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Clothes to nudity: The biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Austria

To live in Austria is to have constant access to Schnitzel and Sachertorte and enjoy trips to the lakes and mountains. But what are the weird things that you never knew about before moving to this beautiful Alpine state?

   Traditional Dirndl dresses have made a comeback in Austria in recent years.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)
Women in traditional Bavarian Dirndl dresses look on as cows walk through the streets of Pfronten, southern Germany, during the so-called Allgaeuer Viehscheid cattle drive on September 8, 2018. - Farmers lead their cattle from their mountain pastures to the valley of the Allgaeu mountains in southern Germany. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

People dressed in traditional clothes

In recent years, Austrian traditional clothing such as Lederhosen and Dirndls have been becoming increasingly popular with younger people seeking to reconnect with their Austrian heritage. 

Although in past years Austrian traditional clothing (Tracht) was worn by many as a symbol of Austrian pride and nationalism, hipsters began wearing traditional clothing again a few years ago . Now irony has turned to enthusiasm for many Austrians. One commonly heard mantra is that every woman can look good in a Dirndl regardless of age or physique. Don’t be surprised if you get on a tram or are out walking in the hills and find yourself standing with a group of people dressed in Dirndls and Lederhosen, particularly during the wine harvest season.

READ MORE: 11 Austrian life hacks that will make you feel like a local

No shops open on Sunday

Weekends in Austria can feel like going back in time, as almost all its supermarkets and shops close on Sundays. Living in Austria means remembering to make sure you’ve stocked up on essentials the day before, bearing in mind many shops close early on Saturday too. Sundays are left free for church, sports, culture and relaxation. 

There’s no need to go without freshly baked bread or flowers as you can always find bakeries and flower shops open on Sunday mornings. Also, museums, galleries, cafes and restaurants are normally open on Sunday.

Nobody wants to be that person in a mile-long queue at Praterstern Billa in Vienna (one of the few stores open on Sundays), because you forgot some essential item. 

Alcohol: any place, anywhere and at any outdoor temperature

Drinking alcohol is allowed almost anywhere, and happens at any time, with many cafes offering sparkling wine with brunch or people enjoying a quick beer with breakfast. It’s also fine to bring wine and drink it in a park with your picnic. Cold weather is no deterrent for thousands of Austrians who love sipping winter Punsch (hot spiced wine) outside at Christmas markets despite freezing temperatures.

Austria is also very fond of the ‘Wegbier’, which is the beer you drink when you are on your way somewhere. 

One drink you have to try in Austria in autumn is Sturm, a fermented drink which falls somewhere between grape juice and wine. It is alcoholic, ranging from 4 – 10 percent, sweet and slightly fizzy. You can buy both red and white Sturm and it’s best drunk out of a mug in a vineyard during the autumn wine harvest. 

There are other unusual aspects to the drinking culture in Austria. Don’t be surprised to find yourself out of pocket if you invite your colleagues for a drink after work – that means you are buying all the rounds. Look deep into people’s eyes when you clink glasses and say “Prost” (“cheers” in German). Failure to do so means you will have bad sex, or that you’ve poisoned your drinking partner’s drink (depending on who you ask). 

READ MORE: Is it legal to drink in public in Austria?

Formal titles

The Coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to the obligatory handshaking (or cheek-kissing in Vienna) when you are in a professional or friendly encounter with people from Austria. However, the obsession with academic titles remains in Austria – ignore at your peril. There are many professional titles such as Dipl. Ing., Mag., MSc, MA, Dr. and they are used on almost all documents, (for example loyalty cards) and correspondence.

It’s also a minefield trying to work out when you can address someone with the formal “you” (Sie) and the informal “you” (du). One tip – when you are in the mountains, everyone calls each other by the informal “du”. Above a certain altitude (around 1000m), formality no longer exists. 

Naked stand up paddleboarding (SUP) can also often be seen on the Danube in Vienna. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

I see naked people 

Nudity is accepted far more in Austria than in countries such as Britain, and certainly more than the US. Freikörperkultur (FKK) or nudism is still pretty popular. It’s quite normal to encounter a naked sunbathing area when going to a swimming pool, or at a river beach along the Danube. Naked people can be spotted SUPing, cycling and playing volleyball all over the palace in Vienna.  Doctors are unlikely to give you a blanket to cover up if you go in for a checkup, but just expect you to strip off for your annual physical.

And don’t even think about wearing anything other than a towel in the sauna. 

READ MORE: The ten biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria

Paragliding, shown by this athlete flying over the Grossglockner, is popular in Austria, along with other extreme sports.(Photo by JON NASH / RED BULL AIR RACE / AFP)

Relaxed attitude to health and safety

It’s not uncommon in Austria to see builders without protective gloves or hard hats, candles burning away in apartments with no smoke alarms and people (including children) cycling or scooting without helmets. Not to mention the popularity of smoking, “heart attack food” such as Leberkäse and Würst and drinking. Perhaps it’s the nation’s predilection for extremely dangerous sports such as paragliding and skiing, or the Austrian libertarian streak, but there appears to be far less emphasis on ‘health and safety’ in Austria than in some other cultures.

Cold war sirens

A couple of times a year, the eerie noise of cold war sirens sound out wherever you live in Austria. Unlike neighbouring Germany, Austria has kept in place its early warning system from the cold war and has a nationwide, operational network of 8,212 sirens which are tested twice a year. They were most recently used to warn Austrian residents of flooding during the summer. Germany, which has stopped using similar sirens, was criticised for this decision after its warning system was found lacking in alerting residents to widespread flooding. However, some experts are concerned that people do not understand what the sirens mean, and may just ignore them when they sound, according to broadcaster FM4. Basically, if the siren sounds for three minutes, you should switch your radio or TV to broadcaster ORF, or visit the website to await further instructions. A test blast from a siren will only last 15 seconds.

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How to deal with fruit flies plaguing your Austrian flat

Do dozens of little fruit flies swarm across your Austrian kitchen in the warmer months? Now temperatures are heating up, here are a few clever ways of dealing with the problem.

How to deal with fruit flies plaguing your Austrian flat
A fruit fly on a banana skin. Photo: DPA/Daniel Naupold

Warm springs and summer in Austria are a time when tiny critters get in your face and generally behave in an irritating way. In hot years the wasps are out in force (at least later in the summer); in wet years the mosquitos have a field day. 

But whatever the weather is like you’re sure to have a fruit fly infestation in your kitchen if you’re not careful. So what can you do about the little pests?

A single female fruit fly can lay up to 400 eggs a day meaning that within a very short period of time a black cloud will fly up into your face every time you open the bin or stick your hand into the fruit bowl – harmless overall, but very annoying.

While the task of keeping fruit flies at bay sometimes seems hopeless there are some simple tricks that ensure the infestation doesn’t get out of hand.

Keep things ship shape

This might seem like an obvious one, but which of us hasn’t on occasion left a few plates in the sink to clean up the next day? While you might get away with that kind of behaviour in the colder months of the year, it really isn’t advisable when temperatures outside go above 19C (66.2F).

Fruit flies will feed on left over bits of food, especially if they are sugary. Washing up plates and cleaning surfaces immediately after you have eaten is one sure way of keeping the plague at bay.

More importantly still, you should empty out you bins daily. This especially goes for organic waste which, if you have it, you will have noticed is a breeding ground for the miniature flies.

Besides being attracted to sugar, fruit flies also like yeast. In fact Belgium scientists found out back in 2014 that the same smell that beer aficionados love about a good pint is also what attracts fruit flies – apparently it’s a strategy developed by yeast that lures the flies into spreading the microbe to new places.

The downside is that open or half empty beer bottles will attract fruit flies to your kitchen. So clean them thoroughly or, even better, take them down to exchange for Pfand at your nearest drinks store.

Some methods are more drastic than others.

Setting traps

There are a couple of tried and tested traps that people set in order to catch their fruit flies.

The classic trap is a cup containing a mixture of vinegar, fruit juice and washing-up liquid. If you cover the cup in clingfilm and pierce holes in the plastic the flies will crawl in, attracted by the smell but won’t be able to get back out. The washing up liquid breaks the surface tension, ensuring that the flies drown in the sweet solution.

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

Of course, there is also a Bio version. You can put a banana in an open plastic bag. Wait until a load of flies have crawled before carefully closing the bag. Then take it outside where you can release the flies back into nature thus ensuring an honourable draw in which neither side suffers long term consequences.

Another trap which the website claims to be particularly effective involves mixing yeast, sugar and washing up liquid in a bottle (preferably one with a long neck.)

Scaring them away

Just as there are smells that attract fruit flies, there are others which deter them from sticking around.

One such deterrent is lemon juice mixed with cloves. This is apparently also an odour that wasps and mosquitos simply can’t stand.

There are various herbs that release smells that are discomforting to fruit flies. Basil, lavender, mint and chives are all said to help keep the little beasts away.

Other flying insects

It is worth pointing out that not every flying bug is treated the same in Austria. While fruit flies (Fruchtfliege) are generally despised and there is no shortage of methods to try and get rid of them, bees, for example, are very much protected. 

READ ALSO: Austrian fruit grower jailed for killing bees

Bees are essential to pollination and part of the group of animals protected in Austria, especially during spring and summer. 

The bee population and its colonies are closely monitored in the Alpine country. Many people have flowers and even small “insect” houses in their gardens and balconies especially to serve as refuge to these tiny animals and if your Austrian friend sees you killing a bee (even one that is aiming for your beer glass), you will be frowned upon.

Better to just gently wave them away, and show them outside where they can go on pollinating in the next few weeks. 

Another common headache in the Austrian kitchen is an infestation with kitchen moths, which can quickly clog up and ruin your non-perishable stores.

While it is possible to use a chemical agent against the moths (stores like DM have things like sticky traps that you can put on your walls to catch moths), there is a really interesting remedy for this that is favoured in many kitchens – setting other little flies on them.

It might sound like a silly idea to address an infestation by starting another one, but ichneumon (German: Schlupfwespen) are tiny little flies that live off the eggs of kitchen moths, yet are themselves completely harmless.

According to the environmental news site the ichneumon lay their eggs next to the moth’s egg. When the ichneumon eggs hatch they eat all the moth eggs, thus tackling the problem at its root.

And when there are no more moth eggs to be eaten, the ichneumon lose their food source and die too.

An easier idea might be the common suggestion of keeping all your stored items in plastic containers with proper lids.