Tag Archives: everyday life

Wien ist ein Dorf (Vienna is a village)

25 Jul

This evening I decided to try out a pizzeria, highly recommended by friends, near Maylo’s vet. The head waiter came to take my order and opened with “Hallo, Nachbarin!” (“Hello, neighbor!”) I looked up and saw the man who was my neighbor for a number of years before moving out a few years ago without a word to me. Vienna is, as people keep telling me, a village.

It’s the little things

11 Mar

It’s so often the little things that make life happy, or, to be honest, make it a pain. This morning was loaded with little things that made it happy–translucent weather, a healthy little dog enjoying his walk, no classes to teach but in the knowledge that I had done good work this week and have earned a break, our usual trip to the Trafik for the Saturday paper, and an especial trip to the bakery to get a baguette for supper tonight. Ahhhhh.

Vienna time

14 Nov

Some of my readers know that I have been in the U.S.A. for a few months now. Shortly, I will be heading back to my life in Vienna. It’s been a wonderful time here and I am also looking forward to going back.

I’m looking forward to going back partly because of a photo a friend sent of the vineyards in Neustift magnificent in their autumnal splendor, but it was also helped by a drive to visit friends outside of Boston yesterday. I realize that along with Hall’s concept of monochronic and polychronic time and Levine’s studies of the pace of life there is another aspect of time not yet researched (that I know of)–when the periods of high activity are vs. the periods of low activity. I assumed (having now internalized Viennese time in a way I wasn’t aware of) that my hour and a half drive on Sunday morning at least would be restful. (I was mentally prepared for a Sunday afternoon rush hour.) I thought people would be enjoying a quiet Sunday morning at home with family, the newspaper, and a nice breakfast. Imagine my shock when by 10 a.m. the traffic was only slightly less heavy and fast than on a weekday. (The drive back late Sunday afternoon was completely overwhelming to someone who avails herself of public transportation wherever possible.)

The other side of this is that I’ll be going to the supermarket today and expect to have an easy time of it. This is something I try to avoid in Vienna as a lot of people go on Monday because the stores are closed (thank God) on Sundays. My experience here over the last few months tells me I’ll probably have an easy drive and short lines at the cash registers. Many people did their shopping yesterday instead.

Different periods of high activity and low activity …

“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.”

Sunday opening hours

14 Sep

I have left my Grätzl this morning to visit one of my “Viennese nieces” at her weekend job. She works in a bakery, and that in itself tells a story of change–and yet stability–in Austria. One sign of change: when I moved here nothing (except a few designated pharmacies) was open on a Sunday. Ran out of milk? Want fresh rolls for Sunday breakfast? Too bad.

The other sign of change: even now it is very unusual for a student at a Gymnasium (those extremely demanding high schools that are such an integral and quintessential part of Austria’s education system and whose diploma is the sole prerequisite for university entrance here) to have a job during the school year, especially if they don’t need the money. When I first arrived in Vienna it would have been unthinkable.

Then comes the stability: While my niece in the USA, almost the same age, is working every free moment to buy a car, I’m pretty sure my Viennese niece is not planning to use her earnings that way. Somehow I don’t think it would be a top priority even if she lived in the country rather than in this city of exceptionally good public transportation. Indeed, her sister in the meantime has pointed out that she doesn’t even have a driver’s license! 😉

Culture has not yet entirely converged in this globalized world, if, indeed, it ever will.

The Chimney Sweep

11 Mar

The chimney sweep is in the building this morning. This means that we all have to be home so that they have access to our water heaters and flues, otherwise we get a nasty little reprimand and have to be here the next time they come.

They come once a year to carry out various checks that are closely tied to safety issues. Most people in Vienna have what is called a “Durchlauferhitzer” (what my father, a Brit, called a “geyser” and leo.org calls, more precisely, a “continuous flow water heater” or, simply, a “continuous flow heater”), which are a wonderfully efficient way to heat your apartment and your water because they only heat the water as you use it but occasionally, when incorrectly installed, badly maintained, or when used with a blocked flue can cause serious accidents. Thus the annual visits from the chimney sweeps.

Before I came to Vienna I associated chimney sweeps with Dickens (six-year-old boys being sent up chimneys with brushes) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, with P.L. Travers (men dancing cheerfully across the rooftops in London). Here it is simply one of the trades, and a good trade at that. One of my colleague’s sons has chosen it as a pleasant, steady way to earn a living. And, thanks to a good PR campaign, people are usually glad to see the chimney sweeps. They are supposed to bring luck–as I suppose they do if they prevent grisly accidents!

Another website

24 Oct

In looking for information on Austrian demographics (in which I found out that in 2006 about 9.8% of the people living in Austria were non-Austrians, which is one of the highest percentages in the EU) I came across this website with impressions of Austria written by an Austrian: http://www.tourmycountry.com/austria/unique-austria.htm I wanted to share that with you.

Living without a car in Vienna

12 Oct

Once again something from today’s Kurier.

In the city section the Kurier reported on an apartment complex built 13 years ago in Vienna’s 21st district where the rental contracts require residents to commit to neither owning a car nor using one regularly over a longer period of time. Over 700 people have chosen to live this way, filling the complex to capacity.

This is possible, in part, because of Vienna’s exceptional public transportation. But the Viennese mentality, with its deeply-rooted ambivalence about cars, also supports the creation of such a space. The Viennese, for the most part, accept the taxes and so on that make owning and driving a car in Vienna (and Austria) very expensive. For years they have resisted the various campaigns to get car drivers to rebel (although the system of parking permits recently introduced by the red-green coalition currently governing Vienna have finally managed to anger them).

One of the greatest advantages of signing away one’s right to a car should be rather obvious. The money that otherwise would have gone into building a large garage for residents has instead gone into landscaping, which includes large green spaces and even a goldfish pond, and nicer communal rooms for events with even a shared bike repair workshop in the basement. (Well, you would need that, wouldn’t you. ;-))

The assumption was that such an apartment complex would attract a certain kind of person–someone who might choose to have greater control of how the work around the complex is done–and that has been borne out. This means that the work of the Hausverwaltung (the property management, usually outsourced to a specialized company) has been taken on by a group of residents, saving all of them about 1/3 of the usual costs–and the incredible frustration that most Viennese experience when dealing with such a body.

There are, of course, tensions. About 10% of the people do own cars having, as one resident expressed it, “… all the advantages of the facilities without sticking to the rules, and thereby taking away the chance for someone else who would be interested in living in the complex.” In addition, as a kind of co-op housing arrangement residents have the option to buy their apartment after a specified number of years. The no-car rule doesn’t seem to apply after purchase, which another resident said “waters down the concept of freedom from cars.” And there are some political tensions. The initial plan has Green Party written all over it. There’s some feeling that the “Reds” (the Social Democrats, for decades the indisputedly dominant party in Vienna) don’t stand behind the concept and will not be building more in the area–too afraid of losing power to the Greens in the district, according to some of the residents.

That said, in a side bar the Kurier reported on seven new housing projects, scattered around Vienna and supported by the Social Democrats, which will marginalize the cars. For example, the garages will be built on the edges of the developments, leaving the central green spaces free from cars, and residents will have all kinds of other options like car-sharing and free yearly passes for public transporation in their first year of residence.

Out of interest I checked some car ownership statistics because I have the impression that the number of cars in Austria has jumped dramatically since I arrived 25 years ago. The data I could find doesn’t bear this out, but then the earliest year I could find numbers for was 2003, 15 years after I arrived. Since I went to the trouble of getting it, here it is:

In 2003 there were about 4m cars on the roads in Austria (with a population of 8.1m that makes not quite half a car per person ;-)). In August 2013 there were 4.6 m cars and a population of 8.4m making it a little more than half a car per person.

Clearly this would be more interesting if I could make some comparison to the USA, for example, but when I tried to get the data I received the following message: “Due to the lapse in government funding, census.gov sites, services, and all online survey collection requests will be unavailable until further notice.”

Thanks to Statistik Austria for the information on car ownership and population (http://www.statistik.at/web_de/statistiken/verkehr/strasse/kraftfahrzeuge_-_bestand/index.html ).

The information about the apartment complex in the 21st district comes from the article “Ein Leben (fast) ohne Auto” by Josef Gebhard and appeared in the “Chronik” section of the Kurier on 12 October 2013.

It’s spring

7 Mar

I have just had my first ice cream cone of the season–chocolate and strawberry–at one of the best ice cream places in Vienna, Bortolotti’s at Schüttauplatz, in the 22nd district.  That’s special in Vienna because most of the smaller ice cream places close from October to March. (Some of them even turn into fur coat shops for that time.) It’s the family’s only chance to recover from a relentless summer season and it fits the Viennese idea that there is (still) a season for certain things. Well, I am old-fashioned and like that. It means one appreciates those things more. 🙂

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 Kreislaufzusammenbrüche; 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!