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“First ice cream of the year?”

6 Apr

I was walking home from the supermarket on this Friday evening. In front of me was what I took to be a little family group–mother on the left, a tow-headed boy about six years old in the middle, and father on the right. The boy was licking with great enthusiasm a large and delicious-looking ice cream cone. His mother watched with pride and pleasure and said, “Das erste Eis heuer?” (“First ice cream of the year?”)

The German-language students among you may think “‘Heuer’? What’s ‘heuer’?” “Heuer” is Austrian dialect for “dieses Jahr” or “this year”. That tiny scene made me happy–that I have learned the language to the level where I know that immediately and that I live in a country that still respects the seasons (at least in some things). It is possible to get ice cream at the supermarket in winter, but if you want ice cream parlor ice cream you have to wait. The traditional places are closed from October to March. (They used to be turned into fur coat stores in the winter, but now, it seems, even the Viennese are not buying enough fur coats to keep them in business.)

You can imagine under these circumstances that the first ice cream of the year becomes an event.

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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 M├Ąderl?)

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!