Being in Vienna for several months now, I’ve pretty much become accustomed to the oddities I’ve seen here, but when I first arrived there were definitely some things that made me take a look around at my fellow travelers and question… “Wait, is this normal?”
Now, as a disclaimer I would like to say that some of these things are done by the majority of Europe in general, but to avoid the sassy “we don’t do that in the rest of Austria, that’s just in Vienna,” comments, I wanted to be as specific as possible. These are all things that coming from America (or at least Delaware to be more specific), required a bit of an adjustment.
Here are some silly things the Viennese do that shock my American brain:
1) Ride a scooter as an adult and not be considered a clown
The number of respectable adults I’ve seen riding scooters, (not like motorbikes, but actual push scooters that only children in America ride), is unreal. Women in business suits, old men, anyone really. I was at brunch at an outdoor cafe and one dude who apparently worked there rolled in on a scooter, fist-pounded the host, then another server, and rode straight into the back of the restaurant. Where am I?
2) Smoke… like everywhere.
One of the biggest shockers of moving here was seeing how people can smoke at so many restaurants and bars. It’s hard to go out at night and grab a drink without coming back reeking like cig’s. My winter coat absorbs the stench and I spend the rest of the winter walking around like a smoky marshmallow. I remember on the flight here they made an announcement reminding everyone that this was a non-smoking flight, and I was like well, duh, it’s the 21st century, don’t we all know that? It’s definitely more prevalent in Austria than I thought it would be. However, new laws are supposedly coming next year (2018) so stay tuned.
3) Use butter as a precursor for everything
Where I’m from in America at least, when you have toast, it’s either butter or jam (or any other spread). But in Austria butter is always step one. If you’re having cheese on bread, it’s butter and then cheese. Same goes for jam. I’ve seen many a strange look when I go straight to putting cheese on my bread or cracker without preparing it first. When I once put only a little butter on my toast before the cheese, my host dad’s dad (host grandad?) asked fervently, “Where’s the butter??” And I replied “Um, right there.” And he said “No, no no. What you put on the bread has to be at least as thick as the bread. Otherwise it doesn’t taste right.” I guess I should start buying looser pants.
4) Drown in their own sweat during the summer.
Don’t be surprised if you come here and go to a restaurant and it doesn’t have air conditioning. If this happened in the summer in the U.S, that restaurant would go straight down the tubes because nobody wants to sit at a restaurant and suffocate. But here, air conditioning is not so common. As my uncle said when he visited Vienna, “I’ve noticed these Europeans don’t have AC units. No wonder they’re always complaining about climate change.”
5) Consider Sunday an actual day of rest.
Sunday here is really a day of rest and not a day of anxiously cramming all your to-do’s into the last day of the weekend since you won’t have time to do them later in the week. Most things are closed, shops, supermarkets, Pie Factory, etc. There are still brunch places and some cafes open, but don’t expect to get your shopping done on a Sunday. Instead, you’re expected to rest and spend the day with family and friends.
6) Say farewell to clothes dryers.
Most people don’t have clothes dryers or if they do, they take ages to work and it’s almost not worth it. So don’t expect to be able to wash something and wear it that same day. But at the same time, I never have to worry about something I own shrinking in the dryer, or accidentally putting something in the dryer that is not dryer-friendly. So every cloud then, hey?
7) Forget the top sheets on beds.
I had stopped using a top sheet at home in the U.S and just used a fitted sheet on the mattress and a duvet on top, and my sister made fun of me, because it’s weird. But once you experience the comfort of not getting your legs tangled in the sheets you will never look back. That’s how it is here and now it’s the only way I know.
8) Urinetown is real life.
Paying for bathrooms? Absurdity. This isn’t instituted everywhere here, and Austria’s definitely not the only country that does it, but sometimes you have to pay to use a public toilet at places like McDonald’s, train stations, etc. This is ridiculous to me as using a toilet should not be treated as a privilege, and so often out of self-righteousness I will hold it until I get home rather than shell out the 50 cents.
9) Pay for something that falls from the sky
Now certainly not every restaurant here in Vienna sneakily charges you for water, but it does happen from time to time. I’ve learned to always specify that I want tap water (which by the way in Austria is 100% drinkable and delicious). One time, four friends and I went to a very nice restaurant during Vienna’s restaurant week because there was a set menu for 15€, and we knew that was probably the only way we’d be able to afford that place. When we got the check, water added an extra 17€ to the total bill. We may as well have just gotten wine at that point.
10) Always carry cash
At home it’s mostly just the obscure hipster places that are cash-only, but here it’s nearly everywhere. So make sure you always have cash in your wallet so you don’t come to a restaurant and eat your whole meal only to realize that you have to dine-n-dash (just kidding, never do that).
11) Bundle up as soon as it starts to get cold.
You would think Austrians would be used to a little cold since the winters here are so bitter, but I swear as soon as it starts to get a bit chilly as summer turns to fall, they whip out the parkas and boots. Maybe they’re just really psyched to break out their winter clothes. In September, I took the baby to the park and it was 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26°C) and I was in a tank top and jeans and sweating. I looked around and saw that all the other parents had themselves and their kids bundled up in sweaters and winter coats. Am I bad au pair because I didn’t bundle up this kid during beach weather??
12) Feel no obligation to be friendly towards strangers
This is the longest one because it is my major concern with the beautiful country of Austria. Whenever I receive proper customer service in Vienna, I feel it necessary to throw confetti over the person and say “bless you, friend!” At home, the waitstaff is all, “Hi, I’m Dana and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. What can I start you off with?” While here it’s just, “Bitte.” We Americans may be ignorant and loud, but at least we can toss a smile your way! And don’t you dare say something like “Well Americans are only friendly because they rely on tips.” No, no, no, no. In customer service roles, one is friendly because that is literally his/her job. Because being friendly brightens people’s days and your own day.
I worked in a restaurant in the U.S and even when I had repeat-tables who I knew didn’t tip well, that was no excuse to be rude and unwelcoming. Even my Australian friends, who find the concept of tipping absurd, also find Austrian’s customer service despicable. It just kind of puts a damper on the dining experience when it seems like the server hates you and you question what you did to deserve such treatment, replaying your entire interaction in your head for the next four hours only to come up empty handed. Waiters and most fitness instructors never introduce themselves (maybe so you can’t mention them on bad yelp reviews?) and warm smiles are reserved for one’s own friends, not just any goon they see on the street. Now, I’ve been told by other Austrians that this is only a typical characteristic of Vienna and that the countryside of Austria is much more welcoming, but I haven’t seen enough of the rest of Austria to confirm this ;).
No matter what goony things I encounter here in Vienna, it still feels like home! I hope this helps you know a bit of what to expect when coming to this awesome little nation.
Anything else you’ve noticed about Austria or other countries in Europe that make you do a double-take?
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