I hate myself for falling absolutely into the cliché of the naïve young student who goes on exchange with no expectations and a million anxieties, only to find herself having the time of her life, developing as a person and learning a thing or two along the way. However, I believe I have something to add to the classic exchange story for all you cynics out there who are looking for a different angle. It would appear that I am brilliantly, astronomically, absurdly talented at failing at the mundane tasks of everyday life in a foreign city.
I came over to Vienna prepared for the struggle of getting over the language barrier. Before learning that I was to go to Austria, I spoke absolutely zero German – with the exception of a few vital words like wasserflache, käsereibeisen, and dummkopf (water bottle, cheese grater, and stupid-head). Needless to say, I was prepared for the difficulties in communication that were bound to arise from not speaking German in a German-speaking city.
What I was NOT prepared for were the subtle differences in the Austrian way of life.
No supermarkets are open on Sundays. Seriously, none. It’s like this throughout Europe. So if I plan on … you know, eating … on Sunday (which I believe is a necessary function of life), I better make sure to have something in my cupboards on Saturday. I was prewarned of this Sunday situation by my knowledgeable parents, but others are not so lucky. There are tales of innocent young exchange students getting creative with the mouldy cabbage at the back of the fridge, last night’s spilled pasta (swept up off the floor), and a mosquito or two for protein.
The differences do not end there. There are three budget supermarket chains in Austria – Penny Markt, Lidl, and Hofer (the Austrian version of Aldi). These offer goods at low prices, but often lack in variety. Shopping here is a completely different experience to shopping in your average Coles or Woolies. There are also larger and more expensive supermarkets, such as Interspar and Billa – however as a poor university student I am repulsed from these places – fancy spending 10 cents extra on milk!
Another strange thing for me is that the public transport is actually good. They have a combination of S-bahn (quick trains), U-bahn (metro/underground trains), trams, and busses. They run on time. There are options for getting home late at night (or early in the morning). In my three months here so far, I have never once seen a ticket inspector. However, I am assured that they exist. Some of my friends have had sightings of these creatures which seem to me to be as rare as dragons.
Other subtle differences, from the way people greet each other on the streets (they don’t – avoid eye contact at all costs!) to the prevalence of stunning architecture, can be found everywhere. They’re just strange enough to unsettle me, but not nearly enough to prevent me from feeling at home in this beautiful city.
To hear about some of my (retrospectively) humourous failings at navigating through my life here, stay tuned for future blog posts!