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Behind-the-scenes Vienna

3 Jun

I caught the behind-the-scenes Vienna this morning, taking Mylo out for his walk. A few steps out of our house we passed a street cleaner in his bright orange uniform using an elaborate, clawed implement to pick up trash from the sidewalk and gutter. Upon seeing Mylo he gave us a big smile and said “Guten Morgen!”–a good start to the morning, indeed. Then, in the park, we saw the little (electric?) truck going along, one man driving and the other one walking along emptying the contents of the trash bins–considerable at this time of year as picnic season has begun–into the back of the truck. So that is why Vienna looks so clean. There is a crew backstage setting the scene just so.

Five

5 May

5ºC (about 40ºF) here this morning on the 5th day of the 5th month. I think the ice saints may have arrived early this year, like everything else. 😉

Customer service

4 May

I’m doing a bit of clearing out this morning and found a file with the beginnings, in some ways, of this blog. I’ve been jotting down bits and pieces from life in Vienna since long before there was even something called the internet. This one is about quite a controversial topic in the U.S. American / Viennese dialogue, customer service.

One topic that comes up again and again among U.S. American expatriates in Vienna is the quality of customer service. The general opinion is that it isn’t very good. My feeling is that it is different from what you get in the U.S.A. but not always worse. Yes, there can be grumpy and / or rude waiters especially in the traditional coffeehouses, who sometimes—but not always—become less grumpy when addressed in good German. On the other end of the spectrum I have stories of customer service I’ve received in Vienna that is so good it is off the scale.

First of all, there is the kind of customer service that the Viennese miss when they go abroad. In the words of a Viennese who has been a professor at a major U.S. university for over 25 years, “I miss sales clerks who know what they are talking about.” He was referring to the system of training people to be specialists that is still common in Vienna.

Shortly after he said this I experienced vividly what he was talking about. I have the kind of engagement calendar which is like a ring binder and for which I need to buy new inserts every year. I bought it because I liked the look of it, never realizing that it is not a common brand and therefore very hard to get inserts for. For a number of years I went to one store on Kärntnerstraße in the First District. Then they fell victim to the general trend of replacing Viennese stores that had been there for generations with the usual chain stores you find in every European capital.

After asking around, I found out that there was another stationery store, Mayr & Fessler, on Kärntnerstraße that might have what I need. I went off to see if they could help me. The young saleswoman I talked to knew exactly what I was referring to but said she feared they were out but that they usually got their weekly deliveries from that distributor on that very day of the week. She would call down to the stock room to see if the inserts I needed had come in that day’s shipment. In under a minute she was able to confirm that they had. In less than three minutes one of her colleagues had brought them up for me. Having worked in retail myself, I was much impressed that she knew that a shipment should have arrived and that she went to the trouble of checking for me. When I thanked her she said it was “selbstverständlich” (approximately in this context “her job”).

This was the same store that, on another occasion, after selling me the leads for my mechanical pencil offered to refill the pencil for me. When I saw that they put the leads in from the top, not shoved up from the bottom as I am wont to do, I asked the saleswoman to show me how she had done it and got a quick lesson in the manufacturer-approved method.

Then there is the customer service in Vienna that allows the customer as much time as he or she wants. (Granted this can backfire—sometimes you are allowed far more time than you want!). The Viennese are used to being allowed to sit for an entire evening in a restaurant and would be shocked to be rushed or even kicked out. You must ask for the check in a Viennese eatery or you will sit there forever. The waiter will never bring the check without being asked.

I know the system in the U.S. is different. Having worked a short stint as a waitress I am perfectly aware that restaurants live from turnover on tables and the wait staff live from their tips. I still had no comfort or explanation to offer one of my Austrian friends who was in Washington, D.C., on business. After a hard day’s work he went out with some other European colleagues (all high-level employees of an EU government body) to a restaurant recommended to them as one of the best in Washington. They enjoyed the meal and were lingering over their coffee. The waitress brought the check. They were in no rush to pay. The waitress made a few subtle attempts to get them to pay. They resisted. She finally asked them outright to pay and leave as she needed the table. At this point they complied, naturally, in their opinion, leaving no tip. As the waitress confronted them about this they explained their position. At this point the manager got involved—on the side of the waitress! Whatever else you may have to put up with in restaurants in Vienna (grumpy waiters, slower service than you are used to, problems paying at the end) I doubt you will find that you are first asked to leave and then expected to tip for the pleasure!

And then there is the extraordinary customer service, the customer service clearly based on the Golden Rule.

For example, there was the time someone called me from the main post office. She had a postcard for me on which there was no family name and no address but my telephone number. It’s a long story how that happened. The short version is that I had met a student from Korea on a coach between Oxford and London. She thought she might be coming to Vienna so I gave her my telephone number and asked her to call me if she came. She sent the postcard to let me know that she wouldn’t be coming after all and, as all she had was my first name and my phone number, she used that. The lady from the post office asked for my address, I gave it to her, and she sent along the card.

There was also the time when I was so impressed by the customer service that I interrupted a busy day to painstakingly write, in German, a letter to the head of the company about the incident. I had paid for a purchase at my local perfume store with my debit card. Then I made a change to my purchases which entitled me to a credit. I was told that only the amount of my final purchases would be charged. Yet when I did my bookkeeping for the month I saw that the credit hadn’t been taken into account. The store owed me a little over EUR 12. With very little hope I went back to the shop, wondering how on earth I would be able to explain what had happened and back up my claim. I had barely launched into my story when the saleswoman said, “We owe you EUR 12.05.” She reached into a drawer, took out an envelope with the money in it, gave it to me, and gave me a small present to make up for the trouble of having to come back. I shall be their loyal customer until they are taken over by the international chains taking over all the small shops in Vienna.

The Zoo in Vienna

3 May

The zoo at Schönbrunn is the oldest in Europe and has won prizes for the quality of its animal care. Evidence of this is the high rate of reproduction among the animals. Here they are celebrating the cheetah cubs born on April 16th.:-)zoo_cheetah cubs_2014

 

Camelot in Vienna

23 Apr

Mind you, no one has established a round table here where knights takes oaths of chastity and so on and vow to protect the weak and needy.  One could almost say quite the opposite as the right-wing student groups grow in strength. Nor do I mean the weather last summer when it was 40°C or so. (I, thank goodness, was not here so only have heard about it.) No, I am referring to the musical “Camelot” and the weather we’ve been having the last month or so, particularly the lines “The rain may never fall till after sundown, By eight the morning fog must disappear … The snow may never slush upon the hillside, By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.” For a while there it rained–and snowed–so little we getting a bit worried about lack of water. Now we can relax. It has been raining, but mainly after sundown. It has been absolutely amazing (but all that is supposed to change tomorrow). Ah, well. At least we had it.

The Easter weekend is coming

17 Apr

And Mylo and I took advantage of the fact that many people (e.g., clients) are out of town to go for a walk in Türkenschanz Park this afternoon. Here is some of what we saw.

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Two exhibition openings in one week

30 Mar

This past week I was at two exhibition openings, in each case at a Bezirksmusem.
Bezirk means “district” and is similar to what the Parisians mean with arrondissement. Therefore the exhibitions were at the small museums that serve each district in Vienna by maintaining and displaying things that are unique to that district. Sometimes these museums are located in the same building as the administrative offices for the district, as in the 18th district where I was on Thursday evening, and sometimes not, as in the 8th district where I was last Sunday. Usually they also house an auditorium that can be rented for different kinds of performances and occasions.
The exhibitions were completely different from each other and yet both fit perfectly the idea of what a Bezirksmuseum is for.
Last Sunday was the Day of District Museums in Vienna. Each district museum (there are 23) was open for most of the day and had its own exhibition on a common topic. In this case, the theme was—not surprisingly—“Vienna 1914: The End of an Era”. (People in other parts of the world may also be aware that this year marks the 100th commemoration of the start of the First World War.)
Each district in Vienna also has a name. For the 8th district this is “Josefstadt,” which explains why the exhibition was entitled “Josefstadt from 1900 to 1914”. If anyone doubts that there was enough going on in those 14 years to warrant an exhibition, allow me to put their minds at rest. It was a time in Viennese history when tremendous expansion was going on. When it seemed clear that the threat of the Turks overrunning Vienna was truly over (around 1858) the city walls were torn down, the famous Ringstraße with its stunning buildings was created, and the satellite towns were incorporated into the city proper. Josefstadt was such a town.
This meant that there was suddenly much demand for housing outside the first district and many of the Baroque houses—too small and too uncomfortable to accommodate the growing and ever more demanding population—were torn down to make room for much larger and, above all, taller buildings. (Sound familiar?)
New streets were created. Several existing streets, like Lange Gasse, were lengthened to open up contact to the—are you ready for this?—9th district. All of this expansion required new transportation and so new streetcar lines and then the Stadtbahn (literally “city railway”, now the U6, running along the old outer line of defense against the Turks) were constructed.
All of this meant that many open spaces, where old maps suggest gardens and orchards that provided food for the district, were built over. The improved transportation no doubt made it possible to bring in what was needed from areas farther out.
The 8th district is considered a very desirable neighborhood, and it was no different back then. The famous painter, Gustav Klimt, had his studio in the courtyard of a house on Josefstädter Straße. He, too, was a victim of the expansion. That house was torn down to make room for a bigger house with no room for artists’ studios, and Klimt had to move to the 13th district (also very desirable so my sympathy is somewhat limited). Apparently, though, he was so attached to his studio in the 8th district that he continued to use the address professionally.
Some of the obvious parallels from that era to this were highlighted by the talk given by the elected administrative head of the district. She mentioned a planned building that will cut off a historic view from the 8th to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. She didn’t mention the building of what has been referred to as the “phantom underground line U5”, but that, too, apparently is on the way. Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose.
On Thursday in the 18th district the exhibition was of ceramic pieces with modest price tags done by two residents of the district. The artists, married to each other, were both self-taught and had earned their livings doing something else. The guests were mainly friends, family, and neighbors, one had the sense. Music was provided by two ladies, one on the violin and the other on the cello and both well over 60 at a guess, playing Haydn(?) with an encouraging blend of skill, musicality, and love—true amateurs, then, who probably also live in the 18th. When one had sufficiently explored the artwork one could wander through the 18th district’s version of “Vienna 1914: The End of an Era,” more rural than in the 8th and as such fitting to the character of the district, which lies farther out. To round off the evening, the artists’ son and his partner danced the Tango Argentino.
So you see that, too, was simply a typical gathering at a Bezirksmuseum