Adapting to life in Austria can be tough, but understanding some of the key traits of the beautiful nation will help you get closer to understanding its people. Consider this your short guide to the hilarious/awesome/crazy things I’ve noticed from my first year living in Austria. These are the little things you need to embrace to truly uncover your inner Austrian!
1.Be on time. They really, really like being on time. The Germans and the Swiss have the more famous reputation but God help you if you’re not on time to meet an Austrian.
For an Austrian, to be 5 minutes early is to be on time. You have been warned!
2. Speak Austrian Deutsch. The language spoken here is technically German, but an Austrian variety. So a Potato is an Kartoffeln in Deutsch, but Erdäpfel in Austrian. German apricots are Aprikose, Austrian ones are Marillen, German tomatoes are Tomaten and the Austrian (specifically Viennese) tomatoes are Paradeiser….you get the idea.
These tricksy little differences separate the Deutsch from the Österreicher! I’ve been struggling to learn any German at all, and I think these dialects are why!!
3. Get used to Smoking. Austria is one of the few countries that has been sloooowww to take up any kind of smoking laws, because Austrians adore smoking. For a country that’s so modern in so many ways the smoking habits here make me feel like its still 1960.
Bars, restaurants and streetside you can buy super cheap packs of smokes (€4!). It’s legal at 16 meaning half the population is addicted by 17. It’s gross.
Even their healthiest export is into it!
4. Get nude! This is so normal here as to barely* rate a mention. Topless sun baking is the norm at all public swimming spots, be it beside the Danube, at a public pool or with your kids at the local swim spot. Nuding up is par for the course, particularly beside lakes.
While some areas are specifically reserved for this, people don’t tend to look twice at folk of all ages nuding up. Stay tuned for a later post about this and how it positively affects body confidence throughout the country – I reckon us English speaking folk have a lot to learn!
*sorry (not sorry) for this terrible pun!
5. Eat Dairy. There is dairy everywhere. Austrians love any kind of Dairy product – cheese, milk, butter, buttermilk, cream, creamy spreads, creamy sauces on meals, mayonaise in every salad…. it’s endless. I reckon its from their rural tradition of farming and loving their cows so much.
So versatile is their love of Dairy that they literally invented a drink made from ‘cheese juice’ – as in leftover juice from the cheese making process. Its called Latella. S loves it. The thought of it makes me wanna vomit in my mouth.
Milk & Fruit and CHEESE JUICE!! Belurgh!
6. Embrace Pork ‘n Potatoes. The diet of Austria is built on the back of a Pig – always served with generous helpings of Potatoes. More often than not, the potatoes are in salad, the famous Kartöffel Salad. Natürlich, the best Kartöffel salad is always made by Austrian Grannies. Pork cannot be avoided – they sneak it in Schnitzel, in salad, in cordon bleu, even in breakfast as a spread (the fat of the pig is made spreadable). Basically for Austrians, Pork = life.
7. Be Neat & Tidy. The enitre country is an OCD dream of cleanliness. Crossing the border into Austria I swear the fields get more organised, the streets are neater and everything is more orderly. There’s a woman on our street who has been spotted sweeping leaves from the footpath at midnight.
No joke – cleanliness is imperative. If cleaning your house isn’t enough, they have city wide initiatives in Spring to help clean the city for incomiung tourists…very serious business!
8. Holiday Often. Most Austrian work contracts have 5 weeks annual leave built in. Add to that the many many public holidays throughout the year (at least 14) and the ‘swing days’ ( if a public holiday falls on a Thursday you can normally get the Friday off too) and you have one very relaxed country.
Viennese Day off – very tough!
9. Be Polite. Normally, in any English speaking country when I get in an elevator, I avoid eye contact, clutch my phone and pretend i’m not surrounded by 20 other people in an enclosed space. Entering and exiting buildings I look busy, stride quickly and leave everyone the hell alone to do the same. Standard human interaction, no? Not so here. Every office I walk into someone greets you with a cheery ‘Gruß Gott’, you step out of a lift and a hail of ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ sends you merrily on your way.
I think this is part of Austrias very strong formal culture. In the villages of Tirol, if you walk past someone on the street its extremely rude to not say ‘Servus’ or ‘Gruß Gott’ in greeting. I personally love this – it gives your day to day interactions a little more cheer!
10. Get a Dirndl/Lederhosen, This is not mandatory, but super fun! I got my first Dirndl last weekend for a local ‘mini-Oktoberfest’ in Tirol and I loooovve it. Dirndl’s & Lederhosen are the traditional clothes of Austria, known as Trachten. They’ll lend you the air of authenticity while holding a beer and speaking broken Deutsch in a beer hall. Apparently Trachten are making a comeback in the fashion stakes so you can get yourself ahead of the game, like so….
Advising others on the benefits of a Dirndl…
11. ‘Where are you from?’ is a mandatory conversational topic. I don’t just mean asking which continent, or country. The first 15 minutes upon meeting anyone new is generally spent dissecting which particular region a person hails from. Points are gained if the correct answer can be picked from a speakers accent, double points if a specific village can be named. Maybe this is a European habit, but for Austrians its seems to be a particularly rewarding game – where if you guess correctly, friendly jibes and stereotypes are exchanged about each respective persons village.
12. Get Fit. Austrians love a good walk, or hike, or mountain bike, or rock climbing or going for a ‘Wandern’ – which is a hike that can go for hours. All this incredible countryside encourages outdoor fitness freaks. Then in winter there’s skiing, snow boarding, ice skating, or ‘touring’ which is hiking (again), but this time in snow, up a mountain. Yep. They’re bonkers about getting up those mountains.
No idea why they’d want to get all the way up here!
13. Love Winter Sports. They are waaayy more important here than any other sporting codes. It may seem obvious when you think of the climate, but still surprises me. I’m slowly getting used to the idea of watching ski races on a Saturday afternoon instead of the footy. Because Austria kind of sucks (on a national level) in popular European sports like soccer, they tend to embrace the stuff they’re good at, like skiing. Just don’t tell them they suck, you may be kicked out 🙂
Superflous shot of Austria’s best soccer player, Alaba, looking dreamy.
14. Daily Kaffe & Kuchen. The greatest Austrian habit of all – mid afternoon coffee and cake. Any & every day around 3pm is Kaffe & Kuchen time. You need no justification to stop your day, get yourself a coffee and slice of cake – Sacher Torte, Apfel, Marillen, Shokolade, whichever – then sit and enjoy 20 minutes of pure bliss.
15. Coffee must always come with a glass of water on the side. This is genius to the perpetually thirsty, like myself. I adore it so much and notice the lack in other countries now. The Austrians literally invented the idea of modern coffee in the 1500’s – when the fleeing Turkish Army left behind bags of coffee beans, the Viennese added milk, sugar and deliciousness – and have been perfecting coffee ever since. You can get your fix at these cosy Viennese cafe’s.
Note all the Dairy heaped on top!!
16. Dance Like no one is Watching. Dancing here is less of an art, and more of a group activity in clapping, hopping, jumping, flapping your hands and cheering along to lyrics. They may be famous for the Vienna Waltz season, but thorough research in many bars has revealed Austrians are much more partial to Macarena-like sing-alongs to folksy music, with corresponding dance moves that an entire dance floor will bust out. Its a thing of beauty to witness!
17. Grow a Moustache. The moustache ratio here is definitely above average, the most magnificent ones are tended to like 1940’s masterpieces. Its inspiring & hilarious to see them in the wild. My favourite moustache of note was spotted in the gym, on a be-muscled man who was sporting the very traditonal ‘handlebar with a twirl’ look. I wasn’t stalky enough to take a picture, but trust me when I say it was definitely a descendant of this guy:
Sadly, he was not wearing a leopard print onesie that Tuesday.
18. Hide your Office. Most offices are hidden in converted grand homes. Any Doctor, Dentist, or everyday appointment can occur in a gorgeous old apartment building, rather than purpose built, soulless concrete block. The buildings here are incredible, and finding the re-appropriated Optician’s office hidden in an apartment building from the 1890’s is an everyday architectural adventure!
19. Avoid the Viennese Attitude. Ah the Viennese reputation for gloom. Renowed for being grumpy, unhelpful and all round sad sacks, I can say this is only half-true. The true Viennese outlook on life tends to be more ‘its not so bad’ rather than ‘life is great!’ but you can find friendly people, and if you attempt a bit of Deutsch, they open up more.
20. Get used to Churches & Catholicism. Though changing with the new multicultural population, Austria is still very much a traditionally Catholic country. Most of the public holidays are on Catholic religious holidays, festivities are built around Catholic traditions and every second village in the countryside has a Catholic Kirche as its architectural focal point. Not such a bad thing when the Churches are as pretty as this:
21. Classify Water. Water is more than just wet stuff from a tap. Here, it has a number of classifications – prickelnd, mild & ohne. And there’s allegedly a difference in taste between tap water depending on what side of the Danube you live. This, more than anything tells you how much Austrians love a good classification process! Water is very sacred here as they treasure the good, clear product fresh from the mountains.
22. Love The Hoff. Yes, they are as mad for him as the Germans. No one is entirely sure why he’s so successful here. He came through Vienna in March and was still given VIP treatment at Volkgarten club and the Austrians (including S) went mad for seeing the original Knight Rider vehicle. They even nominated him to be a Governor for Styria! Check the article here. Allegedly the photo to go along with his nomination was something like this…
There are no words for this….
23. Enjoy Explicit Radio. Like anywhere, commercial radio in Austria is pretty repeptitive. Unlike anywere else, there isn’t a lot of censorship going on. You will hear full, explicit versions of everything. In the middle of the workday there’s old-school, full length Eminiem alongside tracks like ‘What’s my Motherf**in Name’. I’m no prude so it doesn’t really bother me but for those sensitive to swearing, beware!
24. Sunday Funday!! There’s no shops open on a Sunday here. So adapt your grocery habits accordingly, or you end up starving on a Sunday evening. Sunday is traditionally a ‘family day’ used to socialise doing non-capitalist activities, like long lunches at Grannies and playing in a park. Its a delightful way to force you to find something outdoorsy to do on a weekend. Number one choice of activitiy is to…
25. Wash your Car on a Sunday. The neat and tidy thing extends to vehicle maintenance, specifically spending your Sunday’s vigorously cleaning your car. This is regardless of weather or if the car actually needs cleaning. The gigantic queues at Carwash outlets can attest to the popularity of this pastime. The secondary church on a Sunday is the carwash.
26. Sit Down Boys. I’m talking about boys bathroom etiquette. They pee sitting down. Legitimately, taught from a young age to pee sitting down. I only realised this when I never had to put the seat down in our apartment, and upon some delicate quizzing established that its a non-issue here. Boys pee sitting down. Hallelujah!
27. Fashion Rules. Fashion here is…..classic? I’m still a bit bemused by Vienna’s fashion choices. I say ‘classic’ when what I mostly mean is a teensy bit boring. Classic cuts, nothing too zany, nothing too colourful (unless its fluro which, ick) and not a lot of risky choices. Wearing my Black Milk tights feel positively rebellious! (see my heaven here) However, Vienna fashion week is in September so I’ll withhold complete judgement until then. There’s also an adorable fashion and lifestyle blog here that’s helping me uncover the inner fashionista’s of Wien!
28. Learn to drink Beer. Austria is hovering up in the top 3 for biggest beer drinkers in the world. They knocked Germany off the perch recently and have some delicious varities of beer to back up the claim. My personal favourite is Weissbier, but the variety and cheap prices mean you can discover your personal favourite. Prost!!
Some extremely Austrian things here – Weissbeer, cigarettes, mountains & a lake. Oh and the human too.
So how Austrian are you??? I think I’ve still got a long way to go, so any other Austrian traits you can think of, let me know!!
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