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Eight signs you’ve settled into life in Austria

Whether it has been five weeks or five years, Austria can sometimes feel a little strange as a foreigner. But if you recognise any of these eight signs, you might be a little more integrated than you think.

A hot dog stand in Vienna late at night. Photo by Alex Rainer on Unsplash
A hot dog stand in Vienna late at night. Photo by Alex Rainer on Unsplash

For people who live in a different country to the one they’ve grown up in, you feel like a foreigner in a strange land up until you return home. 

At this point, your old friends might tell you how ‘foreign’ you now are. 

While it never stops feeling odd to be between two worlds, if you recognise any of the behaviours from this list below, then you might be a little more Austrian than you think. 

You’re a coffee person now

OK so this doesn’t apply to Americans and most likely wouldn’t apply to Australians, but for people originally from the British Isles, the shift from tea to coffee can often happen seamlessly and without you even recognising it. 

Upon returning home, you might find yourself longing for a Melange or even a Einspänner, when a cappuccino will have to do. 

And when the coffee is served, you’ll look at the plate for the accompanying thimble of water and wonder what’s wrong with the waiter, before realising that the shot glass-of-water-with-coffee phenomenon hasn’t made it too far from Austrian shores (or at least outside of German-speaking Europe). 

Several coffee cups sit next to a plate with cakes at a coffee house in Vienna. Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Several coffee cups sit next to a plate with cakes at a coffee house in Vienna. Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

You’re stunned that everything is open on a Sunday

Sundays are slow in Austria by design.

And while it can be difficult to get used to at first, before too long you’ll get used to the slow pace of that Sonntagsgefühl (Sunday feeling). 

You’ll even get used to doing all your shopping by Saturday evening (no, really).  

Titles suddenly matter

A sign of the pervasive nature of tall poppy syndrome in English-speaking countries is how we will often shy away from achievements rather than celebrate them. 

While false modesty is in short supply in Austria – another cultural quirk which can be difficult to get used to – there is also a desire to recognise when someone has accomplished something (particularly when that involves years of study). 

In Austria, it is not only common but is expected to address someone with their titles. Hearing “Herr Doktor” or “Frau Magister” is therefore relatively common, even when speaking in English. 

Waiters are often addressed “Herr Ober”, a sign of how common place titles are. 

READ MORE: 11 surefire signs your kids are becoming Austrian

Where titles aren’t used, the use of Mr and Mrs/Ms in conjunction with a person’s last name is the done thing in Austria in almost all business communications, or even making reservations at a restaurant. 

If you start sending emails with “Dear Mr Smith” rather than “Dear David” or introducing yourself over the phone as “Ms Fleming”, you’ll know you’re settling into life in Austria nicely. 

Friendly service makes you stunned and suspicious 

While Austrians aren’t exactly unfriendly – and many bartenders and waiters will try and make you feel welcome – heading back to America, the United Kingdom or Australia will be quite a shock for anyone who’s spent a fair bit of time in Austria. 

The friendly, attentive service that is common place in English-speaking countries not only isn’t common in Austria, but it isn’t well received – with plenty of locals likely to get suspicious rather than tip happy. 

This extends beyond bar/restaurant culture and also into formal encounters, including police and other officials. 

Waiters prepare drinks at a bar. Black and white picture. Photo: Pixabay

Waiters prepare drinks at a bar. Photo: Pixabay

One reader told us about returning to the UK for a football match and being told by a border guard his re-entry was conditional on which team he supported. 

Such interactions are almost non-existent in formal situations in Austria, so if you find it weird to have a chat about your personal life with an airport border guard you’ll never see again, then you might be getting a little more settled in Austria than you think. 

Nudity is fine – and those who don’t think so are the real weirdos

The reasons are too many and too deep to go into here, but for some reason English-speaking cultures have a tendency to restrict the wearing of one’s birthday suit to the bedroom and solo showers. 

Austrians – as any foreigner or even tourist may be aware – tend not to have the same reservations. 

A naked man stands on the ledge of a pool. Photo by FRED DUFOUR / AFP

A naked man stands on the ledge of a pool. Photo by FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Whether you’ve been visiting the sauna, take part in organised sport or even just swimming at a lake, there’s a good chance you’ve seen more than your fair share of nude Austrian bodies. 

As a result, from swimming to visiting your doctor, you might find yourself far less reluctant to nude up – which may force a few of your old friends to clutch their pearls if you do it in their presence. 

You’re a social smoker

OK, so things are gradually changing, but the prevalence of smoking in Austria can be infectious and at the very least is quite hard to avoid. 

Plenty of internationals will now take part in the unique phenomenon of never buying a packet but smoking whenever the beer/wine or schnapps is a-flowing. 

If this is you, then you’ll know the Austrian ways are seeping in and you’re slowly becoming a little more settled – but no matter how much of a social smoker you are, you’ll love being in smoke-free bars again. 

A cigarette burns down in an ashtray which sits inside a bar in Vienna. Photo: AFP

A cigarette burns down in an ashtray which sits inside a bar in Vienna. Bars in Austria still have inside smoking, despite rules against it. Photo: AFP

You meet at the Würstel stand without thinking

The advent of smartphones has meant that most of us no longer organise set meeting spots and stick to them, it’s much easier to call when we get there or drop a pin. 

But if you’re really integrated in Austria, you’ll meet a friend at your favourite Würstel (hot dog stand) without even thinking about it, before heading off into the night (or simply sticking around until it closes). 

House shoes

While taking your shoes off before you enter someone’s home or apartment is entry-level Austrian, you know you’re there if you are quietly building a collection of Hausschuhe (house shoes) and think it weird not to have any. 

You’ve reached top-shelf Austrian integration if you visit another person’s house and ask where the house shoes for visitors are kept. 

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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

How to drink coffee like an Austrian

If there's one image that comes to mind when you think of Austria, it's probably the grand interior and delicious aroma of a traditional coffeehouse.

Waitress carrying coffees in a Vienna cafe
There's an etiquette and special language to drinking coffee in Austria, but even as a non-native you can pick it up. Photo: WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

The Austrians love their coffee. While they might not rank among the top five coffee consuming nations in terms of quantity drunk (the Scandinavians have that honour), that may well be because here, it’s all about quality.

The story goes that coffeehouse culture first came to Vienna after the Siege of Vienna in the late 17th century, when a local named Georg Franz Kolschitzky used coffee left behind by the Turkish invaders to set up the first coffeehouse. Kolschitzy is honoured by a street and statue that you can see today in Vienna’s fourth district (Kolschitzkygasse; the statue is at the intersection with Favoritenstraße).

But like many great stories, it’s not actually true. Vienna owes its coffeehouse tradition to the Armenian Johannes Diodato, who was granted the honour of being the city’s only trader allowed to sell coffee for some years. Once this was relaxed, the coffeehouses soon spread. 

That’s actually later than coffeehouses arrived in countries like neighbouring Germany and Italy, but something about it took off in Austria. Over the following decades, new trends were adopted here which have become synonymous with the Austrian coffeehouse, including providing newspapers to encourage patrons to linger over their drinks, and serving hot food.

Until 1856, women were not allowed in coffeehouses unless they worked there, but today they are a meeting point for people from all parts of society, tourists and locals alike. Here are the keys to unlocking this aspect of Austrian culture.

Take your time

As mentioned above, coffeehouses started offering newspapers as early as the 1720s, and the tradition is still going strong today, with newspaper tables for you to browse from.

A common grumble from foreign residents and visitors is that Austrian customer service can be slow, but try to look at it from another perspective: waiting staff want to allow you to take your time.

In contrast to countries like the UK, where there’s a clear distinction between cafes serving hot drinks which usually close around 5pm, and bars and pubs that stay open later serving alcohol and warm food, a coffeehouse is somewhere you can stay well into the evening, and there’s often musical entertainment at the grandest venues. It’s not about getting caffeinated and rushing on with your day; you go here to feel gemütlich (cosy).

Although tap water is not always free at Austrian restaurants, in a coffee house you can expect a small glass of water with your coffee, with a spoon placed over the top to indicate that it’s fresh. Waiters will often top this up during your stay. 

We’ll add a caveat though. This applies to the traditional coffeehouses, while Austria also has plenty of smaller, modern cafes, where you may indeed be asked to leave if you have been sitting for a while and haven’t ordered food. 

The newspapers are generally laid out on a table with convenient wooden holders. Photo: WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

Soak up the history

One reason Austria’s coffeehouses are so much more than your average cafe is their artistic associations.

Mozart and Beethoven performed at coffeehouses in their day, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, writers worked and socialized in these institutions as well as intellectuals like Sigmund Freud and politicians like Trotsky and Lenin.  There’s even a specific term, Kaffeehausliteratur, to refer to the works of literature penned in the hallowed halls of the coffeehouse.

Austrian modernist poet Peter Altenberg supposedly considered Cafe Central his home to the point of having his laundry sent there, and the cafe considers that it and Altenberg were pioneers of cashless payments, since he would pay his tab with the work he’d written on a napkin during his stay rather than cash.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for coffee culture. Post-war, new kinds of eateries and meeting venues sprung up and many coffeehouses closed as locals found them outdated. Ever prone to dramatics, the Austrians call this time Kaffeehaussterben (the death of the coffeehouses) but luckily many of the institutions survived and underwent a revival a few decades later.

Today, even Unesco recognizes Viennese Coffee Culture as Intangible Cultural Heritage, calling them “places where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill’.

In Vienna, you’ve got no shortage of historic coffeehouses: Café Central, Café Sperl, Café Hawelka, Café Landtmann and Café Ritter are just five of a long list of venues steeped in history. Because of that, there are often queues to enter during tourist season, but there are spots just as stunning that tend to escape the worst of the crowds, such as Café Jelinek and Café Westend. 

Austria’s other cities have plenty to offer too, from Salzburg’s Café Tomaselli which has a claim to being Austria’s oldest, to Café Traxlmayr in Linz, to charming Café König or the local branch of Café Sacher in Graz, to Café Munding in Innsbruck and many more in between.

Café Landtmann in Vienna. Photo: WienTourismus/Christian Stemper

Note that the older coffeehouses are more formal than your typical cafe; expect to see waiting staff wearing black tie, but know that there is no dress code for guests.

Alternatively, in the bigger cities you are never too far from a branch of Aida, a chain that aims to recreate the experience of the traditional coffee house on a lower budget with less formality and is recognizable from the large amounts of pink (the logo, the decor, the staff uniforms).

The other main Austrian chain is Oberlaa, more of a Konditorei (patisserie) than a coffeehouse but still sharing many of the same traditions — our tip is to try the one near Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, also called Café Dommayer, for a coffeehouse experience.

Know the lingo

In traditional coffeehouses, (male) waiters should be addressed as Herr Ober as a mark of respect; unfortunately there’s no clear equivalent for female staff. Tourists aren’t expected to follow this etiquette, but here’s the vocab to understand the menu and make your order in German if you wish. 

When making your order, know that you need to be more specific than “ein Kaffee, bitte” (a coffee, please). 

A kleiner Schwarzer is an espresso and a großer Schwarzer is a double. If you want milk with your coffee, it’s a kleiner or großer Brauner.

A Verlängerter is an espresso with hot water, so a bit less strong.

An Einspänner is a real Austrian classic, an espresso topped with whipped cream.

A Wiener Melange or just Melange is very similar to a cappuccino, made of coffee and steamed milk (sometimes whipped cream too, such as the Aida Melange), and slightly less strong than a cappuccino.

Feeling like something a little more fancy? Austria has you covered. 

An Überstürzter Neumann means you’ll get a cup of whipped cream, served with a double espresso to be added at the table. 

A Wiener Eiskaffee is more than an iced coffee; it’s a delicious mix of vanilla ice cream, espresso and milk. 

A Mozart Coffee is a double espresso topped with whipped cream and served with brandy.

A Maria Teresa is a double espresso with whipped cream, orange liqueur and orange zest.

Outside the older coffeehouses, these days of course you’ll find more modern cafes in Vienna too, where you can find your flat whites, caramel macchiatos and alternative milks. 

Eating sachertorte at Café Sacher is on many an Austria bucket list. Photo: WienTourismus/Paul Bauer

Don’t forget the cake

Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is the Austrian way to relax, akin to the Italian pausa caffe, English tea break or Swedish fika. Each coffeehouse has its own specialties, but there are some classics you will usually find on the menu.

Some of the most traditional cakes include the Sachertorte (a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam), the adorable Punschkrapfen (like a French petit four with a tasty rum flavour) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) or Topfenstrudel (a strudel made with Topfen, a type of cream cheese that is extremely Austrian).

The Dobostorte (caramel) and Esterházy (almond) layered sponge cakes are technically Hungarian rather than Austrian, but they’re still a common and delicious feature on most menus.

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