Seven signs you've lived too long in Austria

Paul Gillingwater
Paul Gillingwater - [email protected] • 11 Jun, 2014 Updated Wed 11 Jun 2014 16:11 CEST
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Many expats come and go in Austria, but occasionally circumstances conspire to make them stay longer. The author came for six months only - and that was in 1992. Vienna has worked changes - some good, some bad, but all... Austrian.

It's a syndrome that's well-recognized by expats around the world. The process of acculturation starts soon after you leave the international arrivals terminal, and proceeds apace as you learn the language, the mores, and the shibboleths of your new home.

1) Is there a queue here?

For those of a Commonwealth background, queueing is second nature. We queued for ration coupons during the war, we queue for buses, and sometimes we (as in former Soviet countries) join queues just because there's a queue.

Unfortunately in Austria, queueing is much less observed, although not quite in the free-for-all manner of China or India, where you can pay someone to hold your place in a queue.

U-Bahn priority

One of the first shocks for British expats is the lack of decorum on the subway system, known here as the U-Bahn. In polite society, it is considered reasonable and appropriate to wait for passengers to exit from a train, before making your own attempt at boarding.  

That's not always the case in Vienna's equivalent of the Tube, and it's common to see little old ladies buffeted back into the carriage by the in-rushing commuter hoards, flailing their walking sticks ineffectively while seeing the doors close inexorably over their presumed destination.

A habit developed in response to this is the determination to exit the subway carriage before the hoards can begin their influx. This means forcing your way through the waiting throng on to the platform - and if that means the same little old lady is brusquely brushed aside, then so be it.  

2) German profanities

Another sign of impending Austrianisation is the distressing tendency to swear under your breath at other drivers in rush-hour traffic. While not entirely uncommon in the English-speaking world, it comes as something of a shock to hear yourself doing so in German. Somehow, it's more satisfying to vent your anger at other drivers in badly-pronounced Viennese dialect.

3) Keep to the right

A third, and further attribute of the aforementioned acculturation process is experienced in the descent into the U-Bahn.  It's clearly sign-posted, but many tourists fail to notice that if you're not actually walking down (or up) an escalator, then you need to stay on the right, to allow other impatient people to pass you by.  

As a newly arrived local, it didn't take long to progress from meekly hunkering down on the right of the moving stairs, to clomping with swingeing great steps so as to signal to the person ahead of you, standing on the left, that they need to move to the right.

4) Non-smoking area only, please

Fourth in the series is the sad resignation to rarely encountering a bar, cafe, or restaurant that is truly non-smoking.  Passive smoking has a certain de rigeur charm here, as Austrian's tobacco habits remain essentially unchanged from 1995, despite stricter laws and aggressive public health campaigns.  

Fortunately, there is a trend among the young and health conscious towards e-Cigarettes, which apparently can be just as satisfying for their users, but much less annoying to those of us who choose not to smoke.

5) Dog dumplings

In fifth place, we note with a certain degree of shame that we used to number ourselves among those who, on more than one occasion, failed to clean up after our dog.  Fortunately, time, maturity, and the prospect of €470 fines have changed that unfortunate quirk of behaviour, and we rarely venture out without at least one or two plastic "doggy bags", as the locals call them.

6) And a-weigh we go

Six, one develops a taste for Austrian pastries. It's long been suspected that there are secret scales that weigh one upon arrival and departure from Vienna's Schwechat airport, and that if you haven't gained at least a kilo or two since your last travels, men in richly embroidered uniforms come to take you into a small room, where they force-feed you Sacher Torte until the required additional mass is achieved.

7) There's no place like Heim

Finally, one of the changes that passes almost unnoticed, yet has the deepest impact, is when you start calling Austria "home". It's a process of letting go of the old, pre-expat life condition, and considering, almost with resignation but not entirely without affection, that Vienna will be the city in which one will grow old, not entirely gracefully, but perhaps a little less disgracefully.



Paul Gillingwater 2014/06/11 16:11

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