Small but connected

By Ni Dandan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-2 18:38:01

Saint Nicholas, the European version of Santa Claus, is about to bring gifts to the city's children this month. On December 6, many countries in Europe will celebrate Saint Nicholas' Day. And Luxembourg is no exception.

In Shanghai, the small community of Luxembourgers will gather for the occasion. "The nice thing about a small community is that we are like a big family with small kids, parents and grandparents. Everybody gets invited to our National Day party every year. We gathered in September for a barbecue at my residence. And we will have Saint Nicholas bring gifts to the kids in December," said Luc Decker, Consul General of Luxembourg in Shanghai.

"We all know each other well, and when a new person arrives from Luxembourg, he can count on a warm welcome here in Shanghai, whether she or he is a student, comes for work or is already retired," he told the Global Times.

According to the consulate general, there are more than 30 citizens from Luxembourg who live in Shanghai. Although it's a small group, Luxembourg citizens are active in different industries here. Some Luxembourgers have been working for Luxembourg companies in sectors such as steel and beer brewing. Others have started their own companies like a public relations agency, a restaurant or an art gallery.

Staying connected

Carlo Wolff, a Luxembourg national, first set foot in Shanghai about 11 years ago when he applied for an exchange program to study Putonghua at Fudan University. He recalled that the earliest days in the city were filled with challenges.

"I arrived in late August when it was very humid. And back then the Wujiaochang area where the university is located was a large construction site where I could easily get lost. On my first day at school, I was given an instruction book about the university only in Chinese, which totally confused me," he told the Global Times.

Wolff said he had chosen to come to Shanghai despite the outbreak of SARS in the year of his arrival mainly because he had believed that Shanghai would become a major international financial hub. He started his career here right after finishing the one-year study at Fudan.

Wolff opened an art business three years ago in Shanghai and earlier this year he decided to move his gallery business to the prestigious location of Bund 22. His art gallery deals exclusively with the works of European artists. "I'm interested in and now keen on bringing European art to Shanghai," he said. "I hope to bridge the European and Chinese art worlds. The art market has been ever growing in China. But most galleries here only do contemporary Chinese art. The market for foreign art is at its beginning stage in this country."

Although the Luxembourg community is tiny, Wolff, who speaks fluent Putonghua, doesn't feel much bothered that he can't often hang out with his country people. He meets mostly Chinese people both in his business and in his personal life. "I don't think there are so many distinctions. I have always been open to meeting people from different places in the world."

But Serge Weydert, another Luxembourg national who has been living in Shanghai for 10 years, said that it is important for him to bond with other Luxembourgers and speak their mother tongue, Luxembourgish.

"You cannot imagine how much I need to speak the language. It is probably the most difficult language in the world because only 300,000 people now speak it," he told the Global Times, almost ironically.

Talking about the beauty of the language, Weydert said Luxembourgish is a Germanic language that has the same grammar, idioms and voice of describing things as German. But at the same time, because Luxembourg is close to France, the language also includes French elements. "It's a very nice descriptive language. We have very direct expressions, not diplomatic ones," he said.

Weydert said it is a great thing that the consulate can help connect Luxembourgers with each other. "I think the smaller a country is, the more its people want to keep their roots and to get better connected and integrated."

Difficult adjustments

The two Luxembourg nationals have spent more than a decade in Shanghai, during which time they have witnessed many changes in the city and the country. Wolff recalled that in the early years, there were hotels in Hangzhou and Nanjing that turned the hot water off at 9 pm. "It's far from how things are in our home country," he said.

The changes over the past 10 years have been indescribable, he said. "Shanghai starts to feel like any international city. You can find any kind of shop, food and beverage that you can find in big cities in the world. You have international crowds here," he said.

However, there are still things that the Europeans find hard to adjust to. Weydert said because it's a city with such a big population, one has to put up with the crowds almost everywhere. "Europeans usually need more space. And we are not used to living in apartments," he said.

Nowadays Weydert lives with his family in a house they rent in suburban Shanghai. Having lived here for so many years, he said he's still had to be careful when crossing the road. "In Europe, when you cross the pedestrian line, cars stop. And if they don't stop they will be fined. Here, a green light for pedestrians is only a recommendation to me that it might be less dangerous to cross the road."

Carlo Wolff stands in his art gallery. Wolff wants to bring more European art to Shanghai.


An artwork at Wolff's gallery


Serge Weydert has been living in Shanghai for 10 years.

Photos: Ni Dandan/GT


Posted in: Society, Metro Shanghai, Art

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