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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

13 ways to make your life in Austria easier without really trying

Life in Austria can be challenging with a high cost of living, different dialects and a unique culture to get used to. Here are some tips on how to make your life here simpler, with little effort involved.

13 ways to make your life in Austria easier without really trying
Will you soon be able to rent homes in Austria paying less? (Photo by Dimitry Anikin / Unsplash)

Austria is a great place to live: fresh air, beautiful scenery and a high standard of living.

But for international residents it can be testing at times too – especially when it comes to navigating the local culture, making friends and saving money.

If you feel your life in Austria could do with a boost, then try these simple tips below.

You never know, it could just transform your experience here.

Always carry cash

Austrians love cash. They always have and probably always will. 

Card payments and digital banking are gaining in popularity (especially since Covid-19), but Austria is a country built on tradition and many people are fully committed to cold hard cash.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to still come across places that will only accept cash. So to avoid feeling like a tourist, always carry cash.

READ ALSO: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Learn some dialect words

Austria is officially a German-speaking country, but few people actually speak Hochdeutsch (high German). 

Instead, most regions have their own dialect, although there is no exact number for how many different dialects exist in Austria.

For international residents, this makes learning the language even harder because even though high German is taught in language schools across the country, most locals don’t speak it.

The best way to tackle it is to learn a few dialect words in the area where you live, and then use them when talking to local people. You might get laughed at if you get it wrong, but most of the time Austrians will appreciate the effort and do their best to make you feel welcome.

FOR MEMBERS: Austria vs Germany: Which country is better to move to?

Take time out for lunch

Austria has a healthier work/life balance than most English-speaking countries.

This even extends to the lunch break when people across the country (almost-religiously) sit down at midday to enjoy a freshly cooked lunch with others.

At first, this can seem restrictive. What if you want to have lunch at 1:30pm? Or you just want to be alone during the lunch break? That’s simply not the Austrian style when it comes to lunchtime.

The best advice is, don’t fight it. Do as the locals do and take some well-earned time out for lunch. You might even make some new friends in the process.

FOR MEMBERS: Tips for how to make friends in Austria from those who have done it

Make friends with Austrians

Austrians have a reputation for being reserved people, but often the opposite is true.

The main thing to remember is that Austrians typically don’t like small talk (see below for more on this), which can be a shock for people from places like the UK, New Zealand or the USA. But once you get to know Austrian people, they love to talk.

Some top tips for making friends in Austria include learning German, not being afraid to make the first move or to join a local sports club. In other words, get out of your comfort zone.

Not only will this make you feel more welcome and part of a community, but it will also help you to further understand the country.

Follow the Austrian news 

Knowing what is happening in the place where you live can really help with understanding the local people and culture.

Current events are often a reflection of the country so it’s always a good idea to stay up to date – preferably with The Local.

Shop at cheaper supermarkets

Austria is well-known for its high cost of living and there is no sign of the prices coming down any time soon. If anything, prices will probably continue to rise.

A useful way to counteract the high cost of living is to shop in cheaper (or less desirable) supermarkets, like Hofer and Lidl – both of which stock a wide selection of Austrian and international products.

READ MORE: Six helpful tips to save money on food shopping in Austria

Call, don’t just email

When it comes to communicating at a business level, many people prefer to talk on the phone instead of by email.

The same applies if you’re looking for a new job or trying to connect with a particular person. Making a few phone calls can work wonders for your reputation and shows others that you’re not afraid to take the initiative.

This is in stark contrast to many other countries where the default mode of communication is usually email, and it’s another example of how Austrians like to do things their own way.

Relax in cafes

Coffee culture in Austria – and especially in Vienna – is more than just getting a daily dose of caffeine in the morning. It’s a way of life and something that UNESCO identified as an intangible cultural heritage in Austria’s capital city.

Coffee houses are also known as places to relax and spend some time over a cup or coffee (or two). There is often no rush to drink up and staff typically leave customers to their own devices until they ask for another drink.

As a result, Austrian coffee houses have long been meeting places for artists, intellectuals and politicians with Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Klimt and Leon Trotsky just a few famous names to have graced coffee houses in Vienna.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

Support local businesses

A great way to get to know your neighbourhood is to support local businesses.

Pick up a coffee from the cafe down the road. Buy your bread from a nearby bakery. Go out for dinner to a local restaurant. 

Independent business owners are often attentive and more likely to remember who their regular customers are, which means you can establish yourself as part of the local community.

During the pandemic some local smaller shops even kept high demand stock such as toilet paper and cooking oil aside for regular customers, telling others that there was simply none left. 

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know when relocating to Vienna

Don’t be shocked by early morning drinking

Alcohol is deeply ingrained in Austrian culture but it tends to be consumed in a more moderate manner than in other countries, like the UK or Australia.

However, it’s not uncommon to see people in cafes having a glass of wine at around 10am on a weekday. No one seems to bat an eyelid, so just accept it as part of the culture.

Reader question: Is it legal to drink in public in Austria?

Enjoy nature (it’s free)

The advantage of Austria’s small size means that even if you live in a city, the countryside is not far away.

Take advantage of this proximity to nature to clear your thoughts, breathe fresh air and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

After all, you would have to search far and wide to find a place in Austria that is not picturesque.

‘Waldeinsamkeit’ in Austria: Five peaceful forest walks near Vienna

Carry a water bottle

Austria is home to world-class drinking water. So instead of paying for bottled water and contributing to more plastic waste, get a reusable flask and fill it up for free.

Or, when in a cafe or restaurant, simply ask for tap water (Leitungswasser) instead of mineral water.

Avoid small talk with strangers

In many English-speaking cultures, small talk is a guaranteed conversation starter and a way to avoid awkward silences.

In Austria however, small talk is not as common and people generally prefer to have meaningful conversations about topics they are interested in.

Austrians can also be more reserved around people they are not familiar with and shy away from asking personal questions until they know them better.

The best approach is to avoid small talk with strangers and stick to a simple “Servus” to avoid any embarrassing encounters.

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WEATHER

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.

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