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May Day or The Band Played in Tune

1 May

Today is May Day, International Workers’ Day, and a public holiday in Austria among other places. One of the many parades has just passed under my window on its way to City Hall, where there are various celebrations. Because this is Vienna the marching was relaxed and not entirely tidy and the band played musically and in tune.

May Day has a lot to do with Vienna, the city government here being predominantly socialist. There is a lot of red around–flags and flowers and so on–and, true to the apparent Viennese belief that even those who earn less well should be able to enjoy the good things in life, the wine served at the City Hall festivities is decent.

Some things are changing, though. The Social Democrats no longer have an absolute majority in Vienna, as they did for decades. They now govern in a coalition with the Green Party. That may help explain why public transport runs on the usual holiday schedule on May Day rather than not starting until about 2 p.m. as used to be the case, something I found out the hard way my first year in Vienna when I was trying to get to lunch at friends’. (I ended up walking. Luckily, it wasn’t far but I felt I had earned my Schnitzel!)

The People’s Party (Volkspartei (VP), essentially the Conservatives) has its own Fest this coming weekend. Like many things in Austria, the system of providing a “red” option and a “black” option (the color of the VP is black) is alive and well, even if the idea of Proporz–divvying up positions on boards in state-owned industries and other bodies according to who came out on top in the last national elections–is dying out with those same state-owned entities.

Roof avalanche

22 Jan

All around Vienna you see these signs in winter.

image

They always make me smile because “Dach” means “roof” and “Lawine” means “avalanche”. Seems like such a dramatic way of describing the snow that slides off the roof.

The Viennese and their weather

19 Dec

It occurred to me that those of you who have never lived in Vienna might wonder why I have a special tag for the weather. That is because we have a lot of it in Vienna. 😉 At least, the Viennese are very aware of their weather and talk about it a lot–not in the way the British do, as a kind of safe subject for small talk, but as an explanation, not to say excuse, for all kinds of things. Everybody is short-tempered? Must be the weather. You’re tired even though you slept well last night? Must be the weather. You’re dizzy? Guess what. Must be the weather.

There is, in fact, one weather phenomenon known to cause some physcial symptoms–Föhn. This is more common in Innsbruck, but that doesn’t stop the Viennese from talking about it. I once had the joyful job of trying to explain Föhn (pronounced rather the way Inspector Clouseau as played by Peter Sellars pronounced “phone”) to a group of American visitors. At the time I believed, because my Viennese friends had told me this, that it was a hot wind coming up from northern Africa. Now there is Wikipedia and I can tell you with authority that it is a “warmer trockener Fallwind” or a warm dry wind that comes down over a mountain (great diagram at: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallwind). What does it feel like? Perhaps it helps to mention that Austrians use the word Föhn for  “hairdryer”  rather than the more standard Haartrockner.

But what does it do, this warm dry wind coming down off the mountain? The most common complaint associated with Föhn is headache. But sometimes you also hear of someone suffering from a Kreislaufzusammenbruch (Kreislauf = circulatory system; Zusammenbruch = breakdown). The first time a business partner called to cancel an appointment because she was suffering from Kreislaufzusammenbruch I gasped and said, “Are you calling from the hospital? Can I do anything to help?” She was audibly amused and said no she was at home but not up to a meeting. Life-threatening as it sounds, Kreislaufzusammenbruch does not usually require medical intervention. It makes the sufferer feel dizzy and miserable, but is not usually serious and is usually quite short-lived. (The circulatory system, by the way, is to German speakers what the  liver is to the French. We have KreislaufzusammenbrĂŒche; they have crises de foie.)

In spite of my New England upbringing, where external factors are seldom an excuse for falling down on the job, I notice that I have lived in Vienna long enough to feel it, too. Got a headache? Must be the Föhn!

Viennese dialect and I

21 Jul

For years I have fondly been telling myself that I understand Viennese dialect. (I have even learned to say a few phrases.) This belief has been based on a certain facility to understand what is said in Hans Moser* films and has been supported by Viennese friends who speak high German with me, albeit with a Viennese accent. One thing about walking Mylo, though, is that I run into people who have no idea that I am a foreigner and who speak with me as they speak with other Viennese. And I understand, if I am lucky, about half of what they are saying! Quite a shock just before the 24th anniversary of my arrival in this city.

*  A wonderful Viennese stage and film actor (1880-1964) who often played the concierge or a similar role and was famous for his melancholic demeanor and how indistinctly he spoke.

Waterproofing a raincoat

21 Jul

Imagine my surprise when the dry cleaner asked me if I wanted to have my raincoat “impregnated” (in German “imprĂ€gniert”). Just one possible pitfall when navigating life in German … 😉

The Viennese dialect

26 Nov

I am working in Slovakia this weekend and have discovered the root of  a word in Viennese dialect (not so surprising given that Bratislava is only 60 km from Vienna and was part of the Austrian empire off and on for centuries). I knew about some of the food terms that have slipped into Viennese, like “Golatsche” (what we call a Danish pastry in U.S. American English). In this case it was not a food term, and I discovered the connection completely by chance.

Yesterday evening I was working with a group of Slovak managers and had them drawing pictures to illustrate a certain point we had been talking about. As one group was presenting their picture one participant broke into Slovak and asked a question about what was on the dog’s head. I don’t speak Slovak but when I heard the word “Mascherl” I jumped. Then I repeated it and said “You’re talking about the bows in the dog’s hair, right?” They were much less surprised than I was and said calmly, “Yes, is it the same in German?” and I said, “Only in Austrian German. In Germany a bow tie, for example, is a ‘Fliege’.”

Linguistic fun!