I arrived in Vienna, Austria two weeks ago to start my semester abroad. Now that I’ve had a chance to settle down, I decided I should start a blog. I’ll try to use this to relay any interesting stories that I come across.
So this is the obligatory introductory post. In it I’ll explain what it is I’m doing here and attempt to recap some highlights from my two weeks thus far. As most of you know, I’m in my ninth and final semester at Elizabethtown College. My International Business (IB) major requires a semester abroad and the program the school offers (BCA) spends two months in Vienna taking language classes. After these two months my group will travel to Marburg, Germany (Vienna is in Austria by the way….and no Austria is not the same as Australia). I am currently living in Gasometer, a neighborhood in the 11th district (the whole city is separated into districts and gets a little Hunger Games-y at times). Gasometer used to be 4 natural gas tanks that stored the gas needed to power the lamps and heat homes. They don’t need the tanks anymore and have converted some into apartments, dorms, and a mall. The problem is that the place really hasn’t taken off the way they had hoped. Shops never opened, houses were never built, and now its left with 10 car dealerships and a giant casino/movie theater (I’d put money on the place being a relative ghetto in about 5 years). So if you add that to the fact that its about a 15-20 minute subway ride into the main part of the city and to the fact that everything closes (or doesn’t even open) by 6pm (more on this later) it’s not the most ideal place to live, but it could be worse.
So, to the important stuff. I have been putting this blog off for awhile because I was never sure how to best describe the past two weeks. But since I didn’t know much about the city or the people before I arrived here, I thought it would be nice to share with you all what I have learned thus far about Austrians…in very broad generalizations. Should be fun!
Things Austrian People Hate:
Talking to people– I have two roommates, Julia and Fritz (his name is actually Friedrich, but I’ve always wanted a friend named Fritz and now Fritz has kind of stuck). Fritz is a 6’5″ Austrian and I had the pleasure of meeting him as he was stepping out of the shower. Unfortunately, he was not expecting me to be in the room at the time and did not properly secure his towel around his waist. We haven’t talked much since. My other roommate is French and is easily startled. I’ve met her only twice. The first encounter was when I accidentally blew the circuit breaker and she came out of her room to see why everything went dark (great first impression… I know). The second time she was reading a newspaper over breakfast at the kitchen table. When I came out she picked everything up and moved into her room, shutting the door before I could manage a Good Morning. Don’t worry though, I have not been deterred. They both have to pass my room to use the bathroom, so I leave my door open as an attempt to lure them into conversation. Fritz usually just ignores me and Julia barricades herself in her room whenever I’m in the apartment, but I still have hope!
Furthermore, Austrian’s do not have a phrase they use when they pass someone in the street. For example, in the U.S. we usually nod or say “Hello” as we pass someone. However, here they get startled and ask if you need help with something. They think you are interested in having a full on conversation. I’m usually not, but I’ve had to start thinking of different questions to ask them so I didn’t come across as weird. Also, it is perfectly acceptable on a subway just to stare at someone. More often than not someone is intently starring at you on the subway. You can then start starring back at the person and turn the entire trip into a weird, creepy starring contest. Oh and trust me, you’ll end up losing because most of the starers are not necessarily pleasing to stare at for four stops.
Jaywalking– It doesn’t matter if its a bustling main street during the morning rush hour or 2 a.m. on a deserted Wednesday night, the Austrians will stand at the corner and wait for the street light on the other side to turn from a little red man with a hat to a little green man with a hat. This creates a huge line of people on one side of the street preparing to play a giant game of “Red Rover Red Rover” with an equally big line on the other side of the street. I’m told the easiest way to show you’re a tourist is to jaywalk, so I do my best to stand and wait but it is so hard to not just simply walk 15 meters.
*Update: Apparently it is a 20 Euro fine if you cross on a red light. Looks like I’ll be standing a lot more now.
Water– In the two weeks I have been here I have found exactly five water fountains. Five… in the entire city. However, when you do happen upon a water fountain, they are usually very cool sculptures that constantly flow with water. You are never sure you are supposed to drink out of them but they are pretty cool. However, I’ve realized most of my money is spent on bottles of water. It is uncommon for a restaurant to serve tap water, instead they bring you a tiny glass bottle. In reality, most drinks here are on the smaller side. Beer is almost the only thing you can get in a bigger glass… then again that isn’t really a bad thing now that I think about it.
Clothes– Boy the Austrians hate clothes. Well, mainly shirts. So many walk around without shirts, and these are usually the same people that are starring at you on the subway. So many topless men are walking, driving, or riding mopeds down the street. We are currently experiencing an unusual summer heat wave with temperatures around 32-33C (or above 90F for those that aren’t familiar with Celsius. Sidenote: in my opinion Celsius is the dumbest way to measure outside temperature). So, it has been a little hot and it is understandable they wouldn’t want to wear heavy clothes, but they are a little too comfortable with their bodies. Another way the Austrians combat the heat is by going swimming in the Danube River that runs through the city. It seems like the Austrians walk by the river on the way to the store or something and just decide, “Hey, this looks like a great place to go for a swim.” They strip down to their underwear and just jump right in….if you’re lucky. When you’re not lucky, they get completely naked. City shores quickly turn into nude beaches. A poor business investment would be to open a bathing suit store in Vienna. No one would buy one and they look at you weird if you wear one.
Deodorant– Yes, this is a common stereotype. But it is oh so unpleasantly true. I was on the subway with an American girl from our group, she was on one side of the door holding on to a bar while I was on the other. A big, sweaty man boarded this tiny little train and stood in between us, facing her. He reached above her head to hold onto the bar she was holding. Her nose was forced directly into this man’s armpit. It was bad. I could smell the guy on my side and was not enjoying it. I felt really bad for her… I think the Old Spice Guy needs to take a trip to Vienna.
The Olympics– Austria had 70 athletes compete in 17 events during the London 2012 Olympics. They came away with 0 medals. Grant it, the country is more famous for the Winter Olympics…but still. 0? How many did the U.S. have? 100+? Finland (3) and Norway (5) both won medals, and they, like the Austrians, are certainly more of a Winter force. The Austrians are furious, they have been demanding the Olympic coaches to be fired. It’s so bad that the Paralympic Athletes are calling out the Olympic athletes in the newspaper and saying they will have to represent Austria on the medal stand.
Ok, now that we have an idea of what Austrian’s disslike, let’s move on to things they happen to enjoy.
Things Austrians Love:
Music– Vienna is known as the music capitol of the world. During July and August, they show exactly why. With the Gothic architecture of the City Hall as a backdrop, the town square is transformed into a Film Festival where every night a concert, opera, or musical is projected onto a 3 story screen. Behind the spectator stands are rows of vendors selling food, beer, and wine. The entire atmosphere is amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know where else you can see Phantom of the Opera one night and then go back the next for the Rolling Stones. If you’re ever in Vienna over the summer, check it out. Although I will warn you that you might have difficulty understanding some of the Operas because they are entirely in German….oh yeah, and they’re Operas.
Cigarettes– Everyone here smokes. And they are amazed to learn that it is not common in America for people to smoke. I went to the doctor to get some medicine for a cold and even he and all of his nurses smelled like cigarettes as they examined me.
American Politics– Usually the first question I get when I tell someone I’m from America is, “Who is going to be President?” Why they think I have the answer to that question is a mystery, but I try to explain to them about how the whole voting process works. They are very familiar with U.S. Foreign policy, but have very little grasp of domestic policies and issues. So it’s a little confusing to explain the Tea Party to them. Also, they care a lot about world news. For example, Julian Assange has been in the news a lot lately after seeking refuge in Ecuador’s UK Embassy and the British police have surrounded the Embassy and threatened to invade. I bet that story isn’t being covered all that well in the U.S.
Clothes– Boy the Austrians love clothes. Yes, I know this is in here twice. But its true! When it cools off and people are going out to the clubs or cafes, they are dressed like fashion models. Men sport skinny jeans, a deep-V, or popped collar (collars are always popped, regardless if your 15 or 50…I’ve actually seen a mother fix her 5 year old’s popped collar because a corner had folded over) usually mixed with a variety of accessories, sunglasses, and hair-dos. Girls have dresses or pants of all different colors, always a nice shirt, make-up, and heels. Hipsters are mainstream over here… which is nice because now I don’t have to deal with any hipsters.
(Clothes Subgroup): The American Flag. There are more people wearing the American Flag than at any July 4th Barbecue in the States. It’s freaky how much they wear the flag. On my way to school I’ll pass at least 3 people with the flag somehow incorporated into their outfits. I’ve seen leggings that were half blue with white stars and half red and white striped. Maybe its because they want to feel like to be from a country that wins gold medals at the Olympics? I don’t know but I need to get more Red, White, and Blue if I want to fit in….
(Clothes Subgroup II): Denim. Austrians love denim. Go to your wardrobe right now and look at every piece of clothing you have. I’d be willing to bet there is an Austrian wearing that same thing (i.e. dress, shirt, jacket) but in denim. Jeans of all different colors. Acid wash, ripped, faded, acid washed-ripped and faded. Denim vests over denim shirts. Jorts of all different lengths. Jean-Capris, I don’t even know what those are called but they wear them. It’s amazing how much denim is over here.
Bicycles– There are bikes everywhere. They have their own lanes on the sidewalks and in the streets. Bikes get the right of way, always. Cars and pedestrians must yield to bikers. Its really cool. Bikers are crazy too, I’ve seen a guy in the street not brake as he cut through about a yard gap between a moving Street Car and parked cars on the side of the road. They also have this program called CityBike, where you can rent a bike for an hour for free and every hour after that is 1Euro. But you can get pretty much where ever you need to in an hour so its essentially free. Oh but you must make sure you are riding only in the designated zones and going the right way in them or you get a 25 Euro fine.
Other Austrians– The amount of public display’s of affection (PDAs) that occur in this city is unbelievable. And it’s primarily concentrated in the subway cars. I don’t understand it, but it is as if they think that the subway is their bedroom. As soon as they walk in they start making out. I’m not talking about nice, cute, little “I love you” pecks on the cheek. They go at each other like its the final scene is some Rom Com. Its hard to ignore it (especially when sounds start to come into play) because there are usually multiple couples on the train doing it. And if you add in the creepy guy starring at you then you aren’t left with very many safe places to look while on the subway.
Architecture– The buildings here are amazing. The city is so old that is spans so many centuries and design eras. It is very common to see a Gothic church next to a Renaissance facade next to a post-WWII communist rebuilt apartment. Their town hall, or Rathaus, that is home to the film festival is over 150 years old…and they refer to it as the New Rathaus.
Food/Wine/Beer– Its all just so good. Schnitzels and sausages and strudels everywhere. The wine is really good and cheap. A good bottle of wine is about $5 in the grocery store. Plus it is totally acceptable to walk down the street drinking a pint of beer from a can….at 11am….on a Sunday.
So that’s about it. That should cover everything about Vienna pretty well. It’s a fun city and I’ve only just begun to explore it. I’m meeting new people and will surely have more posts. Thanks for taking the time to read this thing.