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Is Vienna really such an unfriendly city for foreign residents?

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
Is Vienna really such an unfriendly city for foreign residents?
Vienna tops livability rankings, but bottoms out on friendliness polls. (Photo by Wiktor Karkocha on Unsplash)

An essay by a British man calling out what he describes as "cold attitudes" in Vienna has sparked a heated debate in Austrian media. Is there any truth in his account?


It’s increasingly becoming a way for some media outlets to generate social media buzz and web traffic – publish an article about how the dream of living in continental Europe is actually a horrible nightmare in reality.

In March, an American student recounted in international news and feature outlet Business Insider how much she hated her semester abroad in Tuscan Florence.

Three months later, an American freelance marketer told the same magazine how much she regretted moving to Germany.

Now the Austrian capital is under the spotlight, with one British man writing about how much he hated his time in Vienna.

But the essay has sparked discussion with foreigners living in Vienna, as well as in Austrian media.

Daniel Harper writes about how he moved from Wales to Vienna halfway through the Covid-19 pandemic to finish his master’s degree, concerned about the ticking Brexit clock – realising he needed to leave the UK in order to take up residence in an EU country before the UK left the bloc.

He writes about how the capital’s consistent dominance in global liveability rankings formed part of the attraction of living there, particularly for culture, healthcare, and infrastructure. When he heard a friend had a spare room, he packed his bags.


Vienna has a reputation for being a particularly difficult city to settle in, despite its liveability. (Photo by Anton Uniqueton / Pexels)

He was immediately struck by the unfriendliness of the locals, recounting how one of his few Austrian friends told him that “in Vienna, you get to know someone by looking away from them".

Harper says he wasn’t prepared for how hard making friends in the capital would be, with many people simply not interested in inviting new people into their social groups.

The cold winter made it worse, as outdoor meetings became more difficult during the ongoing pandemic. Freedom Party (FPÖ) posters during the city’s mayoral elections also surprised Harper, who says he was shocked that xenophobia could be voiced so openly in the city without consequence.


Austrian backlash

Austrian newspaper Der Standard summarised Harper’s piece for their readers. Their story then received over 1,600 comments in response.

One immigrant in Vienna, who has been living in the city since the 1960s said they had no problem making Austrian friends.

“The Viennese may be world champions at grumbling, but you can still live well here. I love Vienna!”

"This man has not experienced Vienna," another wrote. "It would be more dangerous if the Viennese were friendly," they joked.

"A journalist should recognise that the temperature, difficult relationship-building during the pandemic, and the election advertising of a right-wing federal party are not indicators of the friendliness of a city," said another commentator. 

Others were more sympathetic: “If you move to Berlin, you are a Berliner after two days. If you move to Vienna, you are still not Viennese even after 20 years here and you get that feeling.”

READ ALSO: ‘Everyone smokes’: The biggest culture shocks of moving to Austria


World’s unfriendliest city?

Backlash aside, there’s plenty of people who agree with Harper – even if he did move to the capital during a Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite its world-leading liveability ranking, the 2022 Expat City Ranking by InterNations gave Vienna the dubious title of “World’s Unfriendliest City,” ranking the city in last place for both Ease of Settling In and Local Friendliness.

While Business Insider may have a newfound love for hit pieces on Europe, it doesn’t change the poor performance on friendliness polls for both Vienna individually and Austria as a whole.

READ ALSO: Why do foreigners find Austria such a difficult country to settle in?

The Local’s own readers have also sounded off on the topic in the past, remarking how Austrian – and particularly Viennese – unfriendliness was a massive culture shock for them.

“I still haven't got used to the fact that small talk is not really a thing here. 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,” said Matt, a Welsh man living in Vienna.

“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.”

READ ALSO: ‘Everything must be scheduled’: How to make friends in Austria

Do you agree with Daniel Harper? Share your experiences of settling in Vienna by leaving a comment or sending an email to [email protected].


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