Umbrellas

Umbrellas

Monday, July 18, 2011

Insomnia, To Do lists, and Mastering the Protocol

Five nights into our move and all of us are still struggling with the time change.  Being one who has suffered from insomnia since becoming a mom, I have long become accustomed to the 3:00 a.m. frustration of listening to everyone else in the house sleeping while I am surfing FaceBook to see how many other moms are doing the same.  However, I have always fallen asleep around 11:00 p.m., so I at least had 4 hours behind me before the unwanted mental alarm sounded.  Here, it has been 3:00 a.m. before I can even make myself venture to bed.  I am not alone.  Both boys are live wires at midnight, causing each day to have a delayed start.  This wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have a million things to get done before Joe starts work next week.  Getting your day started at noon when most offices and stores close between 6 and 8:00 p.m. does not allow for much productivity.  So, tonight, new rules, new guidelines - all of us are heading to bed early so that our to do list can get some attention.  First things first, we need to get a car.

Now, Joe and I both drove BMWs in the states and Joe's company, as part of his relocation package, did offer to move our vehicles to Europe.  This idea sounded great, until we did some basic research.  First, neither of our cars were diesel, nor were they exactly small.  My car also had almost 100k miles on it after a year in Texas.  Yes, we were only there a year and most of the miles came in the first 5 years of ownership in VA, but with everything being so spread out I was easily racking 100 miles on a day.  So, with my warranty expiring at 100k, we immediately decided that it should go.  I loved that car, so that was another one of those experiences that momentarily saddened me.  Again, it's just another thing, but that car had treated me well and had been a promotion gift when I was still a working mom.  We had thought of keeping Joe's car, but being an SUV the car drank gas like a drunk at a keg party.  Doing a little math, we determined that an SUV getting less than 20 mph was not going to cut it in a country where gas costs the equivalent of $8-9 a gallon.  So, a few days before our move we made a second trip to CarMax so that Joe could say farewell to his ride.  Another sad day, but hey, we were moving to Europe where BMWs are like Fords in the US.  Now, if only they had similar prices.

So, buying a car is one of our to-dos that we will hopefully be able to start tackling tomorrow.  Today's achievements, once we finally finished breakfast at noon, was to get our bank accounts established.  Now, unlike the common experience of going into a branch bank, waiting your turn to talk to an account manager who is likely less than a year or two out of college, and walking out with a temporary checkbook and some deposit slips, the Europeans make opening an account an experience.  We entered Dexia bank and walked up to the very formal bank lobby where the reception desk took your name and called up to the Private Banking floor to announce our arrival. At that point we were introduced to another person whose job was to escort us up to the floor to a private conference room.  Once there she offered us coffee, soda, Perrier, etc. and soon came back to the room with a silver service tray with our requested beverages.  Our banker soon arrived with all of our required paperwork.  Long story short, the process took approximately an hour and a half and involved about 5x the amount of paperwork I have ever needed in the US.  Despite all of this paperwork, you don't walk out the door with the blank checkbook.  For one thing, checks aren't used here in Lux.  Everything is electronic or paid in cash.  Furthermore, though the ATM card is identical in concept, the credit card works more like a charge card and is settled up at the end of each month, much like an Amex card.  You can request a deferral payment structure, but like most other similar requests, it is "highly discouraged" until you have been a resident for at least a year.  Same goes for securities.  I guess all of the financial calamity from the last few years has made Europe, in general, very risk adverse when it comes to credit.  As for the rule around securities, banks in Luxembourg and Switzerland have come under strong scrutiny for money laundering scandals.  It isn't that they are unwilling to accommodate - in fact, the banker was adamant that if we wished to invest sooner he could draw up the necessary paperwork - it's the IRS.  Even the tax attorneys that Joe spoke to prior to coming here said don't even bother since the IRS would make tax filing a bloody nightmare for them if he did. I can't blame them. It was a bit eye opening when our banker encouraged us to keep our money in US dollars due to the erratic fluctuations in the exchange rate to euros.  I guess Greece and Spain have shown that the US is not the only country prone to overspending and financial fraud.

Next task of the day was to continue our residency process.  Weeks before we left the country we had to begin the process of copying and notarizing just about every major piece of paperwork we had.  This included copies of every page of every passport (all notarized), our marriage license, our birth certificates, our diplomas, our transcripts,... the list goes on.  All this just to get the papers that would allow us to enter the country as hopeful long term residents. This process, we were told, could take as little as 1 week or as long as 3 months, with no indication as to where you will fall in the timeline.  Fortunately, we were on the short end and got our papers in about 6 business days.  But, that is just the beginning. Once you are here in the country you must follow certain protocol to change that stack of papers into resident cards.  Before we could even go to the Municipal Office (Commune), we had to have proof of a local residence (basically, a lease contract or proof we had sold our house in TX which, of course, we haven't).  So, we waited most of the day for a lease amendment that proved we had taken possession of the corporate apartment we are temporarily living in.  Finally, around 3:30 p.m., we were ready to go.  We got to the Commune office only to get a numbered ticket and wait in a crowded lobby waiting for our number to appear on the electronic board on the wall.  The experience pretty much mirrors a trip to the DMV, including the screaming children and frazzled moms.  An hour later our number was called.  A nice Luxembourgish man took our paperwork, looked at the four of us, looked at the clock, and sighed.  I didn't think much of it until 20 minutes later after he had made yet another copy of every page of our passports.  He was quickly looking like one of the frazzled moms in the lobby area.  I asked him how long the process took and he answered that it usually took 30-40 minutes a person and he usually only did one person at a time (i.e., he hadn't anticipated that ticket number 539 = 4 people). He did not look happy.  Needless to say, we didn't make it to the next step of the process - taking the now even larger stack of paperwork to the Immigration Office where you apparently take another numbered ticket and wait in an even longer line (primarily because the office is only open in the mornings) just to get your temporary residency cards.  It takes 3 months and physical exams to get the permanent ones.  We learned Joe's boss only received his a few weeks ago and he's been here for over two years, so I don't think we will be in much of a hurry for those either.  However, we had to get through today's red tape in order to purchase a car - the next item on our to-do list.

So, following our own household protocol, it is 11:30 p.m. and time for me to make the furtive attempt at sleep.  You'll know if I'm successful if you don't see me on FaceBook at 8:00 p.m. CST :)

XOXO

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