Seven things that surprised me about Austrians

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 2 Sep, 2016 Updated Fri 2 Sep 2016 12:02 CEST
Seven things that surprised me about Austrians

After three years working as a journalist in Austria, the Local’s Maddy French is leaving Vienna and making the move back to the UK. Below she muses about some of the things that surprised her about Austria and the folk here.


They know how to have a good time.
Austrians are not the lairiest of drinkers but they are big fans of getting together with friends and enjoying a carafe of wine (or three). Big fans of the outdoors, they can often be found enjoying long afternoons in the sun with family, drinking their way through the contents of their wine cellar and munching on Oma’s best Erdäpfelsalat. This side of Austrian culture is often described as a pleasant mix between central European and Mediterranean lifestyle. Importantly, the wine is also cheap and delicious. The traditional Austrian knees-up folk festivals are also ten-a-penny in summertime. Who can’t resist throwing on a pair of lederhosen and joining in the fun. Prost!

They are friendlier than you think.
The Viennese in particular have a reputation for being a bit grumpy. After countless failed attempts to get the attention of Viennese waiters - and the odd scowling würstelstand owner - I can vouch that there is some truth in this. But this reputation is also a bit unfair. Once you get to know an Austrian, they are usually extremely friendly and often happy to help you where they can. You just have to gain their trust first...

They are nothing like Germans (and don’t dare to suggest it!).
You’d think simply looking at a map of Europe would be enough to tell people that Austria is a different country to Germany with its own people and cultures. A few visitors from the UK have been met with blank stares, however, after making the seemingly polite but horrendous mistake of asking Austrians: “So what’s German culture like?”. With their different dialects and perhaps a more laid back attitude to life, Austrians are very distinctive from Germans, particularly northern Germans. Most are happy, however, to accept the comparison with Bavarians who share a lot of the same traditions. It’s also complicated when it comes to football as some Austrians do sheepishly admit to supporting the German team. But that’s as far as they are prepared to go.

They defy the laws of healthy living.
As some of the heaviest smokers and drinkers in Europe, you’d think half of Austria should be coughing up a lung or struggling to walk to the shops. In fact they appear to be incredible fit and healthy. They are huge fans of the outdoors and you’ll be hard pressed to find somoene who doesn’t have some kind of sporty hobby, particularly in rural Austria. Hiking, nordic walking, lake swimming and - without question - skiing are some of the popular pastimes enjoyed by many Austrians, meaning they can keep slim and have that second glass of Gruner Veltliner. To be fair, the smoking probably still isn’t that good for them but it’s a difficult argument to start while wafting away smoke from ten of your friends’ cigarettes.

They know when to clock off.
Although I don’t want to give the impression with this list that Austrians are only out for a good time, virtually every other migrant I know comments on the country’s clocking off mentality. Need to interview someone on a Friday at 3pm in July or August? Forget it, they’ve gone home, secretaries tell you. Aside from the few problems this presents for a journalist working in a 24 hour news cycle, this ‘finishing early because it’s sunny outside’ attitude is really a positive reflection of the country’s excellent work-life balance. Life is for living, not for being stuck behind a computer at 6pm on a Friday (a lesson a few workers in London could no doubt learn from).

They make dumplings like no one else.
Who’d have thought such tasty things could be made from a simple base of flour and water. From Semmelknödel to Käsespätzle, the art of making dumpling and doughy-based dishes has been well and truly mastered by the Austrians. Throw in their equally stodgy but delicious Marillenknödel and Kaiserschmarrn and you’ve got the hangover meal of the century. I will be certain not to leave Austria before learning these recipes off by heart as life without Kaiserschmarrn is no life at all.

They can’t be generalised.
Having spent the last 500 words or so generalising about Austrians, I’d like to point out that it is actually very hard to generalise about them. For example, while some strongly treasure tradition, others hate that Austria lags behind the rest of the world. There is a serious point here as well, as it relates to the understanding of Austria by international media and their coverage of the country’s swing to the right in the presidential election(s). Many suggested with the May election results Austria is becoming a far-right country. The reality is much more complicated. It is more a divided country - liberal in its urban centres, conservative in rural areas - and with its history of fascism these divisions are felt more acutely than they would be in the UK. But don’t assume someone's political beliefs based on their geography. Tease out a conversation from them and you might be surprised. (Also, despite my above comments, I have met one or two Austrians who actually aren’t that bothered by winter sports. So they're not all alike).


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