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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

Five unwritten rules that explain how Austria works

Feeling confused about social etiquette and expectations in Austria? These unwritten rules might help you make a little more sense of things.

Five unwritten rules that explain how Austria works
Austrians possess the incredible skill of never being late. Ever. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Adjusting to life in a new country takes time – even more so when navigating unwritten rules of how to act in social and professional situations.

But learning how to live like a local in Austria will not only make it a more pleasant experience, it will also show that you fit in and respect the rules.

To help you further understand Austrian culture, here are five unwritten rules that explain life in Austria.

Always say hello – at least in the countryside

Austrians have a reputation for being direct in their communication, but politeness is also highly valued. 

A prime example is the unwritten rule of saying hello to people – even if you don’t know them.

This applies more in the countryside than in the cities but it’s worth being aware of to avoid making a social faux pas.

According to a Kurier article, failure to greet others will even have you labelled as unfriendly, arrogant or badly educated.

READ MORE: Nine things you might be surprised are actually Austrian

So, if someone is walking towards you, you walk into a bakery (for example) or you see neighbours on the street, then a greeting is expected.

It could be a simple nod of the head, but in most cases it will be “Servus”, “Griaß di” or even “Hallo”.

But don’t try it in a city like Vienna. Saying hello to strangers will just result in funny looks.

Saying hello to someone will show them that you come in peace. Photo by Tom Leishman from Pexels

Always bring food or drink to a social gathering

If invited to a barbecue or dinner party at someone’s house, always take a drink or something to contribute to the meal.

For example, if your host is cooking, offer to bring a salad or a dessert.

If they are taking care of the food then offer to bring a nice bottle of wine or a selection of beers.

If you’re going to a gathering, always bring something – especially if someone tells you it’s not necessary. Photo by Nicole Herrero on Unsplash

And if they are hosting a barbecue, always take your own meat and expect a wide selection of salads and bread that other guests will also bring and share with everyone else.

Not only is this polite, but it will stop other people from talking about you because you violated the unwritten rule.

Don’t expect polite queues at ski lift stations

While Austrian society can be polite in many ways, queueing at ski lift stations in the Alps is a different story.

In fact, it’s a free-for-all and it’s something that both tourists and international residents in Austria have experienced.

REVEALED: What do Austrians think about foreigners?

An Austrian in Tyrol, who asked to remain anonymous, summed it up when he told The Local: “Don’t be civilised and politely queue up at the ski lifts – just push in.”

So, when going skiing in Austria, leave your manners at home, be prepared for others to cut in front of you and get ready to push to the front of the queue.

For a country that loves order and predictability, Austria sure doesn’t know how to queue. Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

Lateness is not appreciated

People in Austria are generally punctual, like to be on time and expect others to do the same – just like in neighbouring countries Germany and Switzerland.

The unwritten rule applies to both work and social situations, including going out to dinner at a restaurant.

READER QUESTION: Is it legal to drink in public in Austria?

This means if you’re running late it’s polite to call the host and let them know. Likewise if you have a reservation at a restaurant.

However, there is still a limit on how much lateness can be tolerated, with 15 minutes typically the maximum delay before people become annoyed.

Always carry cash

Cash is king in Austria. 

What can I get for this many? Always carry cash in Austria. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

It always has been and it probably always will be, with a pre-pandemic study showing that 83 per cent of Austrians preferred paying with cash.

Customers can even expect a grumpy roll of the eyes when trying to pay with cash in some places because it’s so deeply ingrained in the culture.

READ MORE: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

This attitude towards cash is perfectly reflected in the Austrian saying “Nur Bares ist Wahres” (only cash is true) and there are three reasons for this – freedom, anonymity and control. 

Austrians like to have the freedom of not relying on a bank, the anonymity to spend money on whatever they like and control over spending.

For international residents from card-favouring countries like the UK, Ireland and most of Scandinavia, the best way to deal with this is to just get used to carrying cash.

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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

Five books to read to understand Austria

Austria is a small landlocked country of about 9 million residents, but it was once a powerful (and enormous) empire. How did that change? Here are five books that can help you understand the country as it is now.

Five books to read to understand Austria

Austrian capital Vienna was once the political centre of one of the world’s largest and most powerful empires. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, led by the Habsburg family, ruled over most of central Europe and was a centre for arts and culture. 

The Alpine country, of course, is still a great producer of arts, culture and science, but from having a population of 37.5 million by 1843, Austria is now a small landlocked country of about 9 million people. 

There’s much history in between (and before) and if you want to understand Austria better, several books can help you out, according to a list published by The Economist. Here are five of the books to learn about Austria.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Austria so rich?

The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig was a very well-known Austrian author and journalist. He was famous for his historical studies of famous writers including Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoievsky, and Honoré de Balzac. He also wrote biographies on historical figures including Marie Antoinette. 

When the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, he emigrated and then settled in Brazil. His memoir, Die Welt von Gestern (the World of Yesterday) was published in 1942 and is a long description of life during the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

The Economist called it a “requiem for the liberal, cosmopolitan Vienna of the late Habsburg empire”. Many see it as the most famous book on the power family that ruled much of Europe.

READ ALSO: 8 TV shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture

Heldenplatz, by Thomas Bernhard

Heldenplatz, which is also the name of the area in front of the Hofburg Palace, a symbol of Austrian politics (and the place where Adolf Hitler was greeted happily after the annexation of the country to Nazi Germany), is a stage drama first performed in 1988.

The play reflects on nationalism, the denial of the past and the ongoing anti-Semitism in modern Austria – it created a scandal in the country at the time. 

The Austrian playwriter, Bernhard, was vilified and died of a heart attack only a few months later.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna, by Eva Menasse

“In “Vienna”, her first novel, published in 2005, Eva Menasse blends fact and fiction to tell the story of three generations of Menasses, a chaotic, voluble Viennese family with Jewish roots.”, wrote The Economist.

The book is a celebrated German-language novel and a lighter view of the decades it represents (which include the Holocaust period). It was, of course, criticised by many for “brushing over” such issues. 

It is still a delightful read according to reviewers and shows another side of Austrian history.

READ ALSO: 11 maps that help you understand Austria today

Leopoldstadt, by Tom Stoppard

A play that explores Jewish identity while recounting the tragic stories of a Viennese family that lived in the homonymous neighbourhood – which once had a thriving Jewish community. 

Unlike Vienna, this play brushes over none of the tragedy, crimes and horrors of the Holocaust period. However, it starts even earlier as the multigenerational story begins on Christmas Day 1899, following family members until 1955.

It’s a short but beautiful read.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s newest citizens reclaimed a birthright stolen by the Nazis

Vielgeprüftes Ӧsterreich, by Paul Lendvai

Author Paul Lendvai had already published “Inside Austria” a personal account of 50 years of the country’s history – but now, Vielgeprüftes Österreich (something like “much-tested” or “long-suffering” Austria) acts as a sequel of sorts, according to The Economist.

The book hasn’t been translated into English yet, but the writer looks into Austria’s political history from the Habsburgs to the Ukrainian war, touching on subjects such as why anti-Semitism and xenophobia continue to grow in Austria and why Austrians still fall for demagogues.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

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