What International Residents think of Austria
The basic idea of TourMyCountry.com is to provide information on tourist attractions and other Austrian things from the point of view of a local. In the article on what foreigners notice when they travel in Austria, I have collected a few impressions that tourists from abroad find interesting.
This article has proved to be a rather successful one and so I thought it might be interesting to do a sequel – in which I asked international people who were residents of Austria for a longer period of time what they consider typically Austrian or typical features of Austrian culture, especially with respect to social aspects. This time, I specifically asked for deeper views on the Austrian soul and not for spontaneous impressions that a tourist might gather. I hope this helps you to get some stimuli to think about Austria and its people.
O. is a student in Austria, married to an Austrian and originally from Eastern Europe. Upon meeting her husband, she has studied German and by now, she has lived in Austria for several years. When I asked her about things she felt were something specific about Austrians, she said that they (we) are very proud of achievements and like to show off – especially with things related to studies or jobs. Especially men she though could talk forever about what they did and why. The art of understatements is not very wide-spread in Austria. I agree with O. and don′t exclude myself.
F. is from the US and has lived for several years in Graz. She has worked in the management of a technology company. She mentioned her encounters with men in Austria: She found it difficult to connect to them and felt alienated by the way there was no formalised dating culture like in the US. She said that she usually had to make the first step to open a conversation. Nevertheless, she found Austrian men sexually aggressive and difficult do deal with on an emotional level. F. thinks that Austrian men have a tendency to be emotionally challenged and always have a dark side. I choose not to comment F.′s views.
O. is Irish (from Dublin) and lived in Austria (in Vienna) for two years as a student. He liked Vienna as a city, but found the Viennese "a bit quirky". He pointed out that Austrians are not the most friendly people on earth and lack patience in public communication.
B. is from the US and lived in Vienna, working as at a university. Apart from noticing that Austrians are – unlike their northern variant, the Germans – chronically unpunctual. Even at important business appointments Austrians are almost always late. B. noticed in general that the "corporate culture" in Austria is less rigid than in the US. She also noticed something about Austrian "officers" that I found very interesting: Be it secretaries, civil servants or any other official in a "power position" that you would like to do anything for you, they have a tendency to emphasise that they are doing you a favour, which you might have to return at some point. "In Germany", said B. "an official would show his power by pointing out the rules and stick to them, making you a beggar and then rejecting you.
In Austria, on contrast, an official would show you his power by pointing out the rules first and then – with a conspirational look – tell you that because they like you, they will use their power to make an exception for you, regardless of possible negative consequences for themselves." I fully agree with B. and think that this is in fact a very common behaviour in Austria.
I have experienced similar "favour deals" on many occasions. Keep in mind that the official will see you as his fellow conspirator and if the favour was big enough, might expect you to treat him equally when it comes to rules you might have to enforce upon him. This results in a distinct culture of corruption and shady deals that makes the Austrian business world fundamentally distinct from the German one and rather similar to the one in Italy or Eastern Europe.
T. is German, but half-Austrian. He is married to an English woman and has lived in both England and Austria (Vienna). He has made a comment that I personally regard as one of the most precise and remarkable characterisations of the Austrian soul and culture. He made the comment in German, so I try to translate it; note that Nazism is called "Nationalsozialismus" or "National Socialism" in German: "Austrians were probably never convinced National Socialists (ie. Nazis), but they were always and are still Nationalists and Socialists".
What he meant was that they are nationalists in so far as they exclude the World outside of Austria from their scope of perception, often hostile against all things foreign and ignorant even about things that happen 100 kilometres away from their home. But Austrians are also Socialists in the sense that they reject all responsibilities for their own lives and want the public to take care of schooling, universities, jobs and retirement – as long as they ("we") don′t have to work too hard.
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