Luxembourg is a foreign country

I attended a workshop last week at the Abbaye de Neumünster, which is in the Grund area of Luxembourg city. It’s a really lovely area, down in the Petrusse valley, and a short walk from my office.  It’s hard to capture in pictures just how cool it is to be down there, standing in front of a 17th century building, walking around the winding streets, looking up at a sheer cliff face, trying to imagine what it looked like back then.  grund4 grund3 grund1

grund2

For some reason, while riding the bus back up after the workshop (walking down is easy, but getting back up is quite a hike!), I was suddenly struck by how very foreign Luxembourg still feels to me, even after working there for almost two and a half years. I only ever really see the little stretch of streets between my office and the train station, and I only go to the city center occasionally (the last time was with my parents in September). So it’s easy to forget where I am most days, when working in a building built less than 20 years ago, surrounded by McDonald’s and Sephora.

Luxembourg in general still seems like a foreign country, despite going there every other week for the past seven years to get gas (my mother-in-law lives a kilometer from the border). The colorful houses, the supermarkets, the bus stops . . . I just can’t seem to get used to it. The roadsigns are even a little different. It’s very unsettling to live so close to a country, to work there every weekday, and yet still be surprised by the foreignness of it.

Maybe part of it is the language. Hearing Luxembourgish instead of French while pumping gas means I can’t chalk up the unusual architecture or funny street names to a regional difference, the way I can when visiting the rest of France. Once when I was lost, I could not find anyone who spoke French to help me. So not understanding/being understood certainly adds to the overall foreign experience.

To have such beautiful and historic sites so close by, yet to never have the time visit them, is one of the sad realities of living abroad long-term. Once warmer weather arrives, I’ll be able to explore more during my lunch breaks. And maybe for one of our date nights we can go out in the city center. My mother-in-law took a trip to the northern part of the country and said it was really gorgeous, so that would be nice for a weekend away. I don’t know if Luxembourg will ever stop feeling totally foreign, but hopefully seeing more of it will help (and maybe cracking open one of the many “learn Luxembourgish” books we have lying around . . .)

Comparing maternity leave in France and Luxembourg

One difficult thing about going on maternity leave was how little flexibility I had in the dates. However, this would not have been the case if I were working in France. So I thought I’d do a little comparison of maternity leave in France and Luxembourg, to show how different it can be. This is just the basic legal stuff; collective labor agreements, like for banks or childcare workers, can often give even more time. (For example, my husband gets 3 days off for the birth rather than the standard 2.)

[table] , France, Luxembourg
Length of standard leave, 16 weeks, 16 weeks
Length of standard prenatal leave, 6 weeks, 8 weeks
Flexibility in prenatal leave, 3 weeks (added to postnatal leave), none
Length of standard postnatal leave, 10 weeks, 8 weeks
Extra leave for breastfeeding, none, 4 weeks postnatal
Extra leave for multiples, 34 to 46 weeks total, 4 weeks postnatal (not sure if this is in addition to the 4 weeks for breastfeeding or not)
Extra leave when not first child, 26 weeks total if third+ child, none
Full salary paid by government, yes (up to a limit of about 2500 a month), yes (up to a limit of about 9600 a month)
Leave for the father following birth, 11 consecutive days during the first 4 months, 2 days [/table]

So while overall, my leave is a little bit longer because I work in Luxembourg, things are much different in France for multiples, fathers, and people who have more than one child already. I think having the option to use most of the leave after the birth is a very good idea, though I suppose it compensates in a way for the lack of specific “breastfeeding” leave in France.

There is also the choice in France to shorten the leave to 8 weeks (2 before, 6 after), though I have no idea if many women choose this option. And 8 weeks is the minimum if you want to be paid for the leave. So what happens if you just keep working? Does your employer not have to pay you? Can they refuse to let you work? I have a feeling these are not really situations that happen very often, since you’re paid your full salary, but since my issue is with flexibility, these are questions I wonder about.

 

Parental leave is slightly more complicated, and the law in France will change this year starting July 1st. I don’t think it’s to be more like Luxembourg specifically (I have a feeling the rest of the country is not quite as aware of Luxembourg as we are in Lorraine), but they’re trying to encourage more men to take time off. Right now in France about 3% of fathers take parental leave, and they’re hoping it’ll go up to 20% in the next few years. Luxembourg is already at about 24%. Since the laws in France are (always) complex, there are obviously some additional points I don’t cover here, like multiples, single parent families, and crèches. Again, this is just to give an idea of the differences between the two countries.

[table] , France (new 2014 law), Luxembourg
Amount of leave first child, 12 months (6 months each parent full- or part-time 50-80%), 12-24 months (6 months full-time or 12 months part-time 50% each parent)
When leave is taken, anytime after end of maternity leave, one parent must take their leave immediately following the maternity leave or the other parent loses their leave
Both parents take leave at the same time, yes (part-time), yes (part-time and only if alternating schedules so child is always with one parent and not daycare/nanny)
Amount of leave more than one child, 3 years maximum IF second parent takes 6 months (otherwise only 2.5 years), same as for 1 child
Leave can be taken until child is . . ., 3 years old, 5 years old
Compensation from government, a few hundred a month (depends on income and if part- or full-time), around 900 part-time and 1800 full-time (fixed amounts independent of income)[/table]

 

We’re definitely happier with the way parental leave is set up in Luxembourg, since for us, that’s more important than the maternity leave. You’re only pregnant 9 months, but then there’s a baby to take care of . . . forever!! (The panic has started as my due date approaches!) We talked about both doing part-time at the same time, but the scheduling was a little too complicated.

While nothing was stopping men from taking the time in France, most don’t because they make more money and there are cultural stereotypes that factor in as well. So I’m not sure that just offering 6 months to the second parent will really change anything, and people aren’t particularly happy with the new limit of 2.5 years if the second parent doesn’t take the 6 months.

While the limits in Luxembourg seem to encourage men to take time, it’s still not a 50/50 split, and it’s definitely a question of money/culture as well. The compensation probably seems quite generous compared to France, but it’s basically the minimum wage in Luxembourg, so financially it’s not always possible for both parents to take the time off. It’s still better than in France though; the system is so complicated for figuring out how much you’d get per month, and once you make over a certain amount you don’t get anything, so after a certain point in your career it would be difficult to take the time without changing your lifestyle (like a baby doesn’t do that already?).

Part-time is generally a better option in both countries, since you’d have half your pay from your employer (or even up to 80% in France) and compensation from the government as well, so financially there might be less of a loss. It’s the same math future parents around the world have to do, even in countries like Denmark that have 52 weeks of paid maternity/parental leave, since individual situations vary and governments do impose limits to compensation. I don’t think any country gives you 100% of your normal salary for months and months of leave. (Nor should they, in my opinion, if part of the purpose is to make sure women have the same career opportunities as men.)

I should mention that for both maternity and parental leave in France and Luxembourg, there are conditions like having worked for a while (in general for maternity leave and at the company specifically for parental leave) and paid into the health care/social security system for a certain amount of time, which makes sense. Parental leave is always optional, so not everyone takes advantage of it, but I personally just love having options. So hopefully these comparisons help show the options parents have when choosing between working in France or Luxembourg!