Moving to Austria For Members

'Everyone smokes': The biggest culture shocks of moving to Austria

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
'Everyone smokes': The biggest culture shocks of moving to Austria
What is it like to first move to Austria? We asked our readers. (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Certain aspects of life in Austria can take some getting used to. We asked The Local's readers about the biggest culture shocks they have experienced when moving here from abroad.


Culture shock is a normal part of moving to any new country – or even within a country. But some of the surprises that come with a move to Austria might feel quite particular to the alpine republic – and probably aren’t that surprising in retrospect after you’ve been here a while.

For many people who responded to our survey – coming to Austria can feel like stepping back in time, and it shows up in everything from shop hours to Austrian smoking habits.

The most common complaint though? The unfriendliness.

Sean from New Zealand said the most shocking thing for him in his move to Austria was “rude customer service and impatient customers in supermarket queues.”

One British respondent whose been living in Vienna for ten years – working for both Austrian and international firms – says he still hasn’t gotten used to how unfriendly the capital’s residents can be.

Catherine from the US says its hard to find a place in Austria where you feel welcomed.

READ ALSO: Nine mistakes everyone makes when they first move to Austria


Peter Mousa from Egypt says it can be hard to make friends and start up a social life.

But Hatem in Graz says he’s managed to make a go of it. “I like Austrian simplicity and also their straightforwardness. They are very easy to deal with if you know how,” the Egyptian student says. “

"I live in Graz, so the people here are extremely polite and friendlier compared to Vienna. But of course, they are more reserved and it’s not easy for a foreigner to make deep friendships with them," he said.

For Matt, a Welshman living in Vienna – getting to know people is made harder by Austrians simply not being enthusiastic small talkers.

“I still haven't got used to the fact that small talk is not really a thing here," he said.

"Even though I have been here for two and a half years, and I have learned German to a fairly decent level; enough to hold a flowing conversation, I feel like I only ever talk to my colleagues or my family,” he says. “I believe that small talk is actually a very good way to start a conversation and can lead to much more than just a few quick (often repeated) sentences.”

people streets vienna

Austria ranks high in quality of living, but foreigners don't feel too welcome, according to surveys. (Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash).

READ ALSO: What makes Austria a difficult country for foreign residents to get started?


How living in Austria can feel like a time machine

From surprise at just how much work agricultural work is still done by hand instead of machine, to incredulous shoppers who can’t go to the stores on Sundays or being pleasantly surprised how much traditional print media is still around – many respondents say coming to Austria felt like a blast from the past.

But a couple made particular note of all the smoking.

“You exit Vienna airport into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Everyone is smoking everywhere. It's like taking a time machine to the 1980s in the US,” says Tom in Vienna.

“Here, everyone has or smokes cigarettes,” says Kelsey in Graz. “In Austria it’s shockingly mundane, even though everyone is so sports and health-minded.”

READ ALSO: 10 things you only know about Austria when you move here


Active lifestyles

That focus on activity and health was a pleasant surprise many of our readers cited.

Robert says one of his biggest shocks was “How active, energetic and in top physical condition seniors can be with hiking and biking.”

Hatem in Graz says he thinks Austrians are generally healthier than many people from his country. “They are more active, consume less sugar, and eat in lower amounts generally. In my country you'll never see an old man/woman riding a bike to work but I've seen it here!”

READ ALSO: READERS REVEAL: What do you wish you knew before moving to Austria?



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also