on the other party’s origin. It’s an easy route. You make sense of it by what you immediately see. Be it the country of origin, religion, or race. It happens elsewhere too. My wife has experienced, for several times, verbal and non-verbal harassment on the street and public places. One of them just happened yesterday. Possibly by the fact that she is wearing a hijab/veil. And possibly also due to the strong prejudice that is attributed to Islam in the recent years. Or perhaps due to other reasons? We don’t know. But she was certainly misunderstood. We’ve had it. And as foreigners, prejudice becomes part of our lives.

No one likes confusion. Confusion threatens one’s sovereignty. Yet everyone likes the feeling of being sovereign. That is why people celebrate it: to express one’s sovereignty. When it is threatened, people will restore it either by trying to understand others or by attacking others. The strong proponents of those who are harsh towards foreigners in the name of “making America great again,” for example, are partly fueled by the false promise of restoring one’s sovereignty. We now live in the era where sovereignty should be achieved through mutual understanding and respect to others. Both ways.

It is difficult to understand others. And it is scary too—one might end up being more confused than ever before. Not all people can do this. Yet, this is what is precisely needed in our society where our interconnections to others are inevitable. At other part of the world, one might easily dismiss the presence of foreigners in a country, but maybe because their number is small in comparison to the whole population. But in a society where almost half of the population are of a foreign origin, one might have to think differently on how to embrace them.

Reference

Statec. 2016. Population by nationalities.