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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

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.


In Düsseldorf

19 Jan

Am waiting to board the last plane to Vienna this evening and am interested in the information about Vienna they are showing on a screen–that there are more people buried in the main cemetery (2.5 m) than live in the city (1.8 m) and that there are over 300 balls a year. Fun to have another perspective!


And the former president …

4 Dec

And the former president of Austria, Heinz Fischer, recently was at a gala concert in the Musikverein to celebrate pianist Rudolf Buchbinder’s 70th birthday. One thing I have always appreciated about Fischer is that he likes classical music and can often be seen at concerts, usually without any obvious security. The first time I saw him, I was dissecting a concert with some Austrian friends and interrupted to point and say, “Der Bundespräsident!” They glanced over and said, more or less, “Of course. What did you expect? He often comes to concerts” and turned back to continue our conversation. What did I expect??? A security detail taking the president out through a back passage, not this short, middle-aged man walking out alone looking contemplative.


“Wie geht’s?”

22 Sep

One of the first phrases one learns in any beginning German course, “Wie geht’s?” means “How are you?” Simple, it seems. And yet it is important to know that there is no one-to-one correlation in how those phrases are used in Germany / Austria and the U.S.A.

First of all, in German “Wie geht’s?” by itself is quite informal. Ideally, you remember whether you are “per du” with someone or “per Sie”, the former being the informal you (like “tu” in French) and the latter being the formal you (like “vous”). If you are “per Sie” then the correct phrase is “Wie geht’s Ihnen?”–a German lesson in and of itself including relatively advanced concepts like the dative. If you are “per du” then “Wie geht’s?” by itself is acceptable or you could say “Wie geht’s dir?”

That’s the language lesson associated with that simple phrase. Then there are the intercultural aspects. In German, you only ask the question if you really want to know. This usually means you only ask people you know well, where you are prepared to hear a relatively long and truthful account of their current state of being (no “Fine, thanks, and you?” when someone’s back hurts or life is falling apart). It is acceptable to ask a stranger if there has been some kind of accident and you want to make sure the person is all right, but the general use of “Wie geht’s” simply does not exist here. For example, you would never find a salesperson asking you as you come into the store, even though “Schönen Tag!” (“Have a nice day!”) does seem to have crept into the language.

For years, I had a not entirely earned reputation of being a nice person, because I asked colleagues and clients alike “Wie geht’s” and listened patiently as they chronicled their aches and pains. The danger should one ask and then not listen to the answer is that one is labeled “superficial”–a grave allegation in this relationship-oriented culture.

Because I asked, though, I have also found some answers that have always intrigued me and that are, I believe, typically Viennese. One is “Lei’wand” (short for “Leinwand” or movie screen), which is generally interpreted to mean “Great!” The other goes deeper into the Viennese mindset. Sometimes people, especially those lower down on the socio-economic scale, answer, “Wie die Anderen wollen” or “As the others would have it”, expressing a sense that they do not control their destiny, are subject to the whims of others. So much for “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”