Can you identify? Chronicles of a non-native

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In my last post I wrote about how we feel when we move to another country. But what distinctive attributes make us put the feet on the ground and realise…. hmm, where am I?

It’s not a question of saying if these attributes are better or worse but …different!! Sometimes a difference with a logic.

1.     It starts by the language itself. The German language is not the big “bogeyman” that everyone associates it with. I’ve learned that the German language follows a logic and that logic makes it easier to learn, like compound words:

Tag- day;  Buch – book   / Tagesbuch = diary
Kinder – children;  Arzt – doctor  /  Kinderarzt = pediatrist
kühl – cool, chill ; Schrank – cupboard, cabinet / Kühlschrank = refrigerator
schreiben – to write ; Tisch – table /  Schreibtisch =  desk, writing desk

Ok, just forget the
“Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” – I think almost no one use it anyway!!!

2.    No matter if you are a very intimate couple, a freshly married, mother of children or an old couple, get used to it, you will always have two blankets, one for you and another one for your other half. Even if the bed is 160cm or 180cm large. If you go to big Austrian stores or if you decide to have a romantic stay at an hotel and you ask for a big blanket don’t be admired if people look at you confused., like “why on earth do they need such a thing?”

OK, I recognise how practical it can be to have your own single blanket and still feel good in the morning without the sense of guilty that you’ve stolen something at night just for yourself.

In my case, I have to confess I have institutionalised the use of only one big blanket in our place! It worked 🙂 so far….

3.    Mixed sauna, naked!  I could write pages and pages about it. But let just say it that in Austria, as in other North-European countries they have a natural approach to culture as opposed to some other countries where public nudity is still a taboo, especially when shared by different sexes. Welcome to FKK (Freikörperkultur)= Free Body Culture.
(By the way, another compound german word!)

No, people here are not pervert nor “voyeurs”, they just sit there next to you  but always on their own, or sometimes with a group of friends and chatting normally as if they were on a Café house. I felt myself so many times uneasy and embarrassed and refused to do it. Now, I went one step further and I already go to mixed naked sauna when alone, with my boyfriend or people that I don’t know.

But this is still a controversial issue in my head! People like to keep a physical safe distance from you when you are a stranger, they still feel uneasy when sharing the same space on a lift or waiting on a supermarket queue, but they come together naked and without any problem into a small room sauna.

4.    Coffee and water are friends here! They come always together, hand in hand. Yes, if you order a Melangé, a Capuccino or just an Expresso, you will get also a small glass of tap water on the side.  And no, the water is not to dilute the coffee nor for digestion purposes.  it rather symbolizes how much the customer is valued. This beautiful custom dates back to the Orient, where coffee and water were very rare and precious items. So,  serving a glass of water with coffee, shows the guest how much he/she is valued.  So, go yourself to a Café House in Vienna and feel like a royalty.

5.    Planning, planning, planning!!  Everything goes around planning! Your next year’s holidays, your medical appointments, your meeting up with friends, your week, your day, your leisure activities, your goals, well mostly everything you can put on an agenda!! Yes, having an agenda is anyone’s primary tool for survival in Austria.

Your friend just called you last minute inviting you for a coffee- there can be two different replies: “let me check out in my agenda, no unfortunately I have already something set” , or  “hmmm, naja  it’s maybe too short notice, I was planning to stay at home”.  If you want to meet up with a friend for a coffee or just a night out, better to give him/her notice with minimum one week in advance, you have better chances to get already your name noted down on the vital agenda.

Apart from it, I think that planning is definitely a very efficient policy and this is what makes the country be more organised and work properly. Planning in advance is a synonym of prevention and can avoid lots of problems,  costs or even lives (I have in mind the big fires during this summer in Portugal, this would be another long article).

6.    Go on sports. If you don’t want to be left behind or feel an outsider, consider yourself taking part in some sports activity. Austrians love sports. All year round. It doesn’t matter if it rains, or if it snows, or if it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. On winter they go skiing or they go hiking with their snow shoes through the woods, in spring it’s the hiking and climbing season, in summer they go swimming in the lakes.  If you’re allergic to pollen or not fond of nature, you have no excuse! You can go cycling in the city. Vienna is a bike-friendly city, with lots of cycle lanes and the other drivers still respect you! Or you can just go to the gym and burn out some calories after eating a Sachertorte or an Apfelstrudel.

7.    Be ready for the green pedestrian signs when you want to cross the street and be fast. Most green pedestrian signs in Vienna only open for a very short time. You need to get yourself positioned as if you were running the 100 metres sprint.  If you walk normally, it might turn red when you’re still in the middle of the road.  It’s really like a time-bomb. You feel each second passing by and you get this torturing feeling that some driver will honk at you and call you names.  Nowadays I don’t rush anymore. Especially when I’m next to an old lady walking with her crutches or a mother with her baby trolley.

But when the signs are red, just admire yourself the new symbol of tolerance and diversity that the city of Vienna introduced in its traffic lights. This initiative coincided with the city hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015. The contest has become a showcase for sexual tolerance after it was won by Conchita Wurst, Austria’s “bearded lady”. Yeah, “Wien ist anders”.  And that’s why  I like so much to live here.




8.    On Sundays everything is closed. Well, almost everything. If it’s true that you won’t find any shops open on Sundays in the city, the opposite happens if you go to the Gasthäuser in the woods or in the countryside along the hiking trails. Sunday is a resting day in the city but the ‘day’ for outdoor activities. And that means, the majority of Gasthäuser and Hütten are open only for the weekend, where you can stop to have a break, eat something or even sleep if you have planned more than a one-day tour.




6 Responses




    • Patricia

      Amiga, obrigada pelas tuas palavras, sempre foram um forte apoio e trago-as sempre comigo. Ajudam-me a ultrapasar momentos difíceis e dão-me força para continuar. Muitos beijinhos 😘

  2. Stuart Schaffner

    Hi Patricia!

    I was in Patricia’s B2-Stufe Immersive German class in 2014. Due to the sudden death of my wife I had an opportunity to live for a few years in either Austria or Germany, provided I could get an Aufenthaltsgenehmigung (Green Card). I knew it was uncertain as I was retired. The answer was nein since I had no legal Grund dafür. Still, I spent several months in my favorite city Wien.
    I will make two comments about the German language. First, the language is beautiful! In particular, the Wiener accent is especially melodic. Second, German is an extremely powerful tool for expressing complex thoughts. One part of my immigration investigations involved making a cold call to an immigration lawyer in Wiesbaden. I was determined not to lose points by reverting to English. German in the hands of a good lawyer can be a powerful weapon indeed. As they say in the US, it was like taking a drink from a firehose. Every sentence was a paragraph.
    I am leading a good life here in Cambridge Massachusetts, studying music and photography. Still, I really miss Wien.

    • Patricia

      Hi Stuart,
      Nice to hear from you. Thank you so much for your kind words. Good to know that you are doing well and the things that you like. I‘m still living in Vienna, so if you plan to come to visit the city one of these days, just give me a call. Cheers, Patricia

  3. Paula

    É incrível!!!
    Somos irmãs e falamos com frequência, mas curiosamente, com excepção da lição gramatical, sempre boa de recordar e o tema do desporto, impossível de passar ao lado pelo próprio estilo de vida de que nos vais dando nota, foi de forma surpreendente e viciada que li esta publicação.
    As viagens sempre foram para mim uma forma de enriquecimento pessoal inigualável, mas viver num país é claramente diferente de o visitar. Deixa de ser só observação para passar a ser parte de nós.
    Espero que absorvas o melhor dos dois mundos, que recebas o máximo do país que te tem acolhido e que em troca dês o calor Mediterrâneo e a descompostura latina que trazem muita cor e alegria à vida.
    Tudo em nome da cultura da felicidade!!!

    • Patricia

      Obrigada mana. Fico contente por saber que leste o meu artigo com entusiasmo. Tu também sabes, melhor que ninguém como é viver numa cultura diferente da nossa. Torna-nos mais sábios, mais tolerantes, mais abertos ao mundo e às suas diferenças. É acima de tudo uma grande escola e embora essas diferenças se façam sentir muitas vezes, é também uma aprendizagem. Pois é sempre uma troca. Nós adaptamo-nos bastante mas também deixamos marcas. E normalmente essa troca de valores passa-se de forma natural, por isso é quase imperceptível. Existem muitos, muitos outros aspectos a referir, mas isso daria quase para escrever um livro.
      Beijinhos e obrigada pelo comentário.

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