For members


Eight signs you’ve settled into life in Austria

Whether it has been five weeks or five years, Austria can sometimes feel a little strange as a foreigner. But if you recognise any of these eight signs, you might be a little more integrated than you think.

A hot dog stand in Vienna late at night. Photo by Alex Rainer on Unsplash
A hot dog stand in Vienna late at night. Photo by Alex Rainer on Unsplash

For people who live in a different country to the one they’ve grown up in, you feel like a foreigner in a strange land up until you return home. 

At this point, your old friends might tell you how ‘foreign’ you now are. 

While it never stops feeling odd to be between two worlds, if you recognise any of the behaviours from this list below, then you might be a little more Austrian than you think. 

You’re a coffee person now

OK so this doesn’t apply to Americans and most likely wouldn’t apply to Australians, but for people originally from the British Isles, the shift from tea to coffee can often happen seamlessly and without you even recognising it. 

Upon returning home, you might find yourself longing for a Melange or even a Einspänner, when a cappuccino will have to do. 

And when the coffee is served, you’ll look at the plate for the accompanying thimble of water and wonder what’s wrong with the waiter, before realising that the shot glass-of-water-with-coffee phenomenon hasn’t made it too far from Austrian shores (or at least outside of German-speaking Europe). 

Several coffee cups sit next to a plate with cakes at a coffee house in Vienna. Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Several coffee cups sit next to a plate with cakes at a coffee house in Vienna. Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

You’re stunned that everything is open on a Sunday

Sundays are slow in Austria by design.

And while it can be difficult to get used to at first, before too long you’ll get used to the slow pace of that Sonntagsgefühl (Sunday feeling). 

You’ll even get used to doing all your shopping by Saturday evening (no, really).  

Titles suddenly matter

A sign of the pervasive nature of tall poppy syndrome in English-speaking countries is how we will often shy away from achievements rather than celebrate them. 

While false modesty is in short supply in Austria – another cultural quirk which can be difficult to get used to – there is also a desire to recognise when someone has accomplished something (particularly when that involves years of study). 

In Austria, it is not only common but is expected to address someone with their titles. Hearing “Herr Doktor” or “Frau Magister” is therefore relatively common, even when speaking in English. 

Waiters are often addressed “Herr Ober”, a sign of how common place titles are. 

READ MORE: 11 surefire signs your kids are becoming Austrian

Where titles aren’t used, the use of Mr and Mrs/Ms in conjunction with a person’s last name is the done thing in Austria in almost all business communications, or even making reservations at a restaurant. 

If you start sending emails with “Dear Mr Smith” rather than “Dear David” or introducing yourself over the phone as “Ms Fleming”, you’ll know you’re settling into life in Austria nicely. 

Friendly service makes you stunned and suspicious 

While Austrians aren’t exactly unfriendly – and many bartenders and waiters will try and make you feel welcome – heading back to America, the United Kingdom or Australia will be quite a shock for anyone who’s spent a fair bit of time in Austria. 

The friendly, attentive service that is common place in English-speaking countries not only isn’t common in Austria, but it isn’t well received – with plenty of locals likely to get suspicious rather than tip happy. 

This extends beyond bar/restaurant culture and also into formal encounters, including police and other officials. 

Waiters prepare drinks at a bar. Black and white picture. Photo: Pixabay

Waiters prepare drinks at a bar. Photo: Pixabay

One reader told us about returning to the UK for a football match and being told by a border guard his re-entry was conditional on which team he supported. 

Such interactions are almost non-existent in formal situations in Austria, so if you find it weird to have a chat about your personal life with an airport border guard you’ll never see again, then you might be getting a little more settled in Austria than you think. 

Nudity is fine – and those who don’t think so are the real weirdos

The reasons are too many and too deep to go into here, but for some reason English-speaking cultures have a tendency to restrict the wearing of one’s birthday suit to the bedroom and solo showers. 

Austrians – as any foreigner or even tourist may be aware – tend not to have the same reservations. 

A naked man stands on the ledge of a pool. Photo by FRED DUFOUR / AFP

A naked man stands on the ledge of a pool. Photo by FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Whether you’ve been visiting the sauna, take part in organised sport or even just swimming at a lake, there’s a good chance you’ve seen more than your fair share of nude Austrian bodies. 

As a result, from swimming to visiting your doctor, you might find yourself far less reluctant to nude up – which may force a few of your old friends to clutch their pearls if you do it in their presence. 

You’re a social smoker

OK, so things are gradually changing, but the prevalence of smoking in Austria can be infectious and at the very least is quite hard to avoid. 

Plenty of internationals will now take part in the unique phenomenon of never buying a packet but smoking whenever the beer/wine or schnapps is a-flowing. 

If this is you, then you’ll know the Austrian ways are seeping in and you’re slowly becoming a little more settled – but no matter how much of a social smoker you are, you’ll love being in smoke-free bars again. 

A cigarette burns down in an ashtray which sits inside a bar in Vienna. Photo: AFP

A cigarette burns down in an ashtray which sits inside a bar in Vienna. Bars in Austria still have inside smoking, despite rules against it. Photo: AFP

You meet at the Würstel stand without thinking

The advent of smartphones has meant that most of us no longer organise set meeting spots and stick to them, it’s much easier to call when we get there or drop a pin. 

But if you’re really integrated in Austria, you’ll meet a friend at your favourite Würstel (hot dog stand) without even thinking about it, before heading off into the night (or simply sticking around until it closes). 

House shoes

While taking your shoes off before you enter someone’s home or apartment is entry-level Austrian, you know you’re there if you are quietly building a collection of Hausschuhe (house shoes) and think it weird not to have any. 

You’ve reached top-shelf Austrian integration if you visit another person’s house and ask where the house shoes for visitors are kept. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Five books to read to understand Austria

Austria is a small landlocked country of about 9 million residents, but it was once a powerful (and enormous) empire. How did that change? Here are five books that can help you understand the country as it is now.

Five books to read to understand Austria

Austrian capital Vienna was once the political centre of one of the world’s largest and most powerful empires. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, led by the Habsburg family, ruled over most of central Europe and was a centre for arts and culture. 

The Alpine country, of course, is still a great producer of arts, culture and science, but from having a population of 37.5 million by 1843, Austria is now a small landlocked country of about 9 million people. 

There’s much history in between (and before) and if you want to understand Austria better, several books can help you out, according to a list published by The Economist. Here are five of the books to learn about Austria.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Austria so rich?

The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig was a very well-known Austrian author and journalist. He was famous for his historical studies of famous writers including Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoievsky, and Honoré de Balzac. He also wrote biographies on historical figures including Marie Antoinette. 

When the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, he emigrated and then settled in Brazil. His memoir, Die Welt von Gestern (the World of Yesterday) was published in 1942 and is a long description of life during the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

The Economist called it a “requiem for the liberal, cosmopolitan Vienna of the late Habsburg empire”. Many see it as the most famous book on the power family that ruled much of Europe.

READ ALSO: 8 TV shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture

Heldenplatz, by Thomas Bernhard

Heldenplatz, which is also the name of the area in front of the Hofburg Palace, a symbol of Austrian politics (and the place where Adolf Hitler was greeted happily after the annexation of the country to Nazi Germany), is a stage drama first performed in 1988.

The play reflects on nationalism, the denial of the past and the ongoing anti-Semitism in modern Austria – it created a scandal in the country at the time. 

The Austrian playwriter, Bernhard, was vilified and died of a heart attack only a few months later.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna, by Eva Menasse

“In “Vienna”, her first novel, published in 2005, Eva Menasse blends fact and fiction to tell the story of three generations of Menasses, a chaotic, voluble Viennese family with Jewish roots.”, wrote The Economist.

The book is a celebrated German-language novel and a lighter view of the decades it represents (which include the Holocaust period). It was, of course, criticised by many for “brushing over” such issues. 

It is still a delightful read according to reviewers and shows another side of Austrian history.

READ ALSO: 11 maps that help you understand Austria today

Leopoldstadt, by Tom Stoppard

A play that explores Jewish identity while recounting the tragic stories of a Viennese family that lived in the homonymous neighbourhood – which once had a thriving Jewish community. 

Unlike Vienna, this play brushes over none of the tragedy, crimes and horrors of the Holocaust period. However, it starts even earlier as the multigenerational story begins on Christmas Day 1899, following family members until 1955.

It’s a short but beautiful read.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s newest citizens reclaimed a birthright stolen by the Nazis

Vielgeprüftes Ӧsterreich, by Paul Lendvai

Author Paul Lendvai had already published “Inside Austria” a personal account of 50 years of the country’s history – but now, Vielgeprüftes Österreich (something like “much-tested” or “long-suffering” Austria) acts as a sequel of sorts, according to The Economist.

The book hasn’t been translated into English yet, but the writer looks into Austria’s political history from the Habsburgs to the Ukrainian war, touching on subjects such as why anti-Semitism and xenophobia continue to grow in Austria and why Austrians still fall for demagogues.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?