Since 2010, I have spent a reasonable amount of time in Austria on and off. It has been enough time to have visited all nine federal states, make a few good friends there, and even start to understand something when people speak to me in their dialect (especially Upper Austrians).
In that time, there are several things I’ve grown to love about that country…and just a few things that I really haven’t.
I love…the public transport
The public transport in Austria is generally excellent, in my opinion. It is state owned, meaning prices are fair, trains, buses and trams are clean and usually punctual, and the network is so comprehensive that I have never wished I had a car instead (not that I would drive anyway; I’ve forgotten how to do so), even when travelling to the smallest town that even most Austrians have not heard of.
I hate…that everything is dubbed
Though I don’t watch television myself, I do find it a shame that everything that is not already in German shown in Austria is always dubbed. I mostly only notice this through my EFL students, who usually don’t even know Homer Simpson’s trademark expression because it’s dubbed over in the German language version. There are a few cinemas in larger cities where you can find subtitled rather than dubbed foreign language (usually English) films, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
I love…paying separately and tipping
I just love being able to sit down in a restaurant with friends or colleagues and not have that awkward moment when the bill comes of having to decide whether to split it or negotiate paying for your own part by cobbling together the exact change. This is because in Austria, when dining in a group, you’ll usually be asked whether you want to pay zusammen oder getrennt? (‘together or separately?’), and if you wish to pay separately, you simply tell the waiter what you had, they cross it off the bill and add up your total for you, giving you your change then and there. It is also common, but not expected, to verbally round the amount up to the nearest euro when handing over your cash and receiving the change from that amount, thereby tipping directly when you pay, which is just so much less messy than leaving a few coins scattered on the table when you leave.
I love…the easy hiking
Austria has some beautiful countryside, with pretty much everything from forests and river valleys to alpine lakes and imposing mountain landscapes, and everywhere there are well marked, easy to follow hiking trails that you can quite easily do without a map or compass.
I love…the Apfelstrudel
Austria is famous for its cakes and pastries, and there isn’t one that’s more typically Austrian than apple strudel…and it is glorious! It’s also the least creamy option from a bakery, where most things are usually filled with cream (though they are unlikely to ever be vegan as they usually contain butter and probably egg).
I hate…the smoking
Unfortunately, smoking in public places in Austria has not been banned and the laws that are in place to segregate smokers from non-smokers are poorly enforced. Technically, if a café, restaurant or bar has a surface area of less than 50m2, then it must choose to be either smoking or non-smoking, and if it is larger, it must have a separate smoking and non-smoking area. The former works fine, as you can simply avoid smokey places and patronise non-smoking ones if you wish, but the latter usually just means two vaguely defined spaces where the smoke can drift from one to the other without any barrier in the way. Since the proportion of Austrian adults who smoke is rather high (about 43%) this is going to take a while to change.
I love…the weather
Central Europe in general has much more pleasant weather than what I was used to growing up in the UK. Winters are cold and snowy but often crisp, dry and still, meaning that even if it’s -14ºC, it’s quite tolerable if you dress appropriately. Conversely, summers are long, hot (30ºC is common in June, July and August) and dry too, making it a great time to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Spring seems to only last for a month or two (around April), and is probably the wettest time of year, along with the slightly longer autumn, but is still perfectly pleasant and reasonably predictable.
I love…the health food shops
Every larger town and city has one, usually on the main square, and are called Reformhaus. These can be great places to get some healthy snacks like dried fruit, nut bars and organic and vegan chocolate as well as a range of dairy-free milks, tofu based products and even organic cosmetics.
I hate…the racism
Coming to Austria from London for the first time back in 2010, I was shocked to see how heterogeneous Austrians are in comparison to people from my hometown. Certainly, many Austrians have heritage from Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy and Czech Republic, but they are still mostly white and there are not many immigrant groups from outside Europe in the country, and those that are there are often treated with suspicion and disrespect, especially outside of the cities.
I love…the naked saunas
Who doesn’t like being naked and sweaty in a dark, damp room full of strangers? While in many parts of southern Europe and indeed the UK, you would enter a sauna or steam room with your swimwear on, in Austria this is considered extremely odd and everyone goes naked, men and women together. I find this wonderfully freeing and there is no judgment or giggling at other people’s bodies, just polite silence while you warm your toes and open your pores.
Have you visited Austria? What did you like or not like about it?