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CULTURE

The 10 biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria

Moving to any country will involve a bit of a culture shock. But what are the things which will disturb you the most when you move to Austria?

The 10 biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria
FRED DUFOUR / AFP)

No matter whether you’ve moved across the border or across the world, some Austrian cultural quirks can be difficult to get used to. 

From getting naked in public to a stubborn adherence to smoking indoors, these are some of the quirkiest culture shocks foreigners are likely to experience in Austria. 

People like getting naked

Freikörperkultur (FKK) or nudism is still a thing in Austria. It’s quite normal to encounter a naked sunbathing area when going to a swimming pool, or cycling along the Danube at the weekend.

In addition, if you go to the sauna, swimming costumes will most definitely be frowned upon, even in mixed saunas. In some cases you’ll be asked to remove your clothes.

Did Austria’s culture of public nudity – FKK – surprise you when you arrived? Photo: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

For anyone unwilling to nude up, the most you can hope for is a small towel to cover yourself up with. 

Smoking

Although an indoor smoking ban was passed in 2019, Austria still has large numbers of smokers compared to other European countries, which can be unsettling when you first move here.

Vaping does not seem to have caught on yet. 

The German language

Fiendishly difficult grammar and compound nouns which go on forever, German is a famously difficult language to master.

READ MORE: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

You can expect to make at least one howler, with people often mistakenly saying they are sexually aroused “Ich bin heiss!” when they mean they are too warm, with one poor expat announcing to an entire restaurant she loved foreplay (Vorspiel) rather than starters (Vorspeisen).

The ‘pus sausage’

Food may be a bit of a shock when you come to Austria. The country seems to specialise in a never-ending variety of pork-based fat bombs guaranteed to give you a heart attack.

A case in point is the Käsekrainer, a sausage stuffed with oozing cheese. It’s sometimes described as a pus sausage (Eitrige), due to the risk of hot cheesy fat shooting out when it’s bitten into.

A look at the popular “Kaesekrainer” sausage (“Cheese Krainer”). One man’s pork-based fat bomb is another man’s pleasure. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

Another tip – don’t take a large helping of Kren (horseradish), because you think it is cheese. It might look similar, but it does not taste the same. 

General grumpiness

To be fair, this is probably more of a Viennese trait, but grumpiness is one of the things people notice most when they move to the Austrian capital.

Despite having (officially) the world’s most liveable city, the Viennese love to grumble.

They have a special word for it, “raunzen” – which roughly translates as to grumble, moan or whinge. Perhaps it’s the refusal to settle for anything but the best which keeps Vienna’s quality of life consistently high. 

READ MORE: So why is Vienna the most liveable city in the world?

According to a worldwide survey of emigrants, Vienna is the 65th friendliest city out of 72, with language barrier cited as a particular difficulty of fitting in. 

The Viennese are in fact known for being a pessimistic bunch and for “Schmaeh”, a sardonic sense of humour.

Grumpy waiters

Grumpiness is particularly evident if you wander into one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses, where you will often be met by a formally dressed waiter with an air of disdain.

Sayings abound about these Viennese waiters. You should never ask them for tap water or ask for a caffe latte (the correct word is a Melange). However, the grumpiness of the waiters is all part of the charm, with many leaving appreciative messages about the “authentic” service they have received in Viennese coffee houses on review websites. 

Save the small talk

While once you get to know Austrians they are very friendly, people rarely indulge in small talk with strangers. Some say it is considered “fake” to force a social exchange with someone you don’t know that well. Having said that, people can also be very kind and helpful in Austria. 

READ MORE: Where do Austria’s foreign residents come from and where do they live?

Two duvets

It’s common in Austria for couples sharing a bed to each have their own duvet, rather than one between them. Maybe it’s those chilly Austrian winters which mean people are unwilling to risk a howling draught coming into the bed. 

Shoes off!

One thing you will notice if you go to an Austrian home is you will need to take your shoes off the minute you walk in the door.

Even the streets of Austria are very clean, let alone the floors of people’s homes.

Expect to be handed a pair of slippers – known as Hausschuhe (house shoes) once inside. Even schools often don’t allow shoes to be worn inside.

Don’t jaywalk

Not only is dashing across the roads against the lights frowned upon, it can also land you with a hefty fine if you are caught by the police.

Unlike more disorganised countries, in Austria people patiently wait for the lights to change before crossing the road. 

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CULTURE

Austria’s empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

A new movie and two TV shows are set to reignite the fascination with Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi.

Austria's empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

She was the Princess Diana of the 19th  century. An impossibly glamorous Austro-Hungarian empress whose star-crossed  love life and tragic end entranced the public.

Now a movie and two new series — including one being made for Netflix — are set to reignite the fascination with Empress Elisabeth, who was popularly known as “Sisi”.

The film, “Corsage”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday while the series, “Sisi” — which covers her early life and turbulent marriage to Emperor Franz-Joseph — is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.

READ ALSO: Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

It has already raised eyebrows there with its frank depiction of the young empress’ sexuality while garnering favourable reviews from critics.

The series’ Swiss-American star Dominique Devenport told AFP that part of the upsurge in interest in Sisi is a desire “to find more female narratives”.

A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

She may have been one of the most famous women of the 19th century, but Devenport said Sisi’s life was “full of extremes, full of pain”.

Married to Franz-Joseph when she was just 16, Sisi chafed against the rituals and strictures of life at the stiff and stuffy Habsburg court.

Devenport said the questions she asks of herself in the series are ones many young people today can relate to: “How can I stay myself; what decisions do I make, how do I keep up with what is expected from me?”

READ ALSO: Austria’s dirndl: a dress for past and present

The rival Netflix series, “The Empress”, is still in production, with release slated for later this year.

A royal star 

Historian Martina Winkelhofer said Sisi was “one of the first very famous women in Europe”.

“You have to consider that she came into Austrian history at the beginning of mass media,” she said.

The inscription on the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi” in the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The advent of photography turbocharged her fame — “suddenly you had the wife of an emperor who you could really see.”

With the current thirst for stories with strong female characters, it was no surprise that Sisi’s story would be revisited, Winkelhofer argued.

Sisi was also obsessed with her own image, and her figure. In the elegant 19th century Hermes Villa on the outskirts of Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years, curator Michaela Lindinger pointed to the exercise equipment which Sisi used in an effort “to keep young really until her last day”.

READ ALSO: WW1 centenary: Austria and Hungary stand apart on ‘lost grandeur’ of the past

Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actress who made her breakthrough opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, plays this later Sisi in “Corsage”, withdrawing from her husband and from life at court.

In Sisi’s bedroom, a gloomy statue entitled “Melancholia” is a sign of the sadness that overcame her after the suicide of her son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889.

Just under 10 years later, she herself died at the age of 60, assassinated by an Italian anarchist.

Enduring fairy tale

Traditionally, however, it has been the fairy tale aspect of Sisi’s life that has drawn attention and made sites like Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace among Austria’s most popular attractions.

Sisi has become a representation of Habsburg glamour far beyond Austria’s borders, and is a particular cult figure in China.

Picture taken on January 21, 2022 shows the original bedroom of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi”, in the exhibition in the Hermes Villa in Tiergarten in Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Indeed, Andreas Gutzeit, the showrunner of the series “Sisi”, said he got the idea to revisit the story after watching the trilogy of 1950s films in which the empress was portrayed by Vienna-born actress Romy Schneider, whose life was also a high-octane mix of glamour and tragedy.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Gutzeit said the RTL+ series has already been sold to several countries in eastern Europe and as far afield as Brazil.

The many different facets of the empress’ life mean that “in each period, you have your own Sisi”, insisted historian Winkelhofer.

Over the ages her image has moved from a focus on her physical beauty to her use of charm, to more modern depictions of her as a more assertive and empowered proto-feminist figure.

“You can discover a new woman in each lifetime,” Winkelhofer said.

Where to watch?

  • Sisi, a TV show, is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.
  • The Empress, a Netflix show, will stream later this year in the platform.
  • Corsage, the movie by Marie Kreutzer starring Vicky Krieps, is set to hit the cinemas this summer after its Cannes premiere.
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