“Locally Sourced” in the US Has Nothing on Austria

This week we’re going to do a very minor deep dive on a very special tradition over here in Austria that my colleagues and I had the special privilege of both witnessing and simply touring; a farm (Bauernhof). But farming is not so similar to the way we do it back home, where on average one of our typical farms encompasses roughly 444 acres, Austrian farms average maybe 55. The size and function of the farming caters to the luscious mountain sides we romanticize, the Bergbauernhof. This style of farming is placed on steep slopes that run into the mountains. But more fascinating is that of the Alm.

The alm is an area further up in the mountains that is mostly for hosting the livestock between May and September. As fall begins to set in; the families and others helping on the Bergbauernhof herd the animals back to the farm at the base. This is an incredible sight to see. Folks wearing traditional Trachten running alongside a herd of sheep or, if you’re lucky, cows. When they get all animals home, they hold festivities to celebrate both the survival of the animals and a good year. The ‘lucky’ reason I mentioned above, in light of the cows, is that they in particular wear a celebratory collar with a large bell at the end. This is where the Sound of Music actually (kind of) got Austria right: the hills are in fact alive with music. 

Cow with Traditional Collar and Bell
One of the cows that had just returned from the alm post-Almabtrieb (literally means: Alm down herd)
Farmers Herding Sheep Down from the Alm and back to the farm
A herd of sheep on their Almabtrieb that actually blocked off the road we were trying to drive up.

Festivities aside, another differing factor here is that of the care which goes into the production of everything that comes out of these farms. Austria’s regulations on food are actually quite strict but ensure the greatest quality. They produce meats, cheeses, eggs, schnapps, you name it; and with the official “AMA” stamp on the produce, you can literally trace an egg back to the coup it came from! The Bergbauernhof is also a strong attraction for tourism. Keep that in mind if you ever find yourself out here. After eating some of this food, you WILL NOT regret it.

Nicole and Chris with a hen on a Bauernhof
One of the many hens at Schmaranz posing for a quick photo shoot.
Eggs with the codes one can use to trace where they came from.
Hermann with some eggs
AAIE Director, Hermann Weissgärber holding up a carton of eggs from Schmaranz, a Bauernhof we visited in the Gastein Valley.

First Impressions Simply Abroad

Over the course of two weeks, I have been wondering what to write my first blog post about. Should I do a quick deep dive on agriculture? An excerpt on moving in with a host family? The night life that is so popular here in Austria? The Austrio-American Institute itself? We can tackle these in the weeks to come. But as I have struggled with deciding how to introduce this, I have noticed myself adapting in certain ways to the etiquette and cultural norms around me and I feel as though this would be worthwhile information to anybody thinking about studying abroad.

Before you decide to make the, truly, life-changing decision to take that leap of faith for a month, semester and/or year; take the time to look at how you carry yourself at home. Now compare that to how you carry yourself around your superiors; whether that be in an academic sense or a work environment. There are different means in which we choose to present ourselves and our behavior. This will only be amplified moving into a genuinely foreign land. Practices are different. But as a student abroad; you are inherently expected to try and blend in.

Now the question may arise; where is he going with this? Something as simple as good table manners can be the beginning to blending in with your environment. Over here in Austria, dinners are much more different than at home. It is not just a meal. It is a time to converse. A pause on the day to just talk.

9 people eating pizza
Our study abroad group in Austria enjoying pizza with some of the AAIE folks.

Sure, each household has their own expectations. But here, those differences can separate you entirely. Head/elbows on the dinner table? No go. Feet on the empty chair across from you? Big no go. The honor system does not just apply to the public transit here, it is much more deeply embedded. My overall point is that understanding what the new people around you subconsciously expect will help you so much! 

Dmitri Sofranko