Journals from Vienna 2008
2008-10-13 Mid Semester Reflections
There are many things about Austria that are different than I had expected, some positive and some negative. One of the main differences between what I had hoped for and what I have seen, is that coming to Austria did not put me in a time machine and take me back to a century or two, when royalty still rode through the cobblestone streets in horse buggies. I painted myself a picture of an Austria where the young kids do not walk around text messaging, where people would rather read a book than watch television, where people wear traditional clothing and sing traditional folk songs, a simpler life in a simpler time; however, I should have known I was wrong to believe a place like that actually exists. The first week of our trip in Austria we spent in a small village called Dorfgastein, a place that I continue to long for day and night, because it was very close to that fairytale land of my dreams.
Living in Vienna is much different than living in the rest of Austria, which is to be expected, as there are approximately 8-9 million people living in the country, and just short of 2 million living in the city. It is very similar to America in this sense, life is always going to be different in the city than in the country or the suburbs. What depresses me about Austria and Europe in general, is how very similar the young population (teens and pre-teens) is to the younger generations of America. Sadly, American television, pop culture, and attitude has seeped in to the pores of these children, closing the cultural gap between the two countries, and slowly phasing out the Austrian in people. Though there is still much culture in the country, it is, I guess, not exactly what I had expected, but it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on this earth.
The most difficult thing to adapt to here in Austria thus far has been dealing with all of the stores being closed on Sunday, and in addition to that, closing so early on weekdays. It really takes planning ahead for me, especially considering Sunday has traditionally been the day that my mom and I would grocery shop. One just becomes so accustomed to being able to shop at Winco foods 24 hours a day 7 days a week, including holidays, that it is really tough to plan when to go to the store. Not to mention how different grocery stores are in general: smaller store, smaller carts, completely different offerings, and the cashier is allowed to sit down at the check-out stand. Maybe everything seems so small to me due to the fact I spent my summer working at Costco, the Texas of grocery stores. Personally, I would say that I prefer the Austrian grocery store to the American store, simply because the food is not packed with preservatives and tastes much better.
Living life in another language is both the most beautiful and strangest thing I have ever experienced. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world to have a conversation with an Austrian all in German, and to feel a sense of understanding with one another. Being able to speak another language is not even what I am proud of at this point. Learning and experiencing another culture is much gratifying, but the language is just the path to having this experience. The longer I am here, the better my language abilities become, and the more opportunities I am going to have to learn this culture and lifestyle; that is one of the greatest opportunities one can have. It is especially gratifying as an American, since learning languages is not something America is known for, to be able to come to another country and communicate with the people living here in their language. Strange it is, to feel so at home here with this language and culture, that I am in fact at home.
5. How do the Austrians perceive the US?
If you ask someone how they feel about American people as opposed to the leadership in America, you may find yourself with very different answers. In general, America is viewed positively here in Austria, as our country gave them quite a bit of aid after World War II. However, the Bush administration is not seen very positively here, though that seems to be fairly normal throughout the world. Being that it is an election year, when I meet people they often want to talk with me about politics. One question inevitably comes up in every political conversation: how do you feel about George W. Bush? Then the person will likely proceed to tell me that Bush has really messed a lot of things up. However, I have yet to hear someone tell me that America has really messed things up. For example, the current financial market fiasco: many people feel that the current administration is to blame, not necessarily America in general. Essentially, the people here tend to view the US favorably, but perhaps not our government.
It is a bit tough to travel as an American, because there is so much that we take for granted in our country. For example, in America, when one orders salad one certainly receives salad dressing with it, but in other countries this may not happen. Basically, the concept is that nothing comes for free, and that if you want ketchup with your French fries, you are going to pay 25 cents for it. I definitely miss all of the freebies that one receives in America. On the other hand, it is nice that a good tip for a server in a restaurant here is just to simply round up to the nearest full Euro. The fifteen percent rule does not exactly exist here; tipping is not even required as it is in the US. In general, the entire restaurant system in Europe is much different than it is in America, and takes some getting accustomed to.
In all honesty, the biggest challenge I have faced in Vienna is the fact that nearly everyone speaks fantastic English. Instead of speaking German with me, many people notice that I am not Austrian and begin to speak English. I persist with my German, but it is tough to deal with people not even really attempting to help me out by speaking German back. Other than that, it has not been challenging at all to live here as an American.