Archive | An (inter)cultural perspective RSS feed for this section

The backstage view of a Viennese house

2 Feb

The old (1970s) WienEnergie building on Spitalgasse has been torn down to make room for a new “campus” for the medical school of the University of Vienna. This makes perfect sense–the general hospital is nearby, the old general hospital was turned into a proper campus for the University of Vienna a little over 20 years ago, and one semi-public building (the utilities provider was municipally owned at one time and then hived off) will remain in public hands. (The University of Vienna is a public university.) In addition, not even this defender of older buildings is sorry to see the olive green and orange structure go. I’ll be curious to see what comes.

In the meantime, the clearing of the site has laid the neighboring house open to scrutiny and shows some interesting things about Viennese buildings and, in fact, culture. Appearances are quite important in Vienna. (A friend of mine who has lived in Boston, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Washington D.C. as well as in Vienna said that Vienna is the only city she has lived in where you got better service at the deli counter in the supermarket if you had put your make-up on.) For me, this focus on appearances is reflected in the relatively ornate facade of the house (the photo on the left) compared to the plainness of back of the house, with wing (the photo on the right). At the same time, it is often said that the imposing facades of the turn-of-the-century houses in Vienna hide some of the nicest aspects. These are for house residents only. This I see in what appears to be a small garden with a tree. That is probably quite a nice place to sit out–or will be again once the building project is complete!

An example of what is called a cultural artifact in the intercultural world …

I am forgetting my social graces

9 Dec

I have been in and out of a couple doctor’s offices recently and have gotten out of the habit of greeting people — “Grüß Gott” or “Guten Morgen” upon entering and “Wiederschauen” upon leaving. Must pull up my socks!

Georg Kapsch: The departing head of the Federation of Austrian Industries

13 Jun

This is something that really struck me when I moved to Austria – how the relationship between management and labor was more collaborative than in the U.S.A. There was a sense that Austria as a whole could only do well if everyone was doing all right, that economic success could not happen on the backs of one group.

In this interview, it becomes clear that Georg Kapsch is of the old school. A departing president of the body representing (big) business talking about how to close the gap between rich and poor and how to make sure everyone gets the education they need to be a contributing member of society? Seems pretty radical these days. I hope his successor is on the same page!

A link to the interview is below. Unfortunately, you do have to subscribe to the digital edition to read the whole thing.

https://kurier.at/wirtschaft/georg-kapsch-diese-sommerschule-ist-zu-wenig/400938857

“Gruß Gott!”

29 Sep

“Gruß Gott!” is still a common greeting in Austria, or at least in Vienna. Today, reading an interview in the Kurier with Thomas Schäfer-Elmayer, owner of the number one dancing school in Vienna and the Emily Post certainly of Austria if not of the entire German-speaking world, I learned something of the history and associations of the phrase.

He didn’t feel the need to explain but I do: The phrase (word-for-word translation “Greet God!”) is short for “God greet you.” (“Grüß Sie / dich Gott!”) He told a story, though, in which he was speaking at a technical / vocational high school and a student called him on using it because the student considered the greeting too closely associated with the ÖVP or Austrian People’s Party (a.k.a. the Conservatives).

To his credit, Schäfer-Elmayer looked into this claim and discovered that between the world wars it truly was a sign to others that one belonged to the People’s Party. His research showed that during this time–with what amounted to a civil war being waged in the streets of  Vienna–the hate between the Social Democrats (the Reds) and the People’s Party (the Blacks) was so great, people chose to signal their allegiance immediately in how they greeted other people. “Grüß Gott” for the Conversatives; “Guten Tag” for the Social Democrats.

The civil servants, who sought to remain neutral, as good civil servants the world over do, adopted–Schäfer-Elmayer said–the term “Mahlzeit” (usually said before a meal and then taking the place of “Guten Appetit”). This is an interesting take on the greeting, as I always assumed “Mahlzeit” had a similar function as the French “Rebonjour”. In current usage, you say “Guten Morgen” when you first run into someone in your place of work–in the morning–and “Mahlzeit” afterwards to indicate that you remember greeting them the first time. (Apparently, in French companies it is a rather large faux pas to use “Bonjour” twice in one day to the same person. I read that it is tantamount to considering the person so inconsequential that you don’t remember greeting them the first time. Source: Schneider and Barsoux, “Managing across Cultures”)

From 1938 to 1945,  apparently, “Mahlzeit” took on another use. People who wished to avoid saying “Heil Hitler” said “Mahlzeit” instead. I hear my mother–born in Berlin and raised there during the Second World War–saying, “Berliners just kept saying ‘Guten Morgen’.” Her comment is supported by Christabel Bielenberg’s incomparable memoirs, which I am currently re-reading, of living in Berlin as an Englishwoman under the Nazis. Even more of an aside here: that Berliner habit got my grandmother–my German grandmother, that is, not my English grandmother (complicated family)–into trouble when she visited her parents in their small town in Thuringia.

And so a bit of culture and history on this Sunday.

For German speakers, links to the Kurier interview and to the Wikipedia entry on some of the uses of “Mahlzeit” below:

https://kurier.at/freizeit/thomas-schaefer-elmayer-gesteht-ich-mache-auch-viel-falsch/400613615

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahlzeit

 

Only in Austria?

5 Jan

Austria has the reputation of being “gemütlich”–one of those words that is well-nigh impossible to translate. If you look in the dictionary, the primary suggestion is “comfortable” but “gemütlich” means much more than that. It implies, among other things, an appreciation for a slower pace of life and a preference for quality of life (if a choice must be made) over standard of living as well as for relaxation over precision.

At the same time, it’s not uncommon for Austrians to be very pragmatic in their pursuit of “Gemütlichkeit”. The image above, from today’s Kurier, informs readers of the best times to take vacation, where “best” is defined as getting the most days off while still using the fewest vacation days (and this in a country where five weeks of vacation per year is the legal minimum).

How does this work? Because Austria, unlike the U.S.A., celebrates its holidays on the day they happen, we have something called “window days” (“Fenstertage”). These are the days that fall between a holiday and a weekend. The graphic above shows where the window days fall in 2019, making it easier for people to get the most out of their vacation days.

Only in Austria?

At it again

7 Oct

Austria cleaned up at the EuroSkills competition (for people learning trades and crafts) for the fourth time in a row with a total of 21 medals. Russia (a rather larger country than Austria, if I may point that out) came in second with a total of 19. The Russians did have more gold medals (nine to Austria’s four), but still. I’m so glad there are still countries that promote and reward the trades!

Three Kings 2018

6 Jan

Just went out with my dog and discovered a large group of Japanese tourists walking around looking somewhat at a loss. It’s Three Kings today and a holiday in Austria  and therefore the shops are closed. Poor things. Their tour guide doesn’t seem to have taken that into account.

On the streets of Vienna

5 Jan

I’ve been meaning to tell this story for a long time. I find it illustrative of a particular trait especially among old ladies in Vienna, that is, their tendency to comment on things one might think were none of their business.

A friend of mine, many years ago now, was waiting for the bus to take her cat (in a pet carrier) to the vet’s. A little old Viennese lady came up to wait, too, and started a conversation–something that almost never happens in Vienna unless you have a pet with you. The conversation took place in German and went something like this:

Little old Viennese lady (LOVL): Dog or cat?

My friend (MF), with a big smile: Cat.

LOVL: Boy or girl? (In Viennese dialect: Bub oder Mäderl?)

MF: Boy.

LOVL: How old is he?

MF: Six months.

LOVL: Castrated?

MF: [!?!?!?!?!] No! He’s too young!

LOVL: My dear woman, it is high time!

The Third Day of Christmas

27 Dec

What a surprise it was to step onto the street today shortly after 8 a.m. for the first walk of the day and find people and cars and open shops and simply activity in general!

For many, my surprise will be incomprehensible. Was it really so quiet the last few days? Yup. Shops usually close in Vienna at midday on Christmas Eve and remain closed for Christmas Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen (known in the UK as Boxing Day). This year, however, Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, when most shops are closed all day anyway, which meant that we have had three days of wonderful peace and quiet (and a most unusual abundance of free parking spaces) with the Viennese enjoying one of their favorite things–Ruhe (also known as peace and quiet).

NYTimes: Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe

8 Aug

Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe https://nyti.ms/2uzbiyq

The Times makes the point that this is a tradition mainly in German-speaking countries. That’s in keeping with the respect for apprenticeships I’m so fond of writing about.