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Life in Austria gives you 'different outlook'

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Life in Austria gives you 'different outlook'
Photo: Bevin Clement
16:34 CET+01:00
The Local talks to Bevin Clement, a native of New Zealand and a builder by trade who moved to Austria for love in 1999 and now runs his own building and renovation business.

Tell us what brought you to Austria.

I met my Austrian girlfriend - who’s now my wife - when we both living and working in Sydney. I ended up selling my business in Australia and we moved to Austria where I set up another business (Kiwi Build) - a network of tradesmen catering to English speaking people in Vienna and Lower Austria. We handle everything from kitchens and bathrooms, to electrics and plastering.

My wife and I now have three daughters, aged 11, 13 and 14 and live not far from Baden.  

How’s your German?

When I arrived I didn’t speak any German and to be honest I’m still not fluent, but I get by. We speak English at home and I speak English with my clients but my daughters are bilingual and go to a bilingual school.

However, my lack of German hasn’t been a problem, 90 percent of my clients speak English and there’s a large English speaking population in Vienna and Lower Austria who want English speaking tradespeople who can do the kind of finishes they are used to. There have been cases of Austrian tradespeople overcharging when they know a client doesn’t speak German, and they don’t always do the job requested. I only work with qualified English-speaking electricians and plumbers.

How difficult was it to set up your own business here?

The most difficult thing has been dealing with Austrian bureaucracy as Austria doesn’t recognise qualifications from New Zealand and Australia. I had to get all my qualifications and certificates translated, and was then told they weren’t valid in Austria anyway. I ended up having to re-qualify here, which was a seven year process. I’d make more money if I had stayed in Australia or New Zealand as my qualifications are recognised there.

Someone with qualifications from an EU country doesn’t have the same problem, as they are recognised here. So now there are a lot of Romanian, Bulgarian and Polish tradespeople coming to Austria who are not necessarily as highly qualified and are doing shoddy work but don’t have the same bureaucratic problems - which is frustrating. 

Any tips for English speaking people trying to find jobs here?

If you’re unskilled it can be very tough - so do your research before you come to Austria and do make the effort to learn some German as that can make all the difference. You might find that you need to retrain so that your qualifications are recognised here, and if you speak German to a good level you’ll probably end up getting a better paid job. Another thing to think about if you plan to stay long term is pensions - are you covered by contributions made in your native country, and are there any reciprocal agreements that mean you can claim your pension in Austria?

Do you ever dream of returning to New Zealand?

Perhaps when I retire, I do still have property there.  But I think Austria is a much better place to bring up children, both in terms of safety and education. What I really miss about New Zealand is the ocean and the fishing - as well as the open space and the laid-back lifestyle. Where I come from, in the outback, if you saw ten cars during the space of a day that would be considered a really busy day!

Having said that New Zealand and Austria do have a few things in common - there’s a glacier on the South Island which was named after Austria’s Emperor Franz Josef by a German explorer in 1865. And the Emperor himself introduced the alpine chamois goat to New Zealand.

Any negative things you’ve experienced here?

Well, apart from the bureaucracy… I do find that Austrians can be standoffish with foreigners and I have experienced racism - being told that I’m an Ausländer (foreigner).  Someone once refused to serve me in a shop in Vienna and swore at me which was pretty shocking.

What do you love about Austria?

I love its location in central Europe. We have a camper van and have had some amazing family holidays travelling around Europe. It really does give you a different outlook on life. Austria is definitely more cultured than New Zealand, but New Zealand has a more laid-back and relaxed life style.

Family values in Austria are really strong, it’s common to know Austrians in their 30s and 40s who are still living at home with their parents. Sunday lunches and birthdays are a big thing here. I was always happy to ignore my birthday but I’ve accepted that here birthdays have to be celebrated.

Austrians are very proud of their culture and traditions and many see globalisation as a threat. They also have a great deal of respect for nature and the environment, which sadly isn’t the case in New Zealand.

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